Thursday, September 13, 2012

Collecting on a Shoe String 

I have been collecting stamps for more than 50 years. I started when I was five. I have rarely had the cash to splurge on my collecting interests. So I think that I might be qualified enough to say something about building a collection on a restricted budget.

During the Olympics, I became involved in correspondence with a dealer on his blog site over the confusion surrounding the Gold Medal Winners’ stamps and the expense involved for completeness. There were six printers (with another three on standby) and four different margins per winner. With 29 gold medallists this mounts to 696 sheetlets each at £3.60. If one bought an example of each, it would cost £2505.60 (plus what ever appeared from the back up printers).

One aspect of the conversation was over buying material that one can afford over what was expected. The confusion mentioned above centred round whether the Post Office would sell single stamps instead of the sheetlet with six stamps. Some offices did sell single while others didn’t. The format suggested that the complete sheetlet of six stamps would be the norm mint or on first day covers. It would also suggest that dealers would only be interested in purchasing the complete sheetlets rather than individual stamps.

This dilemma over buying “commercial” or what fits with your collection is as old as stamp collecting. Dealers often use the “commercial” excuse for fixing buying and selling prices – “you have to the set because it is not commercial for us break up the set because we cannot sell the rest if you take that one stamp”.

National and international exhibitions often show the expensive and the exotic – the material that the normal person would rarely find let alone afford to purchase. This had lead to the suggestion that those that can afford it are “buying” the top honours in the philatelic world.

Therefore, unless you have just won big in the Euro-lottery, money is a limiting factor in building up a collection.

I started collecting by ripping around the stamps on the envelopes that arrived from family overseas. These were stored in a box. My bought me my first album. It was about C5 is size and consisted of about 32 pages. She also gave me a couple of packets of stamps. Any pocket money was spent at Woolworths on the 6d and 1/- packets of stamps that were available in the early 1960s.

In high school, I joined the stamp club which introduced me to first day covers and, a since then, first day covers is how I end to collect GB stamps. For a while I could also purchase a second mint set plus a few other GB “collectable” formats.

Gradually, my collection got to the stage where I had most of the “affordable” material from the three countries that I concentrated on – GB, Canada and the US. While at University, I joined the city philatelic society. This added to my knowledge but it also showed that there was no way that I could compete with some of the other members on material but it opened my eyes to possibilities.

One member regularly displayed material that could best be described at material from the waste paper basket. It met most of the criteria for philatelic study but failed on its relatively common status but it appealed to me.

So what was this material? In the 1970’s new Mechanised Letter Offices were coming on stream throughout the country. Coding desks were being installed which would allow the operator to put a dot code on to the envelope which would then speed up the sorting of the mail downstream. The dot code was a simple binary code corresponding to either the postcode or an extract of the post town. In addition an inked code number or letter was usually added which identified the desk and, hence, the operator.

To me this was a totally new area to collect. It had the advantage that the majority of material could be obtained almost for free by asking people to keep the whole envelope for you or you could simply go round the office at the end of the day and pick out the envelopes from the bin. It offered the opportunity to become involved with new postal technology almost from the beginning.

Since then, I have joined the Postal Mechanisation Study Circle and ended up editing their monthly newsletter.

What to Collect

 The choice as to what to collect is up to you. I collect GB stamps because of where I live, Canada because of family, USA because of a gift of a bundle of US stamps and Postal Mechanisation because it was cheap, readily available and novel (when I started). I also have fair collections of India and Poland because of contacts made, Algeria through family and friends and Denmark because of a kiloware purchase or two.

There are two main choices – single country or theme. 

Single country collections are probably easiest to research and build. The choice of country may be determined by family, a visit to that country or even a gift of material. It may be a place that you would like to visit and, through its stamps, one gets a potted history, geography and cultural lesson.

A listing of stamps issued can readily be obtained from a stamp catalogue which may be purchased or obtained, on loan, from a library. Catalogues may give dates of issue, perforation varieties, overprints, miniature sheets in basic detail or as extensive listings depending on the catalogue.

In the UK, the most used catalogues are produced by Stanley Gibbons. They produce a range covering from simplified to very detailed studies on single countries. In the US, the Scott catalogue rules.

With thematic collecting, one builds up a collection on some subject that interests you. It could be a history of aviation, flowers, cats, ships, prisoner of war mail or a multitude of other subjects. There are catalogues available for some themes. Many have been put together by collectors and made available to all. Alternatively, one could just start with a “world” catalogue and work one’s way through it making your own listing.

So now that you have decided what to collect, what do you do next? Again that depends again on the material you want to include. There are conventional stamp albums, stock books and cover albums.

Conventional stamp albums come in many forms. There are basic ones with country names printed at the top of the page. Stamps are stuck in using stamp hinges on the appropriate page. Blank page albums are probably the most flexible. Again stamps are put in using hinges. Special “hinges” known as Hawid strips are used for mint stamps. Postcards, envelopes, photographs and ephemera may be mounted using photo corners – not the double sided ones.

Stock books are commonly used for mint stamps and stamp booklets and cover albums are used for first day covers, postcards, etc.

You have now chosen to collect a single country. You have a listing of what stamps have been issued by that country. If like me, it is a second or third hand catalogue supplemented by photocopies from more modern editions. This allows you to sort out what you may already have chronologically. These can then be mounted on the page of your album – say one page per issue.

With a thematic collection, each page may be allocated to a particular subject – stamps depicting manx or Persian cats; roses or pansies; Concorde or Spitfire; and so on. The more one gets into the subject, the more one can “specialise” the subject – Spitfire mark 9 or mark 22 and so on. Or you may just decide to present by set issued.

The format you use is up to you.

In future blogs, I hope to return to this subject and illustrate some of the material that I have in my collection. How I write things up is essentially my benefit. For single country collections, I just pencil in the title of the issue and maybe the date. Other parts of my collection tend to be a header and maybe a pencilled comment. Maybe, this exercise will be an excuse to get me to get stuck in to my collection and write it up. Don’t just follow my lead, take what you think is reasonable but put your own “stamp” on what you produce.

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