The Charm of Stamp Collecting

[This is taken from Edward J. Nankivell's Stamp Collecting As a Pastime.]

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, in a letter to a correspondent, referring to stamp collecting, wrote: "It is one of the greatest pleasures of my life"; and the testimony of the Prince of Wales is the testimony of thousands who have taken up this engrossing hobby.

The pursuit of a hobby is very often a question of expense. Many interesting lines of collecting are practically closed to all but the wealthy. But stamp collecting is open to all, for the expenditure may in its case be limited at the will of the collector to shillings or pounds. Indeed, the adaptability of this hobby is one of its chiefest charms. The rich collector may make his choice amongst the most expensive countries, whilst the man of moderate means will wisely confine himself to equally interesting countries whose stamps have not gone beyond the reach of the man who does not wish to make his hobby an expensive one. The schoolboy may get together a very respectable little collection by the judicious expenditure of small savings from his pocket money, and the millionaire will find ample scope for his surplus wealth in the fine range of varieties that gem the issues of many of the oldest stamp-issuing countries, and which only the fortunate few can hope to possess.

In all there are over three hundred countries from which to make a selection. In the early days collectors took all countries, but as country after country followed the lead of England in issuing adhesive stamps for the prepayment of postage, and as series followed series of new designs in each country, the task of covering the whole ground became more and more hopeless, and collector after collector began first to restrict his lines to continents, and then to groups or countries, till now only the wealthy and leisured few attempt to make a collection of the world's postal issues.

This necessary restriction of collecting to groups and individual countries has led to specialism. The specialist concentrates his attention upon the issues of a group or country, and he prosecutes the study of the stamps of his chosen country with all the thoroughness of the modern specialist. He unearths from forgotten State documents and dusty files of official gazettes the official announcements authorising each issue. He inquires into questions surrounding the choice of designs, the why and wherefore of the chosen design, the name of the engraver, the materials and processes used in the production of the plates, the size of the plates, and the varying qualities of the paper and ink used for printing the stamps—in fact, nothing that can complete the history of an issue, from its inception to its use by the public, escapes his attention. He constitutes himself, in truth, the historian of postal issues. The scope for interesting study thus opened up is almost boundless. It includes inquiries into questions of heraldry in designs, of currency in the denominations used, of methods of engraving dies, of the transference of the die to plates, of printing from steel plates and from lithographic stones, of the progress of those arts in various countries, of the manufacture, the variety, and the quality of the paper used—from the excellent hand-made papers of early days to the commonest printing papers of the present day—of postal revenues and postal developments, of the crude postal issues of earliest times, and the exquisite machine engraving of many current issues.

He who fails to see any justification for money spent and time given up to the collecting of postage stamps will scarcely deny that these lines of study, which by no means exhaust the list, can scarcely fail to be both fascinating and profitable, even when regarded from a purely educational standpoint. It is true it may be contended that all collectors do not go thus deeply into stamp collecting as a study; nevertheless the tendency sets so strongly in the direction of combining study with the pleasure of collecting, that the man who nowadays neglects to study his stamps is apt to fall markedly behind in the competition that is ever stimulating the stamp collector in his pleasant and friendly rivalry with his fellows.

Then, again, an ever-increasing supply of new issues from one or other of the many groups of stamp-issuing countries periodically revives the interest of the flagging collector, and binds him afresh to the hobby of his choice. Old, seasoned collectors, whose interest once set never flags from youth to age, relegate new issues to a back seat. They find more than enough to engage their lifelong devotion in the grand old issues of the early settlements. But the collector of modern issues who cannot afford to indulge in the great rarities, finds new issues a source of perpetual enjoyment. They follow one another month after month, and infuse into the collector's life the irresistible charm of novelty, and every now and again an emergency issue comes as a surprise. There is a scramble for possession, and a spice of speculation in the possibility, never absent from a makeshift and emergency issue, that the copies may be scarce, and may some day ripen into rarity.




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