What Have You Done For Me Philately?

Another hobby on its way out: Stamp collecting.

Every now and again, you get some article in the newspaper (probably from a news bureau, which has a Mad Libs style template for the story, where the journalist can just drop in some proper nouns) that decries the death of collecting hobbies, especially as Boomers downsize and discover that their beer can collections aren’t going to supplement their Social Security very well. Hey, I’m a hoarder; I know the urge to collect things, but I’m not going into it with the idea that my collection of old handheld video games from the 1970s and 1980s is ever going to be worth anything. My generation is that pivotal generation that remembers the old artifacts, but also embraces the digital content that used to be stored on those artifacts, so it doesn’t want those bulky old things in the loft.

But I digress.

Stamp collecting. I had a kit for it when I was a boy, with the little hinges, lined mounting paper, and envelopes of old stamps. I didn’t really get into it, though, but back then, the allure must have been much more. It was a way of interfacing with history through historical stamps and with exotic foreign lands through stamps from other countries. Back then, people still had international pen pals, for crying out loud. There was a community. Clubs for collecting stamps, even.

Now, stamp collecting is running into some serious head winds.

First, people aren’t collecting as they used to. See above.

Secondly, the exotic nature of foreign stamps has no doubt fallen since you can learn all you want and talk to people all over the world, instantly, through the Internet. For example, my QA Hates You Twitter feed has followers from Russia, Britain, Canada, India, Pakistan, Australia, Egypt, Brazil, and a bunch of other countries. My mother had a Japanese pen pal who would send her letters a couple times a year. I’m exchanging quips worldwide daily.

Thirdly, the volume of mail has diminished, and the stamp is on its way out. It’s not something that connects the exotic and the historical to present day experience. I think one tends to collect the normal things of life and extend it to artifacts outside one’s existence. Maybe I’m off afield or generalizing from my own experience, but that’s what writers do.

Finally, the stamps themselves, if they exist, are becoming less interesting. We still get commemorative stamps and whatnot, but most of the time here in the US, we get bland Forever stamps which don’t have the price on the front. That removes them a bit from their particular moment in history. Increasingly, people are turning to postage they print on their computers. Who wants to collect that?

Here’s an example: Although I’m not a philatelist, I keep my eyes open for stamps because one of the organizations at church collects them to sell to philatelists to raise funds. I get a British periodical that’s shipped in a plain envelope and stamped. Or so I thought. Is this a postmarked stamp or something printed at home?

A British stamp, I think

I dunno. I’ll take it in and let the experts decide to throw it out as worthless.

As a fundraising strategy, I think this one will be on the way out.

And although I’m not a philatelist, that’s not saying I don’t have some stamps I’ve purchased to keep as keepsakes.

Ayn Rand stamps

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