I guess I’m an anachronism in a lot of ways, especially in my collecting habits. Everywhere I go, I’m the odd man out.
In action figure collecting, I don’t open my figures, I don’t pose them all over the house, I don’t display them or hang them on the wall like trophies, I collect, I catalog and I store. I’m not fanatical in my collecting either, I buy what I want to buy, at a price I want to pay. I won’t chase any figure for hundreds or thousands of dollars, I recognize it as a piece of plastic and as such, it only has limited financial worth. I either get a particular piece at a price I feel good for paying or I just don’t get it at all. Not having any particular piece doesn’t gnaw at me, I don’t get cold sweats thinking about having an incomplete collection, I just have fun. I’m not like the majority of collectors I run into.
By the same token, with stamp collecting, I’m not the common collector. Recently there was a poll on a stamp forum about stamp collectors being hoarders. Every single person who responded, with the exception of two of us, said they had boxes and boxes stacked high of stamps and covers and other stamp-collecting materials that they either had never looked at, or would probably never look at again. Most had no idea what they even had. Most buy kiloware or collections, sight unseen, just to have thousands of stamps to go through. I never got the sense of that. I’m collecting a country. I want one example of every stamp that country has released, with very few exceptions. Oh sure, I might have a single copy and a block. I might have variations in perfs or color. I just see no point in having 50 copies of the same stamp, in the same format, sitting in a box or a stock book somewhere. There’s a difference between collecting and hoarding in my opinion and I am absolutely a collector.
Now with me, I’ve been collecting U.S. stamps off and on my entire life. That’s more than 40 years doing the same thing. Granted, there’s been a lot of time not doing it, but quite a significant amount of time pouring over little pictures on sticky paper. For most of my life, I really haven’t been in a financial position to buy a lot at a time, so additions were relatively few and far between, but now that I have the wherewithal to buy what I want, I’ve very rapidly filled in most of the holes in my collection, with the exception of the very expensive classic stamps. I’ve taken a general inventory and stamps I’m missing between 1920 and 1993 when I summarily decided I’d had enough of the Post Office, I can count on fingers and toes. I plan on completing that in the very short term, but what then? Sure, I can start getting those stamps that are in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, and certainly I intend to when the right stamps come along, but as I’ve learned in action figure collecting, if I don’t keep making purchases, if I don’t see my collection grow reasonably constantly, I get bored. Boredom is no fun.
So I’ve been thinking what else I can do. I do have a couple of small topical collections, but to be honest, my topical interests are so limited and narrow, I very rarely ever come across anything to add. For more than half of my topical collections, there simply exist no lists of stamps that are available. I know, I’ve looked. For one, so far as I know, I am the only person on the planet that collects that particular specialty, at least I’ve never run into anyone else in all my years that follows it. That also means that the stamps that I might be looking for, especially foreign stamps, are only sold in long sets, of which I might need a single stamp. It has always seemed like a horrible waste of money to me to buy 10 stamps and throw 9 away.
I figured I’d start looking for another country to collect, one that I could feel good about buying a lot of stamps and mounting in my album. The problem is, as I really started to think about it, I really didn’t give a damn about any of them. For that matter, I really don’t care about U.S. stamps and never did, at least not in the way I hear a lot of collectors talk. I’m not that interested in U.S. postal history. I’m not interested in “seeing the world”. I’m not interested in the culture or society of any country, expressed through their postage. I’m just not. To me, stamps are interesting, they are windows into a nation’s history and culture, but they’re just things. Collecting to me, as boring as it might seem, is getting things. It’s not obsessing over them, it’s having them.
I came up with some general criteria for new collecting interests. I wanted it to be something where the stamps were relatively easy to come by, where there were a decent number of dealers who carried the stamps and who sold singles, not just long runs. It had to be generally affordable, at least to start, although I know that sooner or later I’m going to run into the same problem as I have with my U.S. collection, where everything I need is high value. It has to be large enough so that I’m not going to complete the country in a few short months, but not so massive that I could never hope to collect it. The topics on the stamps have to be varied and interesting, I don’t need years and years of monarchs on stamps, I want them to be something I can enjoy looking at. Finally, I didn’t want a country that is out to screw collectors, which is a serious problem with a lot of countries which realized that putting out tons of “collector” stamps could increase their national coffers. So nobody who puts out tons of Disney stamps or Elvis stamps or the like. Some here and there are fine. Anything that is obviously aimed at topical collectors, especially countries that cancel-to-order for the collector market, are right out.
One of my first thoughts was collecting worldwide airmail stamps. That interested me for several reasons, first, I do enjoy the look of a lot of airmail stamps and it would be interesting to see the diversity worldwide. Secondly, most countries don’t have tons of airmail stamps available. While it wouldn’t be difficult to finish just about any given country’s airmails, there are a wealth of countries to move on to so it would be a long, long time before I ran out of things to collect. Fantastic idea, right? Well, not so much because most album manufacturers don’t put out separate pages for airmail or other back-of-book stamps, especially worldwide. I could find pages for the U.S. and maybe a couple of other popular stamp-issuing countries, but for anyone else, I’d have to buy entire albums and throw away 99% of the pages, or I’d have to print my own.
I don’t want to print my own. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lazy, I do design and print my own pages for my topical collections because, as I said before, they’re mostly so limited that it’s the only way to get pages at all. But you know what I do hate? I hate doing pointless research. That’s one reason those stamps are so hard to find in the first place, nobody puts together lists of them and the thought of going through thousands of pages of the 6 Scott Standardized Stamp Catalogs bores me to tears. I want to collect, not document.
So I went back to the drawing board, as it were. I started thinking about countries in which I had any interest. Obviously, Japan came up because I have spent a lifetime enjoying and collecting anime, but my wife already collects Japan so that’s out. Why buy 2 of the same stamp all the time? I half-heartedly thought about China but ultimately rejected it. Granted, it is a popular collecting topic these days, which makes more stamps available, but that’s also it’s downfall. The popularity of Chinese stamps also pushes the prices up and the selection down. I then thought maybe something like Kenya or Tanzania, one of the African nations which routinely offer cheetahs on stamps, my one topical interest that drives me craziest, but again, availability is going to be extremely problematic for nations like that, there just aren’t many, if any, dealers out there who sell singles and I know I’ll end up with spotty coverage and an inability to fill holes without buying a ton of extras I don’t want. Count that one out.
While I haven’t made up my mind for certain yet, I’ve been thinking a bit more about collecting Australia. There seems to be a better selection of Australia than I’ve seen for other countries, with the possible exception of Canada and Great Britain which I have no interest in, plus more recent issues seem to have a heavy animal/space/science theme to them which I quite enjoy. I’m trying to decide if I want to continue my trend, as I did with U.S. stamps, of only collecting MNH stamps from 1900 on and used stamps pre-1900, or just to give up and collect all used. Certainly, that will make the costs minimal and probably easier to find, but something deep inside of me really wants mint stamps. It’s something I’ll have to battle out internally.
But oh look at what they have!
If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. You know my criteria, maybe there’s something I’m not considering?
I’d love to know.
P.S.: It’s now a month or so later and I changed my mind a couple of times on what I posted here. First, although I did initially decide on Australia, after searching for dealers who carried mint stamps, I was disappointed to find that my usual haunts had many, many more used stamps than mint. I really didn’t want to collect used and therefore, I scrapped that idea. Also, the majority of Australian dealers, no surprise, were in Australia and that meant higher shipping costs. Then I turned my attention back to China, just on a lark, and found that exactly the opposite was true, there were many, many more mint stamps than used and there were a lot of dealers in the western hemisphere. Therefore, I made my decision and started collecting China. Sort of. See, while I was looking, I came across an approval dealer who I told I was going to collect Australia and they sent me a huge selection of Australian stamps. Great, now what do I do? I felt bad not buying from them, so I did the only logical thing and… started collecting Australia as well. Now I have two countries running and have been greatly enjoying both. As both collections grow, I’m sure I’m going to be even happier, seeing pages get completed. It didn’t have to be an either/or decision, sometimes the right choice is both!