I’ve been thinking, over the past couple of days, and reading threads on obsession in hobbies and to be honest, I just can’t relate to it. I don’t understand the feeling. Sure, I can wrap my head around the concept, understand how and why it happens but I can’t relate to it in any way, shape or form.
I am not an addict. Yes, I know that’s not a comfortable word for a lot of people to use, but that’s really what a lot of people who claim they simply cannot stop are. Honestly, I don’t get obsession. I collect what I collect because I have fun doing it, not because I’ve got some strange addiction. I’ve had various collections in my life and the vast majority of which I just walked away from when they stopped being enjoyable. I sold them, gave them away, some of them I just threw away, I never got the cold sweats, I very rarely ever went back to most of them, I made a decision that some things were just not fun anymore and I just had no interest in them.
Stamps are one of the few things that I have come back to a couple of times in my life. They never really got “not fun”, I just had times where I just didn’t have the time for them so I put the albums on the shelf for a couple of years and picked them up again down the road. I never got “withdrawals” or anything like that from not collecting, I just lost interest and when I got interested again, I picked it up. I could get bored with it again sometime later and it will go back up on the shelf for a while.
I guess I just don’t understand people who claim to be obsessed with something, to the point that they seemingly have no self control. Yes, I know that most people are just exaggerating, but I’ve seen people who collect other things who have bankrupted their families in the pursuit of a “complete collection”. I just don’t get it.
Here’s how I got into collecting stamps, as I recall it. It has, after all, been several decades. I can’t say I remember exactly why I started doing it, but I started soaking stamps off of the mail my parents received relatively young. It wasn’t long before they were pulling old letters from the 40s and 50s and I added those stamps to my “collection”. They bought me two cheap stamp albums for my birthday, one for U.S. stamps and the other for worldwide. I collected both for quite a while, but it was clear that I spent more time and effort on the U.S. stamps. The reason wasn’t national loyalty or anything like that, it was simple availability. I could get U.S. stamps plentifully, they came in the mail every day and most of the local stamp shops had tons of them. Add to the fact that my U.S. album had a spot for every stamp and the worldwide album had, at best, 4-5 pages for the largest stamp-issuing countries, with very few specific spots, just lots of blank space to stick in a handful of stamps and very quickly, you had no more room to add more. It’s therefore no surprise where I specialized and I still have many of the U.S. stamps that I collected back then in my current collection. I haven’t got a clue what happened to my foreign collection, I’m sure it’s packed away somewhere at my parent’s house. My original U.S. album went the way of the dodo when I upgraded to a new, much improved album more than 20 years ago.
I never had any kind of fanatical devotion to U.S. stamps, they were convenient and available and I had an album that told me what I was missing and I could fill in holes as I came across the stamps. As I’ve come back to stamp collecting over the years, the fact that I had a ready-made collection, still with empty spots that directed me where I needed to go to finish pages, I continued that trend. Had things been different and other stamps been more readily available, I likely would have focused on another country.
Now, however, I’ve completed a lot of my chosen country. Between 1920 and 1993, I am essentially done, with a few exceptions here and there. Mostly, that amounts to differing formats in the album, individual stamps vs. a block of 4 and I have one or the other but not both. There are a couple that elude me, I have the complete Transportation definitive series, with the exception of the 10.1 cent 1880’s Oil Wagon overprint, Scott #2130a, issued in 1988. I can’t find anyone who actually has one to sell! I’m missing 3 airmail stamps, anyone who knows anything about U.S. airmail stamps ought to know which ones those are, they’re the expensive trio pictured to the left. I’ll get them, they’re certainly not out of my range but they haven’t been a priority. Another one that sort of bugs me, and it’s all my fault, is a single official stamp in the 1983-1988 series. I have all the rest, but for some reason, I never remember to order that last one and when I do remember, I’m not doing an order and it’s pointless to buy a $1 stamp and pay shipping on it. Someday I’ll make sure it gets ordered and finish the page.
I’ve got more holes pre-1920, getting larger as you go back, but those tend to be the more difficult, more expensive stamps. I made the decision long, long ago that I’d collect only MNH stamps post-1900 and postally used stamps pre-1900, mostly because they’re more much more expensive pre-1900 and I didn’t have a lot of money to spend at the time. I could replace them, but I’ve got so many used stamps pre-1900, it would be a major undertaking so I’m not going to bother, at least not at the moment. As it stands, my collection has slowed to a crawl because there isn’t that much left to add. That’s why I wanted to start another collection, as I mentioned in a previous post. I decided against Australia and went instead with China, which I had been previously considering. The reason was simple, I had come up with some criteria for selecting a country and while Australia met most of them, it failed on availability. There were more modern used stamps than mint and virtually all of the dealers I found were located in Australia. China, on the other hand, was exactly the opposite. Most dealers I saw were in the U.S. and the availability was reversed, therefore I went with the one that best fit my criteria. I may go back and pick up Australia later, it’s still a country that interests me.
I can imagine some of my fanatical collector compadres asking “why pick those if you have no personal attachment to the countries?” Again, like the U.S., I am not emotionally dedicated to the stamps, they are something to collect and while I certainly can look at them and appreciate them artistically, where they come from really doesn’t matter to me. My wife collects Japan because she specifically likes Japan. I wouldn’t care if they came from Outer Mongolia so long as they met my criteria. It’s just not why I’m collecting.
To be honest, I’m sure other collectors just don’t understand me either. I had one person who got very rude when I said I don’t open my action figures, I collect them, catalog them and store them. How could I possibly consider myself a collector when I don’t open them and play with them and pose them all over the house? I’ve addressed this previously and won’t go into it again, except to say that I have a logical argument for why one form of collecting is more “valid” than the other, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. After all, we’re all collecting to have a good time, whatever floats your boat is entirely up to you and I stand behind your particular methodology no matter what it is. It’s your money, your property, do with it what you wish. Just don’t pretend that you get to dictate how others act with their own property.
In the end, I suppose that everyone is different, I just see what I think is a disturbing trend toward fanaticism and obsession among some collectors and a call for such views to be considered normal. Fanatics and the obsessed are never normal, they are never healthy in any way, shape or form. It isn’t healthy to be addicted to anything. We must temper our interests with reason and logic, we must be able to turn these interests off when they start to interfere with the rest of our lives. Sure, having hobbies are fun, they’ve added a lot to my life and I plan on continuing for as long as I live when and where I can, but they can’t be the end-all-be-all of someone’s life. If they are, they’ve stopped being hobbies and started being the focal point and that, like it or not, is unhealthy.
Let’s all try to be healthy, okay?