STEP 1 – CHOOSING YOUR FIRST STAMPS
Starting a stamp collection is a lot of fun, learning all about the stamps which have been issued by the countries of the world over the years. The best advice to the novice is to buy the largest packet of whole-world stamps you can afford, together with a medium-priced album and some gummed stamp hinges to mount the stamps. This simple start will be your ‘apprenticeship’, and you will have the pleasure of sorting the stamps by country and arranging them in the album. You will be able to identify most of the stamps without hesitation: put aside any which you are doubtful about until you can trace them in the catalogue. To keep your interest alive, you will be seeking more and more stamps, and there are numerous sources of supply.
At this stage some of your stamps will be unused, others postally used, and it is usual to collect one or the other, not both. Mixed unused and used stamps look rather a hotchpotch in the album, while a page of unused stamps, neatly arranged, can be very attractive. However, your preference may be for ‘fine used’ (ie. lightly postmarked) stamps, which you can obtain from letters, from packets of ‘kiloware’ or purchase from dealers.
Unused stamps usually cost more as one has to pay the face value of the stamps plus the dealer’s usual commission or profit. On the other hand, some stamps – especially those from the more remote territories – are often difficult to find in postally used condition and cost more than unused ones.
STEP 2 – CHOOSE A COUNTRY OR THEME
Postage stamps are miniature works of art – colourful, well-designed and superbly printed. Some of them commemorate famous people and events, others show animals and birds, flowers, railways, ships and aeroplanes, buildings and bridges, coats-of-arms and flags, space and sport.
Over 200 countries in the world currently issue postage stamps – ‘definitive’ or ‘ordinary’ stamps for everyday use and commemoratives or ‘special event’ stamps for anniversaries, national and local celebrities or occasions. The great dominions of Australia, Canada, India and South Africa were formed of provinces and states, each of which issued their own stamps years ago. New stamps are issued at the rate of about 9,000 a year so that the total number of stamps issued all over the world to date is truly vast.
STEP 3 – SELECTING YOUR FIRST CATALOGUE
The stamp catalogue, basically a dealer’s price-list, is a most essential work of reference for the stamp collector. It provides complete, detailed lists of all the postage stamps issued by every country in the world from the earliest days, with information about dates of issue, commemorative events, face values, colours and designs, and – if it is a fairly new catalogue – the current prices of the stamps, unused and postally used.
STEP 4 – CHOOSING THE RIGHT ALBUM
As you begin to accumulate stamps, you should acquire one of the popular ‘slip-in’ collecting books or ‘stock-books’ such as stamp dealers use, to keep your stamps in order and in good condition. These have strips or pockets on every page and you simply slip your stamps into them, arranged in order of country or as you wish. Some collectors use stock-books permanently for convenience, but of course the stamps are not displayed as they would be in an album. It is time to think of an album only when your stock-book is reasonably full and you have decided to build up a general collection (necessitating a large whole-world album), or concentrate on the stamps of particular countries or themes (blank loose-leaf or ‘one-country’ albums).
STEP 5 – GET THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB
Your first essential item of equipment should be a pair of stamp tweezers – these are made of light plated metal with slender, flattened tips or ‘spade’ ends enabling stamps to be picked up and sorted quickly and surely. The magnifying glass is the one tool which everyone associates with stamp collecting. Through the magnifying glass, stamp designs appear in detailed close-up and are seen to be miniature works of art. Perforations and watermarks will eventually concern you – differences to the normal perforation or watermark of a stamp can enhance its value, and it is necessary to be able to measure the perforation or identify the watermark if only to establish that you have the normal stamp. The perforation gauge measures the number of perforations within the measure of 2 centimetres. Perforations are a stamp’s ‘teeth’ and their measurements vary according to the type of perforating machine used.