Stamp Collecting as a Hobby
SOME regard it as the finest hobby in the world. Others disdain it. Nevertheless, it captivates people in all walks of life, whether ninety years old or just nine.
It would seem that the earliest reference to collecting stamps was in England in 1841, the year after they were first issued. The Times of London carried this advertisement:
“A young lady, being desirous of covering her dressing-room with cancelled postage stamps, has been so far encouraged in her wish by private friends as to have succeeded in collecting 16,000. These, however, being insufficient, she will be greatly obliged if any good-natured person who may have these (otherwise useless) little articles at their disposal, would assist her in her whimsical project!”
Since that time, many stamp collectors have not only derived pleasure from the hobby but have found it tension-relieving. Others appreciate the educational side of it. Also the artistry of stamps attracts some collectors, while prospects of financial gain motivate still others.
What Made Stamp Collecting Possible?
Prior to postal service, people forwarded messages and letters via trusted travelers. By the sixteenth century an international postal service operated among a number of European states. But it was quite expensive and involved much delay in delivery. Then in 1680, a letter courier system was started in London, England, by a man named Dockwra. Letters were collected hourly from hundreds of mailboxes that he established around the city of London. Delivery took place ten times a day, and the cost was only two cents a letter!
However, since running a postal service was a favor granted to members of the aristocracy, Dockwra’s business soon came to an end. The policy of the noblemen was to make as much monetary gain as possible for minimum service. The result was corruption to such an extent that it gave rise to the expression “crooked as a postman.”
Yet, as the structure of commerce and industry built up, mail service was needed to other areas. People agitated for postal reform and this moved Parliament to appoint a committee to investigate. As a result, Sir Rowland Hill published a pamphlet in 1837 on “Post Office Reform.” He recommended that letters be delivered anywhere in England for a penny. The British Government followed through and in 1840 restored penny postage, issuing the first adhesive postage stamps for use on letters.
These were the famous one-penny stamps bearing a profile of Queen Victoria (now called “the Penny Black”) and the blue two-pence stamps. About two years later the first adhesive stamp in the United States was put in circulation by the Despatch Post of New York city. It prepaid a three-cent delivery charge on a letter mailed inside the city. Canada followed suit in 1851 with a three-penny beaver design stamp.
By 1966, one authority estimated that over 156,000 different types of stamps had been issued around the globe! Europe alone accounts for at least 54,228 of these. No wonder stamp collectors tend to specialize!
The Stamp Collector’s Tools
Innumerable books are available through public libraries and bookstores as aids to knowing stamp values and what to collect. For classifying them an album is very helpful, as well as a magnifying glass.
Some start by saving stamps from letters coming into their homes or places of business. Others build a collection by purchasing packets of various kinds of stamps. Most collectors find that the larger packets have the best stamps in them. In this way it is possible to obtain about 70 percent of world stamp issues.
A chronicle of human history can be seen through the picture window of stamps. Peaceful scenes, war and other human tragedies, scientific accomplishments, profiles of kings, queens, presidents as well as wicked dictators have all been depicted. During World War II postage stamps were converted into a medium of propaganda by the opposing sides. Commerce and industry have played a part in influencing their design.
Some collectors specialize in animal stamps and as a result assemble a regular zoological “Who’s Who” in their albums. The koala bear, the egg-laying platypus and that noted jumper the kangaroo have all had their pictures on Australian stamps. Peruvian stamps have illustrated the llama, while Liberian letters have been decorated with the crocodile. The lowly tortoise has appeared on Vietnamese and Ecuadorean stamps. Lions, leopards, gazelles, camels, wolves and the hippopotamus have stalked across the stamps of Denmark, Angola, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Somalia.
Our loving Creator has also graced the earth with a vast number of flying creatures. It is most interesting to get acquainted with them. Some people enjoy doing this by collecting stamps on which various nations have portrayed birds common to their lands. The farsighted eagle has a place on the face of Polish, Albanian and Syrian stamps, to mention only a few. Venezuela has featured the vulture, Hungary the raven, Spanish Sahara the ostrich, Korea the hawk, while Austria, China, Monaco and others have pictured the soaring wings of the gull. The rare bird of paradise is shown in all its glory on New Guinean stamps. Last but not least, the pelican has exhibited his huge mandible on the stamps of Yugoslavia, Mozambique and Antigua. The roll call of stamp-depicted birds is lengthy, much to the delight of many stamp collectors.
Plants, trees and flowers, as well as insects, have adorned stamps over the years. Bridges, dams, public buildings, besides rivers and mountains, have been used as stamp themes. Undeniably, through stamp collecting a wide range of topics can be followed up that are both educational and recreational.
Of course, some stamps tend to impart ideas and teachings that are contrary to Christian principles. For example, many stamps glorify political and military leaders as well as wars and conquests. Persons who are trying to live in accord with God’s Word are not going to be aided in this by devoting their time to collecting pictures that advocate another way of life.
Some persons collect stamps relating to Biblical matters or the geography of the Holy Land. The well-known river Jordan, famous for its Biblical associations, is shown on a Transjordanian stamp issued in 1933. Some stamps have honored the Holy Bible; one commemorated the 300th anniversary of its printing in the Finnish language. Iceland portrayed an ancient manuscript purportedly telling about Noah’s building the ark. One Israeli stamp depicted Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel as to who is the true God. (1 Kings chap. 18) And an Israeli issue of recent date bears the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters for God’s name, Jehovah.
However, most stamps with a religious motif and issued by so-called Christian nations have glorified pagan gods and false teachings. Stamps of at least thirty-seven countries of Christendom have featured the worship of the mother of Jesus, even though his teachings do not support such a practice. Stamps of Eire and Italy have illustrated the Trinity doctrine, even though it was first promulgated in ancient Babylon thousands of years prior to its being adopted by Christendom by means of the Council of Nicaea under the direction of the pagan Roman emperor Constantine.
Germany, Spain, Portugal and others have put out stamps featuring adoration of the cross. This practice, too, is not of Christian origin, but has its roots in paganism. That such is the case is well illustrated on a Mexican stamp showing “the Cross of Palenque”—a symbol used in ancient Mayan worship even before Jesus Christ was hung on a simple stake.—Acts 5:30; 10:39; Gal. 3:13.
Astounding too is the fact that a large percentage of the nations professing Christianity have covered virtually the whole pantheon of pagan Roman gods and goddesses on their stamps. Though postage stamps are not religious items, true Christians ought to think twice if, as a hobby, they are accumulating an array of false religious symbols and pagan gods.
Stamps of Unusual Interest
“Unusual stamps, of course, especially interest many collectors. For example, Sierra Leone has issued the unusual giant “Gold Coin” stamps. Each of these stamps, said the Freetown Daily Mail, is “individually engraved, embossed and die-cut with such precision and accuracy that, even side by side with the coins, similarity is amazing down to the finest detail.” The largest ones are three and a quarter inches in diameter, depicting the embossed head of a lion or a map of the country.
Collectors pay close attention to oddities. A Papua stamp bearing the names of every post office in the country was not only an oddity but a first. In 1853 the Cape of Good Hope issued the first triangular stamps. Brazil’s first stamps in 1843 were nicknamed “Bull’s-eyes” because of their oval shape.
The world’s rarest stamp is the one-cent magenta of British Guiana, now Guyana, issued in 1856. In 1956 an offer of $65,000 was turned down for the one existing copy. Valued at over $100,000, it is now owned by an anonymous collector.
Inverts on stamps make them rare. Through error, the center was turned upside down on Canada’s 1959 St. Lawrence Seaway Commemorative stamp. It now can be sold for $2,500 used or unused. A 1918 United States airmail stamp, the 24-cent carmine rose and blue with its upside-down picture of an airplane, will now bring $25,000, according to Scott’s Catalogue.
An Austrian stamp pictured a wine merchant of Lower Austria in native costume with everything correct except the man’s ears, which were the wrong way around. A St. Kitts-Nevis stamp showed Christopher Columbus on his ship approaching the Americas on his historic trip of 1492 C.E. A sharp-eyed stamp collector noted that Columbus was looking at the land through a telescope. Yet telescopes were not invented until over a hundred years later! However, such errors add to the interest of stamp collecting.
Stamp collecting is an interesting hobby and much can be learned from it. But, as with other matters, care needs to be exercised so that it does not draw one away from the truly important things in life.