No matter what you are collecting, you will probably always be missing stamps that are just too expensive or scarce too find.
- For most countries, there will be some early issues and varieties that you may never own.
- For most themes there are some very scarce items (e.g. if you are collecting bird stamps, you would have to be a very rich man to collect 90% of all possible issues).
You can start your stamp collection with very limited funds, or you can spend thousands of dollars on this hobby. You can also buy stamps as an alternative investment. Just make sure that you don’t have unrealistic expectations.
Starting your stamp collection with zero or very limited funds:
- You don’t need funds to start your stamp collection. The easiest way to start would be to acquire as many used stamps you can lay your hands upon. Ask your family and friends to save all their envelopes with used stamps for you. In addition, ask some of the local businesses to keep their envelopes for you, as some receive hundreds of envelopes monthly.
- One of your older family members may have a stamp collection that he/she would be willing to part with if they know that you show sufficient interest and will not neglect the items they have collected over years.
- You can buy collector packs from stamp dealers. Many dealers sell stamps in bulk for a low price. You can find collectors packs with 100+ stamps sorted by theme or country for very low prices (from $1 to $5).
- Attend a stamp auction or have a look at online auctions. You will often find kiloware (many used stamps still on paper), bulk listings, or boxes containing unsorted stamps at low prices. This can give your collection a kick start.
- Starting your collection this way can be a lot of fun, but unfortunately your stamp collection will probably not have a lot of value. Sorting and classifying your stamps should add a little value however. And there are always exceptions. Finding something special and scarce is always a possibility.
- Sometimes, even a new issue can quickly accumulate in value:
- If only a few stamps were used before an issue was redrawn by the postal authority, this will become a scarce item and can immediately see its value increase dramatically.
- Some stamps contain a fault (e.g. printing or perforation error), and you may be lucky enough to acquire one of these stamps in a used condition. This will become a scarce item and can immediately increase in value.
- It is also possible to luck into a valuable stamp in an auction lot, collector’s pack, or box of bulk stamps that the previous owner ad other buyers didn’t realize the value of.
Most collectors probably fall into this category. You have identified certain areas of interest for your stamp collection and you know what to look out for. You frequently spend your extra cash acquiring new items missing from your collections. You will also buy auction lots when you notice some value, and in some instances remove items that you require and sell the balance.
You are not spending thousands of dollars on your hobby but you are building up your collection steadily. Your collection will probably be continuously accumulating in value, and you should start considering including your stamp collection in your testament.
Your stamp collection has become an investment, even though that was not your original intention. You will also start considering spending more of your income allocated for investment on high value stamps.
Collecting stamps with investment value in mind:
Stamps can be a great investment as financial return has been very good over time. If you want to acquire stamps as an investment, there are many things to consider to ensure you invest wisely. Please see the article on “Stamps as alternative investment”
When you first become interested in collecting stamps you often acquire way too many of them from different countries, themes, etc. I would guess that most collectors have stories to tell of purchases they later regretted. It is very easy to quickly acquire stacks and stacks of albums and stamps that can result in total chaos. Sorting stamps is a very time consuming exercise.
Decide what you want to collect and stick to that. Your collection interest will probably develop and change over time as you become more experienced.
There are so many different areas of interest, but these are some that you may consider.
Collection by country:
- Collect stamps from one country (e.g. South Africa, USA, France, etc.)
- Starting a worldwide collection is not recommended, but if you are doing it purely for fun there is nothing wrong with it.
Collection by theme/topic:
- We call these thematical or topical collections. This has become a very popular way to collect stamps. If you have another hobby or area of interest, it is very easy and enjoyable to build a stamp collection around it. You can basically build a thematic collection around almost any theme.
- Some examples to get you thinking:
- Stamps with images of birds, butterflies, and fish are some of the most popular thematic collections.
- Collect stamps of your favourite animals, e.g. elephants, lions, cats, dogs, etc.
- Collect sport stamps, or stamps with your favourite sport as theme, e.g. golf, soccer, chess or cricket. You can also collect stamps of sporting events such as the Olympic Games, Soccer World cup, etc.
- Collect stamps of your favourite transport method, e.g. trains, ships, space, motor cars.
- Here are more themes to get you thinking: Famous person (e.g. Nelson Mandela), Arts, Architecture, Religion, Gemstones, Music, Maps on stamps, Stamps on stamps, etc.
- You can also develop collections of themes within themes by progressing to a deeper level of specialization. For example, try to collect one type of bird (e.g. owls or eagles), one type of dog (e.g. bullterrier), etc.
- There are so many options. No matter what you can think of there is probably another person somewhere in the world collecting the same theme.
- For many themes, especially the most popular ones, free websites exist where you can find lists and images of all the stamps available. This makes the job of finding your stamps so much easier.
Collection by issue:
- Many collectors will try to collect stamps from a joint issue between different countries. Examples of these are King George stamps from Commonwealth countries, or collecting Omnibus issues like the Silver Jubilee or Royal Silver Wedding issues. In the case of the Royal Silver Wedding issue of 1948/9, a set of two similar stamps was issued for 69 countries, and collectors will try to collect all 69 different sets.
If you are interested in starting your stamp collection hobby, here are some common beginner mistakes to avoid:
Collection interest too wide:
When you first become interested in collecting stamps you often acquire way too many stamps from different countries, themes etc. Don’t make this mistake. Try to limit your collection to one country, area, or theme and decide whether you would like to buy used or new (mint) stamps. See Article: Choose your collection interest carefully.
Paying too much:
You will soon notice that it is not easy to determine if you are paying the correct price for stamps. An important step will probably be the acquisition of a stamp catalogue. Make sure you understand how to properly use a stamp catalogue. You will only rarely pay the full catalogue value of the stamp, even for perfect stamps. Many stamps in great condition can be acquired for between 20% and 40% of catalogue value. For some stamps you may have to pay a much higher percentage of the catalogue value. When you decide to acquire a more expensive stamp, do your research properly. Don’t just buy the first stamp you see.
Buying stamps in bad condition:
The prices in catalogues are for stamps in the best condition available. For newer issues, this means the stamp should be post office fresh. Things to look out for are gum, hinge marks, toning, rust, perforation, tears, repairs etc. A stamp with a fault isn’t necessarily without value but it may only be worth a fraction of what a good condition stamp is worth.
Stamps should never be handled with your hands: you will leave residue on the gum that may cause marks or future rusting. If you want to make sure your stamps don’t lose value, keep them in perfect condition.
Storing stamps incorrectly:
For many years collectors used hinges to attach stamps to album pages. Today, an unhinged stamp is worth a lot more than a previously hinged stamp. Never use hinges. Buy proper stamp albums or the glassine sheets specifically made for this purpose. These should be available online, or at your local dealer or stamp fair, and they are worth the price. Also make sure to keep your albums in a safe, dry, and dust-free place.
Fakes and forgeries:
Due to the high value of some stamps, people have created many fakes and forgeries over the years. It is not always easy for a novice to distinguish between genuine and fake stamps. Some forgeries are so good that most dealers won’t notice the difference. If you are acquiring a really high value item you can always send it for certification. Many sellers will allow you to return your purchase if it is proven to be a fake. Also, do some research on the stamp you are interested in, since some issues are known for forgeries.