Stamp Collecting

Why Children should Collect Postage Stamps

If you are the owner of a child that is obsessed with dinosaurs then you probably already know just how many complex names and facts a child can learn and recite.  Perhaps you have wondered If only there was a way to expand that self propelled learning potential to cover more than just paleontological pursuits.  Well I have a time tested technique that I’m sure will get your stamp of approval….

My stamp collection began about the same time I started primary school.  I was ushered into the hobby by my Grandmother and took to it like a duck to water.  While other children were amassing armies of GI Joes, Ninja Turtles and hitting each other with slap bracelets; I was pursuing philately. In those early formative years it was a fantastic avenue for exploring new topics and learning about the world.

Now with emails replacing letters, postal services cutting back, and veteran collectors increasingly mounting themselves into the great album in the sky, stamp collecting is entering an age of uncertainty.  But it isn’t too late for new collectors to pick up the hobby.  Here are some useful subjects that children can learn about through collecting stamps.

Geography – As a child one of my favourite rainy afternoon activities was to slowly trace a map of the world onto paper and then colour in all the countries that I had stamps from.  I quickly learned to recognize the names of different countries and their relationship with each other.  The Soviet Union was the big country at the top of the map that along with the British Commonwealth used up lots of red pens.  Greenland was always an enigma, the choice of colour was obvious but I never had a stamp from there so had to keep it blank.  At a very early age it helped me visualize my home country’s place in the world.

History – Painful lessons were learned trying to find countries to colour in only to look them up in the Encyclopedia to discover they no longer existed.  For a ten year it old it was a revelation to discover that countries could disappear like that and of course it begged the most common of childish questions… why?

Stamps reflect the changes in the world.  They tell the story of the rise and fall of empires, of the creation of new countries, of war and of what different countries valued through their history.  I quickly learned that here in New Zealand the most favourite thing to put on the early stamps were Queens and Kings.  From 1950 onwards… not so much.  In the 1940’s in Germany for some reason there was an obsession with a guy that kind of looked like Charlie Chaplin, only a lot more serious looking.

Thematics – The collecting of stamps by theme instead of by country is called thematic collecting.  Pictorial stamps cover every kind of subject imaginable.  Dinosaurs, aircraft, birthday cakes, flowers, mountains, explorers, you name it!  One of my first stamp related memories is being given some stamps from New Zealand’s 1988 issue on whales.  Over two decades later and I still have a healthy interest in marine biology.

If you can encourage a child to be as passionate about collecting perforated pictures of the world as they are about collecting pokemon then all kinds of interests might develop from what they discover.

What do you think?  Does anyone have any memories of collecting stamps as a child?  Or any other items that they encourage their child to collect?

© Lemuel Lyes

10 replies »

  1. I’m pretty sure I also started a collection and also had a fair wide scope of interests in the world around me, but realising I’d a)never probably own that famous first stamp ever issued’ or b)never get ALL the stamps I soon gave up as my collection could never be finished.

  2. Thanks for visiting! You are right, completionists should probably stay clear of stamps unless they have a lot of money and a lot of album space! With children I’d probably advise a collection based on different countries as that is reasonably acheiveable (especially on a budget) or alternatively a thematic collection such as any stamps of animals.

    That said, some of the older stamps aren’t as expensive as you might think. With 50 cents of pocket money you can still easily buy stamps that are well over 100 years old. My example of the world’s first stamp (the Penny Black) took me a while to save for as a youngster but is hardly worth the money that one might expect. Even though it is now 172 years old!

  3. We were encouraged to collect stamps but I didn’t really take to it either – I suspect also due to completionist tendencies. 😉 But I still learnt from it – clearly not as much as you but a little geography and quite a bit about current events, as Mum joined us up to the NZ Post philately club, so we’d occasionally get first day covers and things.

    • Thanks for stopping by. Good to hear from someone else that found stamp collecting a valuable learning experience! You raise something I forgot to touch on, there are many fantastic groups that can help young collectors. It has been a long time since I’ve enrolled in any myself but I’m sure a lot will still be running and will still be sending out freebies and encouragement to kids.

    • Thanks for stopping by Rosi! You raise a very good point. My grandmother and myself both stopped collecting stamps after the year 2000. Partially because it seemed like a good round figure to stop on and partially because of the same reason as you, there were just too many stamps being issued for collectors.

      I love the line from that Guardian article you linked to “Its purity as a hobby came from people eccentrically deciding to treasure those functional little stickers for showing that postage had been paid – to turn them into objects of desire, purely out of a need to lavish something with attention”.

      The good news is that there are plenty of other things to collect. One of the beautiful things about ephemera is that nobody is producing it specifically for collectors the way that postal services did for stamps.

  4. I am smiling at being reminded of the childhood absorption of collecting stamps. Stamps were my windows to the world…just as windows are now…not immediate but persistent connections to places, the past, changes. From a very early development of understanding of geography …my one green stamp from paraguay, landlocked, into centre of the album page to the stamped all over tin can mail envelope from Pitcain Is, I was detemined to learn their stories. Even as an adult travelling the names foreign countries had for themselves were remembered from stamp collecting days, giving appreciation for the relativity I was learning. Even now I am tempted to buy…as when passing old haunts in market backstreets in Kuching, Sarawak, I couldn’t help but be drawn to old British North Borneo stamps, only now I had walked in these exotic places, smelt the dark interiors of teak, momentarily visiting old colonial times.

    • Hi – thanks for stopping by! I’m happy to hear that you have re-connected with your stamp collecting past! It sounds like you had quite a collection. It is incredible how stamps can offer a window like you say, and that little bit of a personal investment that can encourage one to learn more about parts of the wider world. Perhaps now in the internet age where images of any country can be conjured up in seconds there is less need for a hobby like stamp collecting to peer into other places and times, but there is still something remarkable about knowing the history of an item, holding it in front of your eyes and knowing that it actually came from that time and place. There is nothing wrong with giving in and buying a few of those North Borneo stamps for old times sake!

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