A Beginner’s Guide to Stamp Collecting

Stamp collecting is a fun hobby that has attracted people from all walks of life for many years. Today, as people have turned to digital means of communication, the value of stamps and stamp collections may inspire serious investing, in addition to gathering unique specimens for their sentimental value. Beginners may focus on completing collections designed by the postal service or based on a specific theme. As collectors learn more about the activity, they may turn their attention to seeking a unique stamp for its high price tag.


Gather Supplies

One of first steps in beginning a satisfying hobby is to gather the correct materials. In this case, that may include books with protective sleeves, stamp tongs, a magnifying glass, soaking bowl, and a clean work space. An archival document box with appropriate dividers is a valuable investment in protecting and storing the growing collection. Other tools to consider are perforation gauges, watermark detectors, color guides, stamp catalogues, and subscriptions to philatelic magazines.


Learn to Handle Collectible Items Safely

Whether you’re collecting for fun or for investing purposes, it’s best to handle stamps with tongs or tweezers instead of your hands. It’s important to preserve the quality of the stamp as much as possible. This means avoiding making any marks on the stamp (including pencil or pen marks.) Never bundle collector items with paperclips, staples, or rubber bands. These could leave tears, stamps, or indentations that affect the value of the stamp. It’s also a good idea to wash your hands carefully before beginning and resist the urge to lotion or hand sanitizer that could harm the paper.


Start Buying Stamps

Many beginning collectors approach stamp dealers or the postal service to purchase packets containing many used samples. In an “all-different” packet, there should be a variety of specimens from many years and often across country borders. Budding enthusiasts may also purchase new stamps from their local post office, such as commemorative sheets or singles.


Learn to Distinguish Between Poor and Superb

As a collection is established, it’s important to learn to distinguish between specimens of “superb” value and those that are only “good.” A “superb” stamp has perfect centering, unmarred coloring, and perfect adhesive (or gum.) A “fine” stamp has average centering, light scarring on the gum side, and no clear flaws. The next step down in designation is “good.” These specimens may be off-center or have minor defects, such as uneven areas of gum. Anything that falls below this designation should be tossed aside unless a very new beginner needs something to serve as a space filler.


Expand Base of Collection

Once a small collection is growing, hobbyists and potential investors may want to reach out to friends, family members, and local businesses, asking them to set aside envelopes with postage. Although the envelope isn’t part of the collection, it may have valuable information about the date, original location, and history of the stamp.


Join Clubs and Make Swaps

When duplicates are found or if certain specimens aren’t of interest, collectors often get together with other collectors to swap. Those who are interested in seriously investing in stamps should carefully study the value of their collections before making any swaps. Check online with the American Philatelic Society for information about clubs and stamp shows in your area.