Modern Philately

The world was very different in 1960 than it is today. The universe was only four billion years old, a considerable age but adolescent compared to the nearly 14 billion years astronomers think it is today. Black holes hadn’t been theorized or discovered. There was less documentation to prove evolution, as DNA had only been worked out a few years before. No one had been to the moon. No one had color television sets. I Love Lucy hadn’t been replaced by Snookie and J-Wow. Making a phone call meant sitting down in your home and dialing. There were no computers and Internet and philatelists reading articles like this would be holding newspapers in their hands. And mail meant stamps. The world around us is very different than it was when the Baby Boomers were kids.

But the stamp world has changed very little in the last fifty years. True, most collectors buy their stamps differently. Online sales predominate today and Ebay is a market force. However, the modern world has been both a boon and a bane for mainstream stamp dealers. We have access to a huge worldwide group of collectors who can instantaneously buy our wares. And we now have competition from thousands of sellers which has made us more attentive to customer service and pricing than we ever were before. But at its core, stamp collecting is the same. Collectors still put stamps in albums and stock books. They still collect mostly by country and they still get great pleasure trying to complete the areas that they set out for themselves. At its most basic level, philately today is the same as it has always been: a collector in his home, with his collection , quietly enjoying acquiring and classifying small artistic treasures. 

Philately has retained its rank as an important hobby in the world not despite all the changes that we see around us, but because of them. Stamp collecting has always been an anchor for every generation that has collected. It is a way of being in the present changeable world while retaining your roots to your past. Stamp collecting has always meant applying modern methods to an old hobby. When the collectors of the 1890s added the plethora of new issues that the British Commonwealth and the French Colonies produced, they used the categorization system that had been developed for the legitimate postage stamps of real mail carrying countries. I have no doubt that if philately had not had these roots, and the thousands of 1890s new issues had been among the first stamps that were issued, that our hobby never would have survived. The generation of the 1930s added postal history and First Day Covers to the hobby, again retaining the inherent structure of country collecting while adding some spice to their hobby. When the collectors of the 1960s began to emphasize quality and NH stamps as being the ones that they wanted to collect, it seemed significant at the time and generated much controversy. But viewed with the lens of fifty years it was a small modification on a well ordered, defined and structured hobby. What we like about stamps collecting, all of us, is its exactness, certainty and permanence. There isn’t much we could alter in our hobby, even if we wanted to.

Fifty years from now I think that collectors will look back over their lifetimes and remark about the seamless transition that philately made from a world of paper dominated communication to electronic communication. Despite the dreams of many philatelists, our hobby has always been a niche. It requires intelligence, inquisitiveness, acquisitiveness, education, as well as free money and time. How many people do you know who have all of these traits and blessings?  Future generation will think that our hobby has done pretty well for itself.

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