One Hundred Years

A century is a long time in history. In 1913, less than 2% of American homes were electrified. Virtually no one had a car; perhaps only a few dozen brave people had flown in planes. There was nearly no surgery; any infection was potentially life threatening. Life expectancy was thirty years lower than today. Smoking was pervasive, and levels of air and water pollution were high, and there were no nuclear weapons. Life has changed dramatically in the last century, certainly more so than in any other. An inhabitant of  England in the year 1100 would have had little difficulty fitting in if he were transported a century into the future. Our great-grandparents would barely recognize today’s world.
There is probably no activity, though, that has changed as little as philately. In 1913, my grandfather bought a stamp album, a packet of stamps, a perforation gauge, magnifying glass, and hinges. He saved and saved for a worldwide packet of 1,500 different stamps and aspired to a Scott catalog. There have been several significant changes in stamps themselves over the last 100 years, mostly to do with how they are produced, but there has been little change in the hobby of collecting.
Printing was more primitive a hundred years ago. Stamps were printed by flat press printing, where large sheets of paper were fed into manually operated presses by expert workman. Today’s stamp presses are computer run affairs, where great rolls of paper are continuously fed into presses capable of printing hundreds of thousands of stamps per day. Quality control is by camera and electric eye. Perforating is giving way to die cut, a sort of rouletting process that didn’t work well on early Finland stamps in the 1850’s when they tried it there (the knives that did the rouletting tended to dull, making the cuts imperfect and the stamps very difficult to separate without damage. Modern die cutting is far more exacting). The main area of change that the users of stamps would notice is adhesive. Gum was brushed on laboriously in 1913. Sheets were hung up after printing and gum was applied with large brushes by hand. This caused shrinkage and curling which were bane of early collectors of mint stamps and one of the reasons why used stamp collecting was so popular in the earlier years of the hobby. Gum today is a self stick adhesive, which comes on a matting so that the traditional philatelic obsession with Never Hinged stamps is moot on modern issues and may someday be a nearly forgotten niche of the hobby.
But in its essence, philately itself

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