What to Specialize In

The question of what is the most interesting area of philately to specialize in was a hot topic among philatelic writers before 1950. Collectors then had, for the most part, a broader based knowledge of their hobby than do collectors today. This was for two main reasons. First, there were far fewer stamps that had been issued (probably only a quarter as many), and so many collectors had the time and inclination to delve into philatelic areas outside their main sphere of interest. And second, serious collectors 65 years ago spent far more time on their hobby than do serious collectors today, largely because today there are so many other distractions. Travel in 1950 was time consuming and difficult, and trips like Chinese and African safaris only existed for the very rich and very adventurous (and for China, the somewhat insane, as China was in the midst of a fierce civil war). There were only three main American TV stations for the few American families in 1950 that had TV (six million US families had sets in 1950), and there were no computers or Internet. People took all their hobbies and interests more seriously then. They had to.


So the writers of that time evaluated the various philatelic areas for their specialty worthiness. The criteria that they used was never overtly specified, but reading between the lines and using hindsight it appears that their evaluations of the advantages and disadvantages of each specialty area came down to several factors. First, how intrinsically interesting is the philately of the area discussed? Some areas, because of political exigencies, have numerous scarce issues, numerous political subdivisions, and many short lived issues (think German States in the German Area) that make for interesting collecting. Second, is the literature of the particular philatelic area accessible? And are the specialty catalogs informative, accurate and easy to use? ( no one wants to collect an area where the catalogs are incomplete or even wrong about the material that is needed). And third—how available is the philatelic material itself (most specialists want their specialized material in the Goldilocks range, neither too hard to find, nor too easy, neither too expensive nor too cheap)?


Using these criteria over the next few weeks, I’ll discuss the sixteen major philatelic specialty areas—United States; Great Britain; British Commonwealth; Germany and Area; Italy and Area; France; French Colonies; Latin America; Mexico; Portugal and Colonies; China and the Sino area; Scandinavia; Belgium, Netherlands,  and Luxembourg; India and States; Japan; and Canada and British North America. The discussion will encompass each area’s degree of interest and difficulty and expense and will attempt to do for the collectors of 2015 what the stamp writers of 1950 did for collectors of their time.

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