Get stuck into stamp collecting

Here are some examples and ideas

  • Sets and themes and groups
    In the newsagents there are stickers to buy. The same applies to postage stamps and they are often cheaper. There are sets of creatures – birds, butterflies, dogs, fish, dinosaurs; things like transport – ships, aircraft, trains, cars; maps, flags, inventors, literary figures and so on. Many of these stamps are miniature works of art and very easy to collect.
  • Language and literature
    All stamps, with the exception of Great Britain, have the title country written out. Some are in brief, like RF (France) or USA, but how about Suomi, or Suid Afrika, Latwijas or Oesterreich? Many stamps also have text that may be translated. In recent years literary figures have featured on postage stamps.
  • Maths (is that what we call it these days?!)
    Stamps come in several shapes and sizes. Most common are rectangular, but there are also triangular (equilateral, isosceles but not as far as I know scalene), round, trapezoid, and very occasionally square. Using a metric rule check the size of stamps you have. Then, for rectangular stamps, calculate the ratio of the longest side to shorter. Show either side as a percentage of the other. On all stamps other than those that are irregular (Tonga has a banana-shaped stamp) calculate the area. The United States, New Zealand and Tonga have all produced round stamps – remember A=πr2 ?
  • Then there is the prospect of conversion.
    Many countries have changed their currencies over time, including of course the UK in 1971. What is the relationship between old and new? How did we ever work in £sd and all in our heads!
  • History
    All countries, without exception, celebrate their history on their stamps, which is why most stamp collectors know that Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492. There are any number of stories to investigate, for example what is the ‘Legend of Paul and Virginia’ on a Mauritius stamp all about?
  • Geography and economics
    From around the 1920s countries began to illustrate their agriculture and manufacturing on stamps. In this respect the British and French colonial stamps are superb examples – mahogany logging, Honduras; sugar, Mauritius; rice, British Guiana. Nearly all countries have produced stamps with maps on and some of these have been controversial, for example an Argentine stamp showing the Falklands as Argentinian (Malvinas).
  • Design and art
    To some extent stamps reflect the design standards of the period – think art nouveau, art deco, minimalist and so on. There are superb examples of design like the iconic penny black, still reflected in the simplicity of our present definitive stamp design showing the Queen’s head. There are also examples of appalling design, that were controversial when issued.
  • How to start
    If you don’t have a childhood collection sitting around in the loft or under the stairs, look online under stamp collections and buy the cheapest you can find: eBay is ideal. Don’t worry about the niceties of condition at this stage. You will need something in which to keep the stamps and rather than an album, to start with try a stockbook. They are easy to find cheaply secondhand, again online. If you need further information have a look here >>>

If you come across stamps that are hard to identify, look here >>>

Mum and Dad interested?
I have started an online stamp course for novices and am adding lessons going along. I should add that I am not an expert philatelist, just an enthusiastic stamp collector. If interested just send me an email

Vic Flintham