Stamp Collecting

In the year or two that I collected stamps, about age 12 and 13, inspired by my Great Aunt Maude when we’d moved to Illinois, I discovered companies that would do approval services similar to those that book distributors did for university libraries. The stamp service I remember was called Jamestown Stamp Company, Once a month or so they would send a large envelope full of a couple dozen little glassine envelopes (like these), each with four or six or eight stamps from a particular country, or on a particular theme. You kept which ones you wanted, and mailed the others back along with payment for those you kept. But you could also buy any particular stamp(s) you wanted, by ordering them specifically. There was at the time a huge volume called the Scott Stamp Catalogue, the size of an unabridged dictionary, that listed every stamp ever issued by every country ever. (I bought one of those, for some $20 at the time, when paperbacks cost $.75.) Scott is still around; it’s now a website,

At some point after a year or two of collecting stamps, it struck me how pointless it was. It’s not like you grew a collection of stamps that happened to come in the mail. You could order anything and just have it. So I stopped.

Yet there were two benefits from collecting stamps for that while. First, you learn world geography; you are offered stamps from various remote and bizarre countries around the globe, and you learn where they are. (This was analogous to learning US geography from having a jigsaw puzzle where each state was a separate piece, as I had at maybe age 7.) Second was you got a flavor for each nation’s character through the kinds of stamps they issued, the designs and subject matters. The US then, and still, issues ordinary little square stamps in standard denominations for routine use. But three or four times a month, it would issue special “commemorative” stamps in a horizontal rectangular shape, and these would commemorate some particular historical event, or famous artist, or whatever, many of these in full color. Many of these were sets of 4 or 6 stamps on a theme, e.g. four different wildflowers.

In contrast were especially the Soviet Union stamps, many more of them per month or year, mostly monotone, and often issued in sets, and generally glorifying Soviet leaders and achievements. Wikipedia has this page,, but … I still have my old stamp albums! So perhaps I’ll snap a photo of the ones I have.

Also, there were small countries, island nations and Arab Emirates nations, that issued so many different stamps given their tiny populations that you got the impression they were deliberately appealing to the stamp collecting market in bigger nations. These were often very colorful, on nature subjects, and sometimes in odd shapes, e.g. triangular. I have some of these too.

In recent years even countries like the US and UK have trended this way, issuing sets of commemorative stamps, 4 or 6 or 8 in each set all on a theme, on every conceivable subject…. For example, Star Trek stamps. You would never have seen such things in the ‘60s or ‘70s.

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