A Stamp Collection is Like An Iceberg

One of my interests in Life is Military History. I enjoy walking around battlefields and museums. The thing about a good museum is that the artifacts stored in the cellars and even warehouses are sometimes more interesting than the artifacts on display. It is really the judgement of the Curator. I am lucky enough to have had some tours “backstage” at my favourite museum.

A few months ago, I was at a low profile auction at a Stamp Club. I was surprised that some album pages featured multiple copies of  used stamps. I do not understand this. There seems little point in collecting “duplicates”. Arguably one hundred copies of one stamp multiplies the value  one-hundred fold….but it is NOT “collecting”. It is merely “gathering”.

I never call myself a “philatelist”. I call myself a “stamp collector”. It is possible to take Stamp Collecting (reasonably) seriously without losing all of the fun. It is a leisure activity. And in the words of the Billy Dean song “the difference between men and boys is the size of their shoes and the price of their toys”. I am at heart a 64 year old schoolboy.

There are two ways to collect stamps….mint and used. I collect both….side by side on the same album page. I have written up my collection extensively. This gives some context.

Some might say that there is a third way to collect stamps…ie on First Day Covers. I DO have some FDCs. I think they are philatelic souvenirs rather than genuine postally used stamps. There seems little point in owning a large illustrated envelope with four, six or eight stamps, costing a lot more than the normal cost of postage. Indeed FDCs that have never gone thru the normal postal system are usually sold by dealers at a higher price than hand-written addressed covers that have gone thru the system.

This is NOT always the case. Some FDCs including modern ones are worth having from the perspective of History…or rather a souvenir of a historic event. For example, FDCs commemorating the French Revolution or American Revolution are nice to have. Likewise early FDCs are almost “accidental”, not commercially produced products for the “philatelic” market. They may not be illustrated and may be hand-written but they have passed thru the system and are from a more innocent time. In many cases they are expensive.

Although I have SOME FDCs in three First Day Day Cover albums, I am not overly enthusiastic about collecting them. Collecting Stamps and collecting First Day Covers are different hobbies but there IS a connexion.

“Postal History” is a rather grandiose term to describe something which is actually very basic…the actual use of stamps for the intended purpose …mail. Only on rare occasions such as the “first flight” on an air mail route or a censored cover during war-time truly justifies the use of the word “History” but in the context of a stamp collection, a simple postcard sent from a seaside town seems to qualify.

Frankly, I prefer authentic mail …a letter, birthday card or postcard to the calculated non-mail of the First Day Cover. I prefer History to be authentic rather than pre-arranged.

In my Ireland collection, I use one album page for every issue. I show the date of issue, designer, perforation etc….the stamps….and some text about the event or person on the stamp(s). In the case of Europa issues, there is not much that can be said and more than half of the page is “blank”. With most other issues, I will use about half a page. In a lot of cases this means that I have enough space to include a piece of mail (postcard or envelope) which adds a little context and authenticity to my Ireland collection.

For many years (say 1929 to mid 1960s)  Ireland tended to issue two stamps in every commemorative set. Typically the lower value was for domestic mail and the higher value was for airmail postage.

Luckily, I have about 90% of these lower value stamps on authentic domestic mail. They show up often at fairs and flea markets. Obviously the higher value stamps went out of Ireland on mail to (say) United States, Canada and Australia. Some of course were used domestically  on registered or recorded mail.

So I am trying to integrate these items of “postal history” into my stamp albums. This puts me in the position of the Museum Curator who must decide on which items go on open display and which items stay in storage.

Take the following examples:


The 1962 Poets issue. The lower value (3d) stamp. Used on mail posted from Thurles to Killaloe, County Clare and on mail posted in Cork to England. If I have to choose one to go into my stamp collection, it would be the “Killaloe” envelope. It shows the first day of issue.

image image

The 1953 Tostal issue. The lower value stamp. Used on mail posted in Dublin to two addresses in England. Not much difference between them.

The 1949 Mangan and 1954 Newman issue. Two Mangan stamps on a postcard sent from County Kerry to County Down. And paired with a Newman stamp on a letter sent from Dun Laoighre to England. And the Newman stamp on a postcard sent from Cork to County Down.

These are just some examples of decisions to be made.A stamp collection is like an Iceberg. A lot of it is under the surface.




About John

Dia Duit! Hello. My name is John. I am retired. I live in Ireland. I am on a five year mission to visit every city, town, village and place of historic and scenic interest in Ireland.
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6 Responses to A Stamp Collection is Like An Iceberg

  1. keijo says:

    You’re spot on with the iceberg analogy 🙂

    • John says:

      When I was about 8 years old, I had a “Trusty” paperback album…a juvenile album. Some information in the album said that President F D Roosevelt was a famous collector. The album had one page for Czechoslovakia …42 spaces….and I used to agonise about how did Roosevelt cope when he had 43 stamps from Czechoslovakia.
      In other words, a collection emerges from a childs album to an adult album…then several albums, boxes, cupboards, packets…a “stamp room” even.
      I think these small cheap covers are the way to go for me…they add “depth”, enhance the collection without costing too much.
      Stamp Collecting is my only vice.
      I have never smoked a cigarette in my life.
      I have never taken an alcoholic drink in my life…..so I can justify collecting when a stamp costs the same as a pint of beer or a pack of cigarettes.
      As I near completion, the stamps become more expensive…so I have spent as much as a good meal for two etc.
      But it becomes impossible when a stamp can cost as much as a vacation, or a car, or a house.
      So I am reconciled that my “complete” collection will never be truly “complete”. It is more important that it is MY collection…unique.

  2. Timbrofil says:

    I agree with you, and I must confess that I found myself in most of those written by you. I believe that the difference between stamp collector and philatelist can sometimes be elusive if you put enough passion in what you do. Warm regards, Catalin

  3. Dan Barry says:

    Very well said. I enjoy collecting stamp covers too. Those little packets have a history, and perhaps a history lesson too.

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