The Basics Of Starting A Stamp Collection

September 8, 2023

In an age where email and instant messaging have largely replaced handwritten letters, postage stamps may seem like a relic from a bygone era. However, for collectors worldwide, stamps remain beloved and treasured items.

Stamp collecting has captured the imaginations of people for several centuries. It has a rich and fascinating history from the humble beginnings of the Penny Black in 1840.

Whatever your reasons for being interested in stamp collecting, this article will delve into the world of stamp collecting, exploring its history and value and offering tips on starting a stamp collection.

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What is stamp collecting?

Stamp collecting, also known as philately, involves collecting and studying postage stamps and related materials. Millions of collectors of all ages and backgrounds share a love for these miniature works of art.

At its core, stamp collecting is about appreciating postage stamps’ designs, colors, and historical significance. You can build a collection around a theme, such as animals, famous people, or landmarks, and create collections around these themes.

In addition to the enjoyment of building a collection, stamp collecting can also be a valuable investment. Rare and highly sought-after stamps can be worth significant amounts of money.

A brief history of stamp collecting

Stamp collecting is one of the world’s oldest living hobbies. Experts have traced the beginning of stamp collecting to even before the world’s first stamp was produced.

These early collectors collected adhesive labels used to collect taxes, commonly called revenue stamps. According to the Stamp Collection Wiki page, John Bourke – Receiver General of Stamp Dues in Ireland, was the first stamp collector.

He assembled a book of the existing embossed revenue stamps and the hand-stamped charge marks used with them in 1774. Collectors can enjoy his collection even today as it’s been remarkably well preserved in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

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The beginning of postage stamp collecting

The Penny Black is the world’s first adhesive postage stamp designed for use in a public postal system. It was first issued in the United Kingdom on 1 May 1840 and featured a picture of Queen Victoria. It was designed by Sir Rowland Hill, who also developed the concept of prepaid postage.

Penny” by Kevin Walsh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The first stamp collector

Postage stamp collection as a hobby began the day the Penny Black was issued. British Zoologist John Edward Gray is regarded as the first official collector of postage stamps.

He deliberately purchased a block of four Penny Black stamps on the first day of its sale to preserve them. His collection eventually grew to over 50,000 stamps. However, Gray was not alone in his hobby, as many other people also began collecting stamps.

According to Britannica, the earliest reference to stamp collecting in a paper was an 1841 advertisement in The Times of London newspaper. It read “a young lady, being desirous of covering her dressing-room with canceled postage stamps.”

The mere accumulation of stamps progressed to the organized collection by themes, such as particular countries, rulers, etc.

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The rise of stamp collecting clubs

By 1860, stamp collecting was a popular hobby with hundreds of thousands of stamp collectors and “stamp dealers” to cater to them. Many stamp-collecting clubs were formed in Europe and the United States.

These clubs served as meeting places for stamp collectors, and members often exchanged stamps and shared knowledge about the hobby. The first organization for stamp collectors was the Royal Philatelic Society of London, founded in 1869.

Stamp albums – dedicated books to keep stamps – were first issued by Justin Lallier in Paris in 1862. The first lists of stamps were published in 1861 by Oscar Berger-Levrault in Strasbourg and Alfred Potiquet in Paris.

The golden age of stamp collecting

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the production of stamps increased dramatically as more and more countries began issuing stamps. This created an abundance of stamps for collectors to acquire. Many collectors started to focus on building comprehensive collections of stamps from all over the world.

Stamp departments were in every store, and live auctions were held every weekend in large cities. It was estimated that one in seven families owned a stamp collection.

As stamp production increased, certain stamps became rarer and more valuable. Collectors began to focus on acquiring these rare stamps, and many became highly valuable. Some of the most famous rare stamps include the British Guiana 1c magenta, the Treskilling Yellow, and the Inverted Jenny.

As stamp collecting became more popular, many collectors began to specialize in particular areas of the hobby, such as collecting stamps from a specific country or theme.

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This specialization allowed collectors to focus their collections and acquire more specialized knowledge about the stamps they collected. For example, a collector might collect art or religion on stamps, flowers, animals, sports, etc.

Stamp exhibitions became increasingly popular, and many countries hosted big international shows. These exhibitions allowed collectors to view rare stamps and meet other collectors from around the world.

The stamp collecting hobby today

In the mid-20th century, modern printing techniques, such as photogravure and offset printing, were developed. These techniques produced more detailed and colorful stamps, which became highly popular among collectors.

However, by the late 2000s, stamp collection as a hobby was in decline as the digital world surpassed traditional hobbies. There’s some good news, though, as experts report an unexpected appeal for stamp collection in millennial audiences.

A 2013 Wall Street Journal report estimated the global number of stamp collectors to be around 60 million in 2013.  Additionally, a 2022 article by The Guardian observed that stamp collecting was gaining popularity with younger hobbyists.

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The digital age has also transformed the world of philately. Stamp collectors can now research stamps and connect with other collectors from their homes.

Buying and selling stamps is even easier with online auction sites, stamp forums, and virtual stamp exhibitions. Hence, it’s no surprise that the stamp-collecting hobby is gaining traction again. A new generation of stamp collectors is emerging.

Why should start a stamp collection?

There are several reasons why you should consider collecting stamps. Let’s explore some of the reasons people collect stamps.

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One of the significant considerations for collectors looking at starting a new collection is cost. Unlike most collectibles that require substantial investment, stamp collecting is accessible to people of all ages and income levels.

You do not have to spend much money to build your collection. There are millions of stamps worldwide, and they can be purchased very cheaply. You can even gather a few stamps at no cost at all. A stamp collector can have a robust collection without spending much money.

Require less space

In addition to low cost, a significant advantage of stamp collecting is that it takes up very little space. Unlike other hobbies that require large storage areas, you can collect stamps in limited living space.

A beginner stamp collector can start with a few stamps and a small album that can fit on a bookshelf or desk. More extensive collections would only require a larger album. The small size of a stamp collection is perfect for collectors with limited space.

Historical significance

Most people collect stamps because they are fascinated by their historical aspects. Stamps tell the story of the history of a country. Each stamp represents a specific time. The stamp design reflects the time’s cultural and political values.

They are like a window into the past, reflecting times of war, peace, famine, and plenty. Most stamps commemorated a country’s success or marked their nation’s lows. Collecting old stamps can help one have a better understanding of the time.

Artistic value

Stamps generally have beautiful designs, intricate details, and bright colors. Various artists and designers worldwide used stamps to showcase their works. The results were often aesthetically pleasing.

This artistic value has made stamps appealing to a section of collectors. They are attracted and intrigued by the designs, pictures, and colors found on these stamps.


This is another reason stamp collecting is a popular hobby for many. Stamps are a tangible link to the past and collecting them can provide a sense of connection to that history.

Most people collect stamps to commemorate special events. A collector might collect stamps designed to celebrate various important historical events.

Educational value

Aside from commemorating special events, stamps provide an excellent opportunity to learn about landmarks, history, currencies, and culture. Collectors can learn about different countries and their traditions, languages, and customs by examining the stamps they collect.

Several stamp collectors report being inspired to research new topics because of an interesting stamp they saw. It is a great teaching tool to learn so much about the world.

Investment potential

Finally, most people collect stamps because of their investment potential. As stated earlier, some rare stamps can be highly valuable and sell for incredible figures. Some rare stamps command values of over $4 million.

This has led most new collectors to invest in stamps with the intention of reselling them for a higher price. Such collectors aim to collect rare or mistaken prints and sell them off for a profit. Indeed, investing in stamps can be a profitable venture if done right.

How to start a stamp collection

Stamp collecting can be an exciting and rewarding hobby for people of all ages. Whether you are interested in history or art or enjoy the thrill of collecting, starting a stamp collection can be a fun and engaging experience.

However, it can seem overwhelming for people entirely new to collecting. Here are three easy steps to starting your stamp collection.

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Choosing a focus

The first step in starting a stamp collection is deciding on a focus or theme. The possibilities of which stamps to collect are endless. You can collect stamps from a specific country or topic, such as animals or famous people.

Having a focus makes the process of collecting stamps more meaningful. This can include anything from sports or music to historical events or famous people. Collecting based on a theme makes finding new stamps more exciting and provides an opportunity to learn more about the topic of interest.

Set a budget

As with all hobbies, it is essential to consider your budget when starting a stamp collection. While creating a stamp collection with just a few dollars is possible, building a valuable collection would require significant investment.

Set a monthly or yearly budget for your collection, as it helps you prioritize the most important stamps. However, remember that you get what you pay for when collecting stamps. While you can build a robust collection with a few dollars, you’ll require a bigger investment to build a collection of rare stamps that are considered valuable.

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While these rare stamps aren’t cheap, the good news is that they can and do increase in value.

Finding stamps to collect

Once you’ve picked a focus and determined how much you’re willing to spend monthly, the next is to find stamps to add to your collection. There are several places you can buy stamps.

However, the first place you should check should be from your family and friends. You can ask them to keep their stamps from received posts. Ask your family if anyone has an old collection you could have. You could build an interesting collection this way without spending a dime.

Stamptastic” by “Jessica Spengler” is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There are several places to purchase stamps, including stamps online stores, attending stamp shows or auctions, or trading with other collectors. Online marketplaces such as eBay are great for finding rare and unique stamps.

However, ensure you carefully review the seller’s ratings and reviews before purchasing stamps online. Stamp shows and auctions are also great places to find new additions to your collection. Another option for finding stamps is to trade with other collectors.

If you are looking for ideas, there are also books about stamp collecting that can be very useful.

Storing and displaying your collection

Once you’ve started a stamp collection, you must consider how to store your collection correctly. Proper storage will help ensure that your stamps remain in good condition. Keeping your stamps in good condition ensures they retain their value over time. Here are some tips on how to store a stamp collection:

Choose the right storage method

Several methods exist to store stamps, including stamp albums, stock books, glassine envelopes, and mounts. Stamp albums and stock books are popular choices because they allow you to organize and view your stamps easily. Glassine envelopes are often used for temporary storage or for transporting stamps.

Mounts are clear plastic strips that securely hold stamps in place within a stamp album. Whatever storage method you choose, it’s essential to ensure it’s appropriate for your stamps. You shouldn’t invest in an expensive storage method if your stamp collection isn’t worth much.

Keep your stamps dry

Whichever storage method you opt for, keeping your stamps dry is essential. Humidity can damage your stamps, so it’s important to keep them in a dry location. If you live in a particularly humid area, consider storing your stamps in a climate-controlled room.

Avoid exposure to light

Direct sunlight can damage stamps over time. Store your stamps in a location that is not exposed to direct sunlight or artificial light for extended periods. If you need to examine your stamps in detail, use a lamp with a low-wattage bulb or natural light.

Handle your stamps carefully

When handling your stamps, its important to have stamp collecting supplies. Being gentle and using clean hands is essential. Oils from your fingers can damage the stamp’s gum or paper. You can use stamp tongs to handle your stamps instead of your fingers. Tongs have a smooth, flat surface that won’t damage the stamp.

Properly displaying your stamp collection

Stamps are not only interesting collectibles but also beautiful works of art. Therefore, displaying your collection in a way that highlights its uniqueness is important. Various display options are available for stamp collectors, ranging from simple methods to more elaborate and expensive ones.

These include stamp mounts, frames and shadow boxes, glassine envelopes, mounts, and binders or portfolios. Each display option has its unique advantages and disadvantages.

The best choice ultimately depends on your personal preferences and the nature of your collection.

Properly caring for your collection is essential to maintaining its condition and value. You can enjoy a properly stored stamp collection for decades.


Most collectors are drawn to collect stamps because of their intricate designs and the history and cultures they represent. However, for some collectors, the most enticing aspect of collecting stamps is the potential profits of owning rare and valuable stamps.

Indeed, stamp collecting can be a lucrative hobby, with some rare stamps fetching millions of dollars at auction.

Below is the list of history’s top six most expensive stamp sales.

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British Guiana 1c Magenta1856$9.48 Million
Treskilling Yellow1855$2.6 Million
The Sicilian Error of Color1859$2 Million
Baden 9 Kreuzer Error1851€1.31 Million
The Inverted Jenny1918$1.35 Million
1c Benjamin Franklin Z Grill1868$935,000

Indeed, these amazing figures show that stamp collection can be a potentially lucrative investment. However, it’s important to note that they are rare and exceptional cases. Most stamps do not sell for anywhere near these prices. The truth is that regular standard stamps will never be worth much because millions of copies were printed.

While you could potentially build a precious collection by collecting rare stamps, that would require a substantial monetary investment. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. You also are not guaranteed profit as the stamp market can be unpredictable. Collectors considering starting a stamp collection to make a quick profit would be best served considering other collectibles.

However, collecting stamps wholly for their potential to return a profit is possible. It just requires a significant investment and the proper knowledge. With the appropriate knowledge, you can build a stamp collection with substantial financial value.

Final thoughts on starting a stamp collection

There have been concerns about the stamp-collecting hobby dying. However, people have wrongly predicted the death of the stamp-collecting hobby since the 1940s. Way back in the 1940s, there were several articles published expressing concerns that the hobby was dying.

Yet, it has thrived even more. The stamp collecting hobby is experiencing a resurgence as a new generation of collectors appreciate the beauty and history stamps represent. Stamp collecting is a popular hobby millions of people worldwide enjoy.

These collectors enjoy the educational and historical aspects of collecting and the joy of building a collection over time. With over 60 million stamp collectors worldwide (over five million in the U.S.), it’s clear that the hobby is going strong.

We’ll end this article with the words of Frank Catania, a Glenorchy Stamp Club committee member, on why he collects stamps.

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“After all these years, stamps still teach me something new every day. I learn so much about all the capital cities around the world, their currencies, their buildings, it’s just fascinating. Stamps have got so much history. Every time I pick up a stamp I learn something new.”