How to start stamp collecting

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This is a story on how I did start with stamp collecting. I think a story like this is one of the best ways to tell how people (like me, possibly You too) begin and get started with stamp collecting.

Why I started collecting

Like most kids who start collecting something, also I had a role figure who collected stamps. My older brother had always ripped stamps from incoming letters/mail and stuffed them to a box. And of course I followed this example… At the time my family also received a magazine called “Maailma ja Me”, which was a “soviet version” of Readers Digest. It had usually a one or two picture pages about stamp collecting and new Soviet stamp issues. Like most little boys interested on stamps, I did cut the images of the stamps and saved them.

Picture of 1917 Finland 1mk Saarinen postage stamp- one of my very first stamps.

Picture of 1917 Finland 1mk Saarinen postage stamp- one of my very first stamps. This has a partial rural cancel

My real collecting career started in Christmas around the mid 1980’s. My parents gave me a gift that contained Finnish Post office “Presentation pack to stamp collecting”. It had a little stamp stockbook

Getting more information

I think I read the pocket guide several times during that Christmas and following years. But like most pocket books, it left a lot of unanswered questions…. About 3-4 years later I realized that my local library had some stamp related books and magazines. Thanks to these books, I learned plenty about more advanced stamp collecting and philately… My only complaint was (and still is); for some bizarre reason, the books were located in “adults section” of the library.

This was also the first time I encountered worldwide stamp catalogues. My library had a 1910 edition of Michel stamp catalog, and somewhat recent Yvert & Tellier series. As my language skills were limited at a time (I was still a school kid), I had to lend couple of wordbooks to get started with catalogues… Few years later my local library abandoned Yvert & Tellier and switched to Michel. Luckily, this happened when I had to choose a 3rd foreign language for my school. I chose German language because I wanted to be able to read and understand Michel more in depth.

Meeting other collectors

Hungarian definitive postage stamp

Hungarian definitive postage stamp issued in 1976.

My first real contact to stamp collecting came from Hungary. My family lived in a apartment building and some time at the mid 1980’s a musician from Hungary moved close to us. During the summer days he played tunes for the “yard kids”, and occasionally he showed some cards and stamps from his country. I still remember getting my very first Hungarian stamp from him… I still have a special place for Hungarian stamps in my heart due to this man.

The Finnish Olavinlinna postage stamp in M1930 definitive series

The Finnish Olavinlinna postage stamp in M1930 definitive series

My second collector contact came from a school I was. My class had a boy who also collected stamps (as his father), but we did not know about each other’s hobby before having a “present your hobby” day… Since he was from “upper class”, our friendship never really took off. Nevertheless, I do still remember getting my first Finnish M30 pictorial definitive from him.

A very important era for me was mid 1990’s, when I started becoming independent. During these years I visited several second hand stores, stamp shops and exhibitions around the Finland. This led to several collector contacts I still cherish.

Local stamp clubs have never been my thing … As a kid and teenager, I simply was unavailable for attending local club meetings as they where at a bad time… I think my first with local stamp clubs was as late as 2001 or 2002; nearly two decades after my stamp collecting hobby started – and my membership lasted only for few years.

For me, the Internet is my local club… For the last decade (or actually 12 years) online world has provided me everything I need. Contacts to other collectors, interesting items around the world, possibility to swap/exchange/sell excess material with other collectors etc.

Getting new stamps for collection

Getting stamps is always a though task for new collector.

Initially I received stamps from the incoming mail of my family. Mainly this meant cutting either Christmas or Easter cards, but there were some letters too. Also couple of my relatives knew about my collecting and saved me some stamps from their mail.

Living in apartment building had a bonus that many took advantage of: the paper retriever bin. I think I received 5-10 new stamps each week by simply taking out the old newspapers to the bin and checking if the bin had any cards or letters on top… Even happier I came few years later when I noticed that a local car market had an huge open paper retriever, that contained plenty of covers from international business correspondence and parcel pieces from postage.

In the early 1990’s I started saving my pocket money to buy items from mail order stamp shop. This was mainly various single country off-paper mixtures (like 200 different from New Zealand etc.) or kiloware in addition of stamp collecting supplies (like stockbooks). It was great fun at a time, and it still is… Though many advanced collectors discourage for buying single-country mixtures from stamp shops, they are IMHO the best way to expand worldwide stamp collection with ease… Nowadays there is of course the internet and a healthy selection of online auctions and stamp shops.

Some Final Thoughts

So this is how I began collecting stamps…

I know that each collector has a different story. What’s your story? I challenge you to share it with me and other online stamp collectors – write a comment or publish your story in your own blog (if you have one).

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