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A friend of mine recently asked why I collect worldwide stamps from all eras as I have non-existing possibilities of building even somewhat complete collection.  I told him that I collect for personal fun with no serious goals (like exhibition philately or profit seeking) attached; for me it’s just a hobby like reading a good novel….  But I dared to challenge him by saying that a complete, all-era worldwide collection is by no means as impossible as generally considered. And I’ve got the proofs…

How many stamps have been issued

The first piece of information I needed to know is how many different stamps have been issued since the Penny Black to date.

Keeping up with new issues is Mission Impossible

Keeping up with all new issues is "Mission Impossible"

A generally acknowledged piece of information is that there are over half million different stamps, and new ones come at a rate of 10-15 000/year. But to find a more precise number, one has to pick up their favorite stamp catalog and start counting.  As each stamp catalog has a somewhat different numbering system, the results will vary at some extend.

Luckily I’ve been building a “rough index” of stamp issuing entities for years, so I didn’t have to do all the “ugly maths” at one go.  My figures are based on Michel catalogs (issued between year 2000 and 2009) and don’t include any perforation, color etc. varieties listed unless they have their own catalogue number.

And the total figure is (…drumroll, please…)  527,628 stamps… Of these about 92% are what can be dubbed as “normal stamps”, the rest are officials, postage dues, parcel stamps, military and telegraph stamps etc. special purpose issues used in postage.

The percentage of issued stamps by area/continent

The percentage of "different stamps" by area/continent

How many stamps do I have?

Most long-time collectors (me included) consider the question “How many stamps do you have?” as a completely non-trivial piece of information. But since I do keep a simple (Excel-based) records on my collections, this one is easy to answer…. Based on my records I have 51,023 different stamps, and the number increases daily.

My latest purchase -a lot of early British South African Company

My latest purchase -a lot of early British South African Company

This means that my worldwide collection is currently approx. 10% complete already. But I know some areas are better than others. For example my Europe collection is about 4x more complete than for example the Africa.

My stamp collection completion level by area/continent

My stamp collection. The percentage number on each slice shows the completion level by area/continent.

Always have a goal

Now that I know the number of stamps issued as well as number of stamps I have, it’s easy to count the number of missing stamps: 527,628 – 51,023 = 476,605 stamps.

It is a HUGE number, but NOT IMPOSSIBLE to reach with time and patience (and some money of course)…  Playing a devil’s advocate is easy: “just add 40-65 new stamps every day, and in 40 years time you will have a complete worldwide collection” …The best way to think a goal as big as this is to compare it to apartment mortgage.  Instead of getting things done at one go, you have to work with tiny paybacks each month for decades.

In the end, the real issue are not the expensive (or even slightly better) stamps. They are always relatively easy to find from specialized dealers. The hardest part are normal “minimal catalog value” issues that dealers do not care. These must be found from various sources (and usually you end up with plenty of unnecessary dupes at a same time).

What’s your take on this issue?

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