As an English As A Foreign Language (EFL) teacher in southern Thailand, I usually explain that one of the main requirements of a hobby is that some sort of equipment is used. I often need to explain that sleeping is not a hobby although most of my students insist it is their favorite free-time activity. Hobbies are actually a diverse set of activities and it is difficult to categorize them in a logical manner. A recent study by Robert Stebbins categorizes casual leisure and serious leisure by dividing hobbyists into five broad types of activity: collecting, making and tinkering (like embroidery and car restoration), activity participation (like fishing and singing), sports and games, and liberal-arts hobbies (like languages, cuisine, literature).

As we all are aware, collecting includes seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying and storing. This is appealing to many people due to their interest in a particular subject and a desire to categorize and make order out of complexity.

Collecting stamps has its own unique pieces of equipment needed in the pursuit of our hobby. We call these ACCESSORIES. Some accessories are used in varying degrees by all stamp collectors while others may never be used at all by the majority.

A few basic accessories are needed to collect stamps. Tongs are non-striated tweezers used because they are a reliable way to hold and move stamps without damaging or getting skin oils on them. Collectors have a choice in how to store their stamps, many opting for stamp albums using either stamp hinges or more expensive hingeless mounts, while others use stock books which hold stamps in clear pockets without the need for a mount. Magnifiers — either the traditional handheld magnifying glass or the modern digital counterparts — aid in viewing fine details. Other accessories aid in the proper identification of stamps including perforation gauges, watermark detectors, color charts, and UV lamps used to determine tagging varieties. Catalogues and philatelic literature can also be regarded as accessories. Each of these will have their own article in the “Philatelic Terms & Tips” blog series.

One of the best things about this wonderful hobby of philately is that I am constantly learning new things — not only about the stamps themselves but about the subjects portrayed upon them, the entities that issued them, and so on. In the course of my daily research for A Stamp A Day, I come across a great number of previously unknown (to me) webpages and blogs, some philatelic in nature, many about history or culture. It can indeed be a bit frustrating as I simply do not have enough time to read everything that I stumble across.

Take blogs, for example.  Just in the past two weeks, I have found (and subscribed) to the following: Barbados Stamps, Executed Today, EWorld Stamps: Worldwide Stamp Collection, My Native Belarus, My Philatelic Passion, and Stamps of Armenia. All are worthy of further perusal. I hope I can find the time someday soon.

One great resource of information on older stamp issues are auction catalogues and I really appreciate firms that archive .pdf versions of their previous catalogues on their website. One such auction house is that of Robert A. Siegel whose catalogue often include introductory essays on the stamps included in a particular auction. Auctions for the 1893 Columbians and Hawaii Missionaries immediately spring to mind. While looking around the site recently, I came across a number of shorter (one- to four-page) summaries of numerous U.S. issues including an excellent timeline of the American postal system from 1632-1792.

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One thing that really fascinates me is the beginnings and evolution of stamp collecting itself. While I have never seen a comprehensive work on the subject, I have come across bits and pieces in the philatelic literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and brief mentions on various websites. I just found a nice site with articles on early collecting in the United States. It’s called Stamping American Memory: Collectors, Citizens, Commemoratives, and the Post — and is a scholarly study of philately in the U.S. I’m looking forward to reading all of the pages.

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A recent article in Linn’s Stamp News reminded me of the Philatelic Truck that traveled around the United States between May 1939 and December 1941, promoting stamp collecting to the youth of America. Because I was never really interested in poster stamps, Cinderella stamps, or local post stamps during much of my philatelic life, I never obtained a copy of the souvenir sheet printed by the Bureau of Engraving & Printing given to visitors to the truck. My collecting interests have, of course, changed over the years and now I am very interested in buying one of these (and will be placing a bid on eBay shortly). It was in my quest to find out more that I came across the Stamping America’s Memory site mentioned above. There is also a book about the truck, the tour and the sheet written by John H. Bruns, a former director of the National Postal Museum, that I’d also like to track down.

Farley and philatelic truck at White House. Washington, D.C., May 9. The Post Office's new philatelic stamp truck which began a tour of the United States today following ceremonies at the White House was given a final inspection by the Post Master General James A. Farely before it started out from the White House. The truck, containing stamp frames of all U.S. stamp issues, a miniature stamp press and souvenir engravings showing the White House, will visit cities and towns in every state of the Union.

There are a number of significant anniversaries coming up in the next few months, including the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. No doubt these will be commemorated philatelicly (but I have yet to see any announcements). Much sooner than those, actually released today (September 9) for the nation’s Stamp Day, is a four-stamp mini-sheet marking the 25th anniversary of Croatian independence which will occur on October 8. One million of the 11 kuna stamp have been printed, bearing a hologram using a special technique to produce a “real 3D” effect — supposedly the first stamps to bear such an image.

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Another recent issue commemorating an anniversary is that of Poland marking the 75th anniversary of the first airdrop by the Cichociemni, elite special-operations paratroops of the Polish Army in exile that were created in Great Britain during World War II to operate in occupied Poland. Designed by Ewa Szydłowsk, the 3.70 złoty stamps were released on September 1 in sheets of 35.

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Much closer to home is a set of three stamps and a mini-sheet to be released by Malaysia on October 21, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Penang Free School. I have fond memories of strolling the campus of PFS while on several visits to George Town several years ago. While I did absolutely nothing philatelic (not even the purchase of a postcard) during these trips, I will definitely purchase this set and accompanying first day covers.

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It’s not often that Royal Mail disappoints me with a stamp design for a subject that I’m interested in, but what’s with the graphic novel approach on the recent Great Fire of London set? The really ugly set of four was released on September 2 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the fire.

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As a teacher, I avidly collect stamps portraying aspects of my profession particularly those picturing students and/or teachers. I am thrilled with the release earlier this week (September 6) of a set of four plus mini-sheet by Hong Kong Post titled “A Tribute to Teachers.” This is just in time for the annual celebration of Teacher’s Day (September 10) in the Chinese Special Administrative Region. The stamps depict chalkboard drawings, something I used to create on an almost daily basis (most Thai classrooms are now equipped with whiteboards which don’t provide quite the same effect). There is a nice range of products (postcards, maximum cards, presentation pack, regular and color cancellations, etc.) available for this issue.

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Finally, one of my favorite stamp blogs — Big Blue 1840-1940, which covers the classic period of stamp issues as collected in the Scott International Part 1 albums or on Steiner album pages — earlier this week contemplated the question “Which Stamp Album is Best for WW Collectors?.” Blogger Jim, by the way, is almost finished with his survey of the “T” countries with an article at the end of August about the Turks and Caicos Islands. He started the blog about five-and-a-half years ago.

ASFEWcover-PPMy primary collecting focus right now is attempting to obtain A Stamp From Everywhere (ASFEW).  The number of stamp-issuing entities depends on how they are separated out into territories, departments, offices, agencies, and the like. 

When I started this endeavor, I made a spreadsheet based on lists found on the Linn’s Stamp News and Stamp Atlas web sites.  This list had a total of 914 individual stamp-issuing entities.  Since then, I’ve come across an even more complete spreadsheet on the Stamp World History blog that lists more than 3000 stamp-issuers.  Another site I’ve seen claims more than 50,000 (!) but I think that includes many local posts and stamps issued by various schools, youth organizations and the like.

For the time being, I’m striving to complete my original list and my current total includes some 199 different entities.  I started this particular collection just a little over two years ago so I feel I’m doing fairly well.

All of this was inspired by reading a review of an album called The Single Specimen World Gazetteer Stamp Album made by Terra Nova Publishing of Pennsylvania.  This album includes some 600 entities with a space for one stamp from each place, along with a small map and brief synopsis of the stamp-issuer.  These elements all inspired me to start a similar collection, albeit without a “proper” album due to high shipping costs.

As I began going after countries via the worldwide mixed packet route (and, more recently, targeting specific entities), I stored the stamps in blank stock books – a temporary solution until I’d found an album.  After much deliberation on the matter, I recently decided to create my own album – designing pages that I could print as I added new countries and that would eventually be stored in a binder (or several).  The former has proved far easier than the latter!

I tried out a number of free and trial versions of dedicated album page-making software but quickly grew frustrated with the results.  It wasn’t until a month ago that I turned to the familiar Microsoft Word to see if I could create the pages I envisioned using that.  I was very pleased with the ease with which I could design using Word and soon had a nice template in a two-page-per- entity format with a pleasing semi-modern border design. 

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I knew I wanted the pages to include flags, maps and coats of arms for each country and it took me a while to balance these elements in an attractive way while still leaving room for the stamps and write-ups.  The left-hand page includes an information box including location, government, estimated population, etc. along with brief political and philatelic histories.  The right-hand page displays the stamp itself along with catalogue number and information, plus a brief write-up of the subject matter portrayed upon it.

It does take me about 90 minutes to create each page once I have the research notes for the write-ups.  Most of this time is taken up by trying to condense the information into an interesting and coherent account of the stamp-issuer’s history.  In the past month, I’ve made pages for seven countries so I am off to a fairly slow start.  When I do have time, it is yet another enjoyable aspect of the hobby for me.

One of the difficulties involved in collecting A Stamp From Everywhere is deciding exactly which stamp should represent the entity.  For many stamp-issuers, the only issues were overprinted stamps from whichever nation had sovereignty over it or they had fairly uniform designs of numerals or monarchs.  In such cases, I tend to go with the earliest released stamp that I can easily afford.  For those countries with a bit more longevity, I desire to show something of their local identity be it culture, clothing or symbols.  So much the better if these are engraved single- or bi-colored stamps as these have always been my favorites.  I try to avoid using issues such as British Commonwealth omnibuses which feature similar designs for all of their colonies.

P1080631Of course, there are many instances where I obtain full sets in order to get at that single representative stamp for a lower overall cost.  Or, I simply fall in love with certain stamp-issuing entities and end up with more than just the one stamp I’d strived for.  As a result I seem to be building something of a general worldwide collection alongside the A Stamp From Everywhere focus.  That is one reason why I’ve finally purchased a proper album after several years of temporary stock book storage.  This album, Scott Modern pages in a Stanley Gibbons binder, hasn’t yet arrived yet but it will bring me full-circle to my earliest collecting days as I’d received my mother’s old Scott Modern as a gift for my tenth birthday.  Little did anybody realize that I’d still be collecting some four decades later…

Happy Collecting.

Living as I do in southern Thailand, the only stamps I can buy locally are new issues from the local post office.  There is not a single stamp shop on the island where I live.  While there are still a few stamp shops remaining in Bangkok, along with at least one large show each year, neither my schedule or budget offer many opportunities for travel to the capital.  Thus, the vast majority of my my collection is built up through online purchases, primarily via eBay auctions.

This means that I am constantly having to take into consideration the shipping costs of whatever stamps I want to bid on.  This is also the reason that I rarely purchase much-needed supplies such as catalogues or album binders and even things like mounts and stock books fall by the wayside.  While my inventory records only the base purchase price for each stamp, my philatelic-purchasing budget needs to factor in costs with shipping included.

Continue reading “The Shipping Dilemma”

There are basically four types of stamp album pages — commercial pages in a variety of styles and sizes with pre-printed spaces, blank commercial pages, the print-your-own variety available online, and those you make yourself either via software (dedicated or adapted) or by hand.

Most of us started out collecting by filling spaces in a commercial pre-printed album.  A beginning stamp collector’s goal is usually to “collect the world,” attempting to fill all of the spaces in such an album.  But with time the challenge of filling the album eventually becomes too daunting and the collector begins to look elsewhere for inspiration.  Often, they then start to “specialize,” perhaps purchasing a pre-printed country album with the stamps of their own country often being the focus.

Continue reading “Stamp Album Pages”

Welcome to my “Philatelic Pursuits.”  Allow me to introduce myself and this blog.

My name is Mark Jochim and I was born in Texas.  For the first 40 years of my life, I lived in the United States where I collected stamps off and on from the age of ten.

A decade ago, I made a very big change in my life. I became a teacher of English As A Second Language (ESL) and moved to Phuket, an island in southern Thailand.

Continue reading “Introducing My Philatelic Pursuits”