As a philatelist (yes, a few of us are still alive), I bemoan the arrival of the email which has drastically reduced our use of the postal service to mail letters. Somehow, people nowadays feel that you should immediately know of the most inane events in their lives that in a previous era would fortunately have died in importance between the time they thought of it and got to a table with paper and pen. And of course, the less said of the prose and spelling you see in an email the better.

Getting back to stamps, I took a look at my collection. I had over 6000 stamps from 137 countries. (Yes, I counted.) Some of the countries don’t exist any more (like the UAR or Czechoslovakia) and surely they must be valuable? You see, I’ve been thinking. I saw an announcement of a ‘Road Show’ of philatelic agents hosted by the Spellman Museum of Philately in Weston, Massachusetts. The announcement also said that for $40, collectors can have their collections evaluated.

Surely, I thought, it was time I had my collection valued so I can bring forward my retirement date. So I lugged all seven volumes of the stuff and met the curator. A kindly gentleman, he chatted with me and made some nice comments about my collection (Oh, these British definitives have a nice color palette! ..You know, these two were the first stamps designed by children. Of course, now many countries do that… He smiled at several pages, and nodded.)

He finally looked up and asked if I had any specific questions. Of course! ‘I thought you would be able to give me a ball park value for the collection,’ I offered. ‘You know, we don’t really value them’, he began. Then he went on to observe that most of the stamps I had were cancelled ones, and being stamps in common use during their times, there are plenty of them, and so on. Finally it came. ‘If I was to put a value on them, it would probably be a couple of hundred dollars, certainly not in the thousand.’ It dawned on me that I had paid about 25% of the value of my collection to have it valued.

Oh well. One of the ironies of philately is that stamps are valued more if they are mint (i.e., new) and not cancelled (i.e., used). Yes, I do have all the common ones because I painstakingly collected them by pursuing those who got mail from overseas to give me the covers from which I carefully extracted the stamps. I was not going to throw money at dealers to build a collection. No Sir! For me, the whole point of a stamp collection was that the stamp had done its work (i.e., conveyed some mail across the country or countries), and now was ready to rest. The cancellation had its own story to tell (for example, a Dutch stamp with a cancellation from Soerabaja, (see picture) now Surabaya, in Indonesia, when it was still a colony). I love the stamps from Germany. There is the Germany of today, West Germany and German Democratic Republic from before, from the occupation zone during the war, and so on. Stamps teach you history!

Stamps tell you lovely stories of the culture and art of the country, their heroes, and travel spots. They convey to you what the country thinks is important (people and events). You could look at the stamp, wonder why they have put this plant on it, and then look it up to find out that the plant is a valuable and rare native species.

Sure, my collection does not have the 1867 15 cent Lincoln, now valued at $200,000. But so what, I thought, as I drove back home. My collection has given me hours of pleasure since the age of about 10 when an older cousin started me off with an extra album of his with some stamps already pasted in.

So, I decided to act before it was too late.  I’m going to make up a couple of albums and give them to Liam and Grace, the six year old twins across the street and tempt them into a glorious future.

And retirement can wait.


  1. D Reply

    Btw, the picture didn’t come through.

    Have stamps gotten more valuable since the advent of email? Given the few amount of letters sent, I would think they have gained in popularity as a collector’s item.

    • C Gopinath Reply

      You would think if supply falls, .. but demand has also fallen! There is no attraction to collecting stamps. Like writing to pen pals will not revive in an age of instant messaging.

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