This was written by my friend James Matthews, CPA about his wonderful hobby of unadulterated stamp collecting. Enjoy it.
“There are 193 countries in the United Nations. I have stamps from about 250 countries in my stamp collection. Where do all these other countries come from?”
Most of us don’t think about Hawaii before it was part of the USA. However, stamp collectors are aware of the days when it was a kingdom and then a republic because we collect Hawaiian stamps from that era. I recently bought some stamps from the Danish West Indies. Where’s that? You say. We call that the US Virgin Islands now. Yes, we bought them from Denmark about a hundred years ago. Stamp collectors call these “dead countries” now because they no longer issue their own stamps. The Confederate States of America’s postal service issued stamps until the rebellion ended in 1865. I recently visited a dead country on a Baltic Sea cruise to Gdansk, Poland. In the early 20th century it was an independent city-state under its German name, Danzig. I have about 200 stamps from there and at its city hall I recognized the crown and two crosses that appeared on many of its stamps. Nearby there are three other countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – that formed after World War I, then were absorbed by the Soviet Union in 1940, and were born again when the USSR collapsed in 1991.
Czechoslovakia died in 1993 but we got two new countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. But the stamps don’t look new. It seems they continued the designs and look very similar to the past. Similarly, in 1890 Britain grouped many of its island colonies into one and called them the Leeward Islands. In 1956 they closed that up and we once again had Antigua, St. Christopher, Montserrat, etc.
Some of the dead countries were kind of bogus. Bophutatswana, Ciskei, Transkei, and Venda were ‘Bantu homelands’ established by the apartheid government of South Africa. No foreign governments recognized them, so the stamps were valid in South Africa only. This lasted from 1976 to 1994.
There are some countries where we collectors don’t necessarily agree that they died. For example Basutoland gained independence from Britain and called itself Lesotho. The hobby mostly looked at this as a dead country and a new one. Basutoland had a lot of stately stamps which were engraved with the portraits of British kings and queens. Lesotho has modern themes and art, so collectors looked down on it.
There are many reasons why I collect stamps. I enjoy the history about them. In today’s world we can all find out about any country in an instant on the web. The sense of “wow” about a far-away place seems to be missing today. But a stamp has a tangible connection to that particular country. How many people have something that’s imported from Mali or the Maldives? Or something with a connection to Danzig’s independent days. Stamps are all artistic. They reflect the people, traditions, food, clothing, flowers and so much more about country. My collection is an art gallery of thousands that fits easily in my house. And I can afford to buy thousands more. Most of them are very affordable even on a low budget.
Let’s not forget how the ordinary stamp revolutionized communication. This happened in Britain. Before 1840 the recipient paid the post office for the letter. It was very expensive. Having the sender pay a penny in advance made it much easier to run the postal service and much more affordable. Literacy grew exponentially because ordinary folks were able to send letters outside their area. The United States followed in 1847 with its first stamps. Many enjoyable hours can be spent with a collection and if you collect like I do, the cost is quite low. My goal is to get at least one stamp from every country that ever issued stamps.”
The above are Jim’s views. Quite interesting! If you think you would like to start collecting, or restart if you are on a hiatus, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll point you in the right direction and if you want, you can contact Jim directly at email@example.com.