Sometimes called the “hobby of kings”, stamp collecting is also thoroughly enjoyed by children, families and everyman. Avid collectors appear in every walk of life and a stamp aficionado may echo other life interests such as accountant, librarian or other profession that requires thoroughness, concentration and cataloguing abilities. “It exposes her to the wider world, teaches her about geography, history and art, gets her thinking about ways of approaching and depicting subjects and events.” So said one father about the benefits for his young daughter of stamp collecting.
Many stamp collections are handed down from generation to generation in families and many collectors fondly recall sitting at a table with family members and a magnifying glass poring over stamps. Since the first stamp, the Penny Black, was issued in England in 1840 people have been buying stamps and storing them in the appropriate way for their time. The thrill is often passed from parent to child or even grandchild! Today’s philatelist can enjoy stamp shows, websites and chat boards to locate the stamps they seek, as well as stamp shows, estate sales and professional lectures. While some collectors are perfectly happy locating the next modest “find”, others dream of finding the one-in-a-million. Who knows? It could be you!
Long ago, stamps were collected and saved by adhering them forever to pages in a stamp album. Today’s methods help to sustain the integrity of the stamp, but collecting remains an exacting hobby. While parents might struggle to understand a child’s interest in electronic games, stamp collecting can appeal to the entire family. The hobby has actually changed little since the 1800s except that the world is larger and, therefore, the variety of stamps is larger. Stamp collecting will require some basic and relatively inexpensive tools – some tongs, a magnifying glass, maybe a perforation gauge, a proper means of storage and a thirst for new knowledge. If the new collector is first attracted to a $1 stamp, that is the cornerstone of a new collection!
If the collector decides to follow a particular theme in his or her collection, there’s a great big world out there! Given so many countries in today’s world and each of them producing multiple stamps, a worldwide collection would fill volumes of albums. Most collectors limit their scope. What appeals to you: watermarks, perforations, countries, historical periods, birds, inventors, music, writers, social causes? The possibilities are endless!
In the first half of the 20th century ambitious collectors wanted to assemble worldwide collections, comprised of the stamps of every country in the world. The Italian Count Philipp von Ferrary (1850 – 1917) dedicated his considerable fortune to the purchase of stamps and probably had the largest collection ever assembled. These worldwide collections are fascinating archives. One collector recalls his father’s collection – “It was full of stamps from countries like Ceylon, Rhodesia, Sikkim and Transjordan which no longer exist.” A journey through an old stamp album shows you graphically how the world’s map has changed.
Who are some well-known stamp collectors?
The British Royal Family: The Royal Philatelic Collection is the postage stamp collection of the British Royal Family. It is the most comprehensive collection of stamps from the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth in the world, with many unique pieces. In fact, there are three separate collections in hundreds of albums, the Green, the Blue and the Red Collections. The Green albums are those of the present Queen; the Blue albums contain the collection of King George VI and the Red Collection belonged to King George V.
HRH Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh: Prince Alfred (August 6, 1844 – July 30, 1900), the second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria, was the first serious collector in the British Royal Family. He started what would later become the Red Collection but sold his stamps to his brother, the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. The Prince of Wales was not really interested in stamps and gave the collection to his son, George. Prince George, the Duke of York and the future King George V, already had a collection of his own when he was given his father’s albums.
HRH King George V: George V (June 3, 1865 – January 20, 1936) become one of most notable philatelists of his era. He was the real founder of the Red Collection. He expanded the collection with a number of high-priced purchases of rare stamps and covers. His 1904 purchase of the Mauritius two pence blue for £1,450 was, at the time, a world record price for a single stamp. A courtier, after reading a newspaper article, asked the then-prince if he had seen that “some damned fool had paid as much as £1,450 for one stamp.” “Yes,” George replied. “I was that damned fool!” During World War I when he was the King, he tried to seek relaxation with his stamps, spending several afternoons a week with his collection. He left his heirs 328 albums of 60 pages each.
HRH King George VI: King George VI (December 14, 1895 – February 6, 1952), the son of King George V and the father of Queen Elizabeth II, chose to collect stamps from his own period of reign. He got all the issues of all the colonies, dominions and protectorates of the British Commonwealth throughout his reign. His collection is known as the Blue Collection.
HRH Queen Elizabeth II: Born April 21, 1926, the Queen collected stamps as a young girl, although she is not currently an active stamp collector. The stamps from the period of the reign of Her Majesty the Queen are being collected in the Green albums. Although the Queen herself is not an expert as her grandfather and father were, she maintains a real personal interest in her own collection.
Unlike the Crown Jewels and the Royal residences, the Royal Philatelic Collection is privately owned by the Queen, rather than belonging to the nation. The Queen has said that her stamp collection is her single most valuable asset. Experts believe that the Royal Philatelic Collection is now valued at £400 million (U.K. pounds sterling) making it the most valuable stamp collection in the world. The collection is maintained by a team of curators. The only stamp of significance from the United Kingdom and the British commonwealth that the collection does not contain is the British Guiana 1856 One-Cent, Black on Magenta, thought by some to be the world’s most valuable stamp.
Freddie Mercury: Freddie Mercury was a British musician, best known as the lead vocalist and songwriter of the rock band Queen. Stamp collecting since he was 12 years old, when Mercury died of AIDS complications in 1991, his father sold his philatelic collection. In the winter of 1993, the Freddie Mercury stamp collection was purchased by the British Royal Mail for £3,220 and the proceeds of the sale went to an AIDS charity.
Bill Gates: Bill Gates is one of the founders of the personal computer revolution and has been the richest man in the world for most of the past many years due to Microsoft’s enterprise and power. According to some sources, in addition to his numerous other collections (Leonardo da Vinci writings, collectible cars, fine art), Gates has an interest in philately and a collection of stamps.
Maria Sharapova: Former world No. 1 Russian professional tennis player, Sharapova has won three Grand Slam titles and has been collecting stamps since she was a little girl. Traveling around during tournaments and endorsement deals gave her a chance to gather stamps from other countries. Apparently she is not too happy about her hobby of stamp collecting coming out. She states, “Oh, stop. Everyone’s calling me a dork now. We’re getting emails from, like, stamp collecting magazines asking if I can do an interview. I mean, it’s just a hobby.” Her agent has banned her from talking about her stamp collecting as he was worried it will make her look like a nerd and not fit into the image of her he is trying to build
Dwight D. Eisenhower: President Dwight D. Eisenhower collected stamps in his youth. His collection is in The Spellman Museum in Weston, Massachusetts.
Warren Buffet: Investor and businessman Warren Buffet has stated many times in interviews that he collects stamps. Indeed, stamp collecting and investing share some common ground. Buffett’s wealth savvy came, in part, from his childhood interest in stamp collecting. Through numerous activities (including selling stamps), the would-be Oracle of Omaha amassed the equivalent of $53,000 by the time he was 16. If you needed a fancy stamp, you could turn to Buffett’s Approval Service, which sold collectible stamps to collectors around the country. Buffett collects classic stamps of the United States of America.
Czar Nicholas II: Nicholas II (May 18, 1868 – July 17, 1918), last Czar of Russia, was known as an ardent philatelist. In 1913 the first Russian postage stamps carrying portraits of the czars were released and Nicholas found his own image on a stamp. Of course, the stamps had to be cancelled with postmarks. Many postmasters refused to desecrate the face of the czar with postmarks and left the stamps uncancelled.
John E. DuPont: John Eleuthère duPont (1938-2010) was an American billionaire and member of the prominent U.S. chemical fortune family. In 1997, he was convicted of murdering Olympic Gold Medalist wrestler Dave Schultz the year before and sentenced to 13 – 40 years in prison. Among his interests was a passion for stamp collecting. He died in prison on December 9, 2010. In a 1980 auction he paid $935,000 for one of the rarest stamps in the world, the British Guiana 1856 One-Cent, Black on Magenta. The stamp most recently sold (2014) for nearly $9.5 million, almost a billion times its face value.
Ronnie Wood: Ronnie Wood, the lead guitarist of The Rolling Stones, took up stamp collecting as he completed alcohol rehabilitation. Claiming life without booze was “boring,” Wood now occupies his time with heavy all-night bouts of philately (better known as stamp collecting). So instead of pouring himself a drink, Wood spends his days poring over his impressive collection of rare postage stamps. Reportedly, Wood has assistants regularly seeking out new finds.
Philipp von Ferrary: Philipp von Ferrary (1850 – May 20, 1917) was a legendary stamp collector, assembling probably the most complete worldwide collection that ever existed or is likely to exist. Among his extremely rare stamps were the singular Treskilling Yellow of Sweden and the British Guiana 1856 One-Cent, Black on Magenta. No person since has owned both of these stamps at the same time.
Bill Gross: Billionaire bond king Bill Gross says his favorite investment is in stamps. Over the course of his lifetime, Gross has spent reportedly between $50 million and $100 million buying stamps. That’s not an insignificant chunk of his $2.2 billion fortune. Gross, the founder of PIMCO, donated $10 million to the National Postal Museum to create a new 12,000 square foot gallery in his name. Select stamps from his impressive collection were sold to help finance the donation.
Said Gross: “Stamp collecting has been such a rewarding and educational hobby for me that I wanted to share the joys of philately in a way that would benefit future generations of students, citizens and scholars. The gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum will use stamps and mail to offer a unique perspective on American history and identity. The story of stamps in America is the story of America, and I am proud to be part of preserving and showcasing these treasures.”
Bela Lugosi: Born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó (October 20, 1882 – August 16, 1956), was an actor famous for Dracula (1931) and other horror films such as The Black Cat, The Raven and Son of Frankenstein. He was an activist in the actors union in his native Hungary and was a charter member of the American Screen Actors Guild. Lugosi was an avid stamp collector when he wasn’t busy in front of the cameras.
John Lennon: Future Beatle Lennon began his hobby at about the age of 10, collecting 550 stamps from several countries including India, the United States and New Zealand. The collection was bought by the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. for $53,000 in 2005.
Jascha Heifetz: World renowned violinist Jascha Heifetz was a topical or thematic collector who mainly collected stamps depicting music. His collection is in The Spellman Museum in Weston, Massachusetts.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was an avid stamp collector. His collection contained about 1,250,000 stamps. He also designed several American commemorative stamps while President. He stated, “Stamp collecting dispels boredom, enlarges our vision, broadens our knowledge, makes us better citizens and in innumerable ways, enriches our lives.”
While President Franklin Roosevelt may have been the most famous U.S. collector, other well-known collectors include astronaut Henry Hartsfield; actors Gary Burghoff, James Earl Jones and Patrick Dempsey; author James Michener; the explorer Jacques Cousteau; the aviator Amelia Earhart; and cartoonist Garry Trudeau.
Most individuals collect for relaxation and enjoyment although many secretly hope that they will discover a rare and elusive stamp that will make them wealthy. As stamps are miniature works of art showcasing many topics, it’s nearly impossible to collect them without gaining a large amount of knowledge.
Collecting stamps is a hobby for millions of people and an investment for a tiny number of them. Miniature Artworks USA does not recommend “investing” in stamps – rare or otherwise – but we highly recommend collecting them as a hobby. The stamp world can produce astonishing headlines: The 2010 sale of a single Swedish “Treskilling Yellow” set a then-record for the world’s most expensive single stamp. Though the exact selling price has not been made public, it is estimated to have been more than $3 million, an amount now surpassed by other stamp sales. Like many hobbies, stamp collecting can help broaden one’s social life by connecting buyers, sellers and like-minded individuals.