Think Globally, Act Philatelically
Many a young child in ancient times before video games learned their geography and history from stamps. When I was a tot, I could name every country in the world, along with all the colonies and territories, and I did not learn this in school, but from stamp collecting. When I got an exotic stamp from Mozambique or Angola, I would look up the country or colony in an atlas and learn something about its history, especially as it related to the subject in the stamp. If the stamp portrayed a person, I would look him or her up in a biographical dictionary. If the stamp showed an animal, I wanted to know what its name was and what it ate and where it lived. I even learned some words in foreign languages, such as Deutschland and Österreich, and what the foreign currencies were.
Stamp collecting need not be a solitary activity, but can also foster friendships and social skills. Stamping kids like to swap duplicates with their collecting friends and look at each other's collections. Some schools sponsor stamp clubs, and adult clubs welcome children and often offer them free stamps. The clubs offer shows and exhibits and offer more swapping opportunities. Clubs often also have booklets where collectors offer stamps for sale, many of them inexpensive.
Where to get stamps? At first, just take them from the daily mail. It's free, and it's fun. You cut around the stamp with scissors and then soak the stamps in warm water in a sink or bathtub. Most of the stamps will detach from the envelopes; if not, then just cut closely around the stamp. Dry them on towels. If they start to curl, place another towel on top of them. For stamps on postal cards or postal stationary, just cut out the stamp. Advanced collectors often keep the whole card or envelope if they have interesting postmarks or pictures.
Stamps are usually collected in loose-leaf albums. Stamp stores and dealers sell printed albums, with pictures of the most common stamps where one would place the stamps. There are also albums with blank pages. I recommend the blank pages so that the child can create his or her own layout and organization. The child can also make his own album with punched sheets of paper and an album cover; use good quality, heavy, non-acid paper in that case.
The stamps are best attached to the pages with special stamp hinges which are sold in stamp stores and stationary stores. Do not glue them to the pages! There is only one rule in stamp collecting, and that is to avoid glue or sticky tape. This ruins the stamps, and prevents reorganization. The hinge is moistened with the tongue or a sponge, one end is attached to the stamp, and the other to the album. Let it dry before removing the hinge if the collector wishes to place the stamp in another area of the album. Once dry, the hinge is easily removed from the stamp or page without damage.
The collector can then ask friends and relatives to save stamps from their mail. Some businesses will save stamps for collectors, and when I was a child, I obtained a few stamps from trash containers in post offices. Why not? People were just throwing away perfectly good stamps.
One can also buy inexpensive packages of 1000 stamps or so from stamp stores, departments stores, or by mail from stamp dealers. Stamp newspapers such as Stamp Collector and Linn's have ads with dealers. Besides local clubs, collectors also can join national organizations, the largest ones being the American Philatelic Society, PO Box 8000, State College, PA 16803, and the American Topical Association, PO Box 50820, Albuquerque, NM 87181. These societies have programs for children, including the opportunity to have foreign pen pals.
The two main ways of organizing collections are by country and by topic. In collecting by topic, the country is ignored and all stamps of a certain topic such as animals or art or space are placed on a page. As the collection grows, the topics can be separated into subtopics. Country collecting is usually done chronologically by date of issue, or also by type of stamp such as airmail. Stamp catalogues can help by providing the issue date as well as telling the price and some information about the stamps. The two main catalogues are Scott's and Minkus.
Stamp collecting can also be an enjoyable hobby for adults, including retired folk. For young children, stamp collecting is not just sociable and fun, but can be an intellectual alternative to cacophonous video games. Done in a lighthearted way, stamps can be a catalyst to teaching a child a global perspective and topics such as wildlife conservation, history, government, and economics.
The pages of the album can represent land. The stamps can be like people located in the land. Some pages will be empty, some pages will have a few stamps, and other pages will fill up. As a page fills up, space becomes ever more scarce and has a premium. New stamps then have to settle elsewhere. Maybe the most valuable stamps can stay in the better pages, while the cheap stamps have to move to less desirable sites. The pages might stir up images of nations and animal kingdoms or stamp wars. Stamps can srike up the imagination and create a whole mental universe. Stamps can be deep and creative, a welcome alternative to the flashy thrills of some modern entertainment.