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Stamp Collecting for Beginners

Simple Steps to Getting Started

By following these simple steps you can join stamp enthusiasts around the world. When you begin philately (stamp collecting), you will become a philatelist (a stamp collector).

Note about jargon:
Whenever you start exploring a new topic, whether it's pouring concrete, building jet engines, or even collecting stamps, there are a lot of new words, or old words with different meanings, to learn. They are usually specific to the topic and may have more than one meaning or use. When I use a word I consider to be jargon in these pages, I'll tag an explanation or "in other words..." after it in parentheses. If there's no explanation, and you need one, please see the FAQ page, the links page or

First, get supplies.
In order to start your personal collection, you will need to purchase a few supplies from the products page, or your local hobby store. You will need a pair of tweezers to use when you handle your stamps so they do not become soiled (nice clean eyebrow tweezers work well, but remember to ask before borrowing); a stamp album to keep your collection clean and free from dirt and stains (I started with a steno pad from the local grocrey, just be sure to attach the stamps in such a way that they can be removed to put in a better album later - this is not recommended for rare or expensive stamps); hinges (small pieces of glassene paper with adheasive on one side - may be pre-folded or not) to hold certain types of stamps in your album; plastic holders to hold other types of stamps in your album, specifically the new, uncirculated ones; and, of course, some stamps. Note: Certain stamp albums are designed to hold the stamps without the use of hinges or holders. Purchasing this type of album, although initially more expensive, will save you time and money in the long run, and is really the best way to go.

Second, get some stamps.
The stamps that you collect may be new and / or used. You can either purchase some stamps to start your collection (your local post office has some nice collections as well as individual stamps), or ask friends and family members to save their stamps from envelopes and cards they receive for you (note: you will want them to tear or cut a part of the envelope off, not try to peal the stamp off, as this damages the stamp very badly). You can add to your collection by saving the stamps off your own mail, too. If someone you know is going to take a trip overseas to a faraway land, then you can get some foreign stamps easily that way too. Just have them send you a letter or two. To remove the stamps from envelopes, simply soak them in water until the stamp slides off the envelope paper. Then carefully lay them out flat to dry. After drying, they are ready for the third step...

Tip: here's an idea for getting some older stamps: check out flea markets. If you can find one where the sellers are selling personal items or things from estate sales instead of new things, look sharp! Sometimes there are old letters and post cards in boxes on or even under the tables. These often have stamps - even some nice ones! Bargain for the letters to get the best price and then follow the above directions for removal. Of course you want to look them over carefully first - there might be a letter of historical significance mixed in with some everyday mail.

Third, arrange your stamps.
Start your collection by arranging your stamps by countries, theme, and etc. first. If you are not sure about the different countries, consult a world atlas and find out. Then, arrange your stamp collection one step further by sorting them alphabetically. This way it will be easier to find a stamp you are looking for. Think of the country, then what letter it begins with. Or, if you choose to arrange them by theme, such as, birds, celebrities, states, etc., you should still arrange them alphabetically for ease in finding them.

Fourth, enjoy!
What good is a hobby that you don't enjoy? Find the most apealing part of the hobby to you, and enjoy it as much as you can.

A few terms used in stamp collecting that you will need to know are:
Coil Stamps - These stamps are attached together edge to edge in a large roll.

Commemorative Stamps - These stamps are issued by the post office in order to mark a special event or occasion, such as the U.S. astronauts landing on the moon. They are usually larger than regular postal stamps, and come in either single stamps or in small blocks. Tip: try to buy these stamps together if possible to avoid collecting all but one or two of a group or series.

Face Value - Not to be confused with the collecting value of a stamp, if it has one. The face value is the price of the stamp, which is printed on the stamp's face.

Pane - A separate section of stamps, either a quarter, half, or full sheet.

Plate Block - a group of four or six stamps from a sheet with the plate number on the border (all attached).

Plate Block

Postage Due Stamps - These stamps cannot be purchased. They are attached by the post office to an envelope, which is being sent but does not have the sufficient amount of postage on it.

Postmarks-These marks, which are normally found on used stamps, are applied by the post office as a way to cancel or prevent the re-use of a stamp. Re-using a stamp, by the way, is mail fraud and is punishable by the law.

A few more tips worthy of mention:

One aspect of a stamp that makes it more valuable is if it has a flaw or printed defect of some kind on it. Like flawed coins or paper money, flawed stamps can be quite valuable! It is a most important thing to watch for in your stamp collection!

Don't forget to use your tweezers when handling your stamp collection, store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, and, above all, have fun with your new collection!

Ver 3 05/20/08