Wednesday, 20 February 2013

There’s No Racism in Philately

But There’s Snobbery Aplenty!

One of the beauties of our hobby is the ability for collectors the world over to share one language. The language of stamps. Stamp collecting brings the same level of engagement and joy to young and old, rich and poor, regardless of geographic location, race, creed or colour.

However, there’s a disturbing trend towards snobbery, manifested in the phrase “serious collector”. I don’t know if the phrase has just become trendy, or if it’s been used for many years and I’ve just never noticed, or been offended by it, before.

It’s a phrase that immediately brings to mind cashed-up philatelists with bank security boxes and albums full of classic stamps, and I think that’s precisely the market most dealers are interested in today.

But what exactly is a “serious collector”?

Well, I suppose I am! I collect a specific period, and am interested in watermarks, shades and perforations. I also look for known (and unknown) varieties on the stamps of my chosen period. Sadly, I’m anything but cashed-up!

This is where my confusion, and irritation, starts.

I have a number of side collections, that I spend time with when I need a break from the “heavy” stuff. I have thematic collections of Rowland Hill, Penny Black anniversaries, birds, British military aircraft, military uniforms, postal history of the SS Bremen, paquebot and TPO postmarks, and too many more to remember.

I recall quite fondly the reaction of the chap behind the counter in one of the few remaining stamp shops in Melbourne, when I walked up to him with a handful of Rowland Hill miniature sheets from the likes of the Central African Republic, Liberia and Guyana. If he could have tilted his head back further to look down his nose at me, I’m sure he would have.

Of course, his demeanour changed fairly promptly when I asked if he had any holdings of mint KGV British Africa. I went from a collector of jam labels to a “serious collector” in 10 seconds. That’s the snobbery in our hobby in action. 

Our hobby is in decline. A recent survey suggested that 90% of people under the age of 18 had never touched a stamp, which is hardly surprising. 

The collector base is getting older and, hopefully, wiser. Perhaps we should all be pulling in the same direction and respecting the entire hobby, regardless of whether we’re searching for a particular Cape Triangle on cover or the last Mickey Mouse stamp to complete a Disney collection.

I voiced this opinion on both Facebook and Twitter, and received little feedback. This suggests one of two things. Either collectors are apathetic, or I'm alone in feeling that the philatelic community treats the cashed-up specialist and the collector differently.

Surely we should all be treated as “serious collectors” in the pursuit of our hobby, regardless of what we collect?

Remember, there was a time when you couldn’t give Chinese stamps away!

(oh, about those mint KGV British Africa? No, he didn’t have any!)