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!)


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

    I guess he wasn't a serious dealer.

    : - )

  2. A very common problem in Australia! They have book after book of every permutation of Australian stamps known to mankind, but often little else!

  3. We're almost at the point where a serious collector is anyone who still collects stamps and is happy to admit that to a non collector!

    I do find a bit of confusion though between a serious collector, a serious investor and a serious specialist.

    A serious collector is not rich, except in the knowledge of the stamps he is interested in. He will engage in the conversations with others who collect stamps, even though their field of interest may not be the same as his, because he enjoys stamps for themselves. He probably has a catalogue that is less that 10 years old and he uses it.

    He probably cares enough to despair over what many postal authorities have done to his favourite hobby and yet remains confidant that his hobby continues to thrive, even should all stamp production stop tomorrow.

    I guess the other qualifying point is that he knows what stamps he has and where they are. That rules out all those collections sitting in the attic gathering dust but must be worth millions!


  4. That's a good definition from a collector's perspective, however I'm not sure that dealers have the same definition :)

  5. If the hobby is on decline, well, these current 'serious collectors' have a bit of 'explaining' to do. Please let me explain:
    Some philatelic societies have started having weekday meetings. Although this sounds appealing to the 90% of memberships, that are in the 60+ age group (as stamp collecting would be a major activity for them) - what about implications to the small minority that cannot attend?
    I am halfway between these stamp/tweezer specialized guys and the 18 year old gadget/mobile specialized guys. Being in a weekday job, like the rest of us, paying bills, childcare, etc, I cannot attend weekday events, nor can my kids. So, I lose out on knowledge, my sons cannot attend as their teacher would not allow that. So, result?
    1. I would grow older and have no much knowledge I could get from these elderly members, would then be 'gone' by the time I retire and have proper time to devote for the hobby
    2. My sons would probably never get an opportunity to see nice displays by these specialized members, and they would surely get inspiration from these great collections
    3. When their material comes up for auction, I wonder who would be buying it? Me? My sons? We would not have reached that level of specialism to justify explaining to our wives to part large sums of money to buy such specialized material

    Specialized collectors should concentrate in getting the younger population into the hobby. Go to schools and do shows to kids, hold meetings on weekends to allow others to attend, give away extra stamps to money strapped kids, don't frown upon kids attending specialized meetings, don't make philately a 'week day job', it is a just a hobby!
    Help keep it stay that way!
    My current main society does that and the people attending our meetings range from baby level, to toddlers running around the place and do basic stamp activities designed for them, to middle aged wives chatting with each other and the rest of us enjoying sharing it with everyone.
    Joao Paulo Cota

  6. Joao Paulo, that's an excellent post. The fact that daytime meetings are being held is very telling, and disappointing. Kids are the future of our hobby, but I have serious doubts that our hobby will exist in 20 years!

  7. My question is who first coined the term "serious collector". To my mind this is just a dealers way of manipulating sales. By stating the term in a sales pitch, it may touch peoples ego's.

  8. I wish I knew who it was as well, so I could counsel them on the divisive phrase they were propagating.

    Money and ego is a dangerous mix. I've never heard of a "serious" collector of Sharjah, but I don't doubt for a moment that they exist, and are as passionate as the rest of us. I doubt that any dealer will massage their ego's anytime soon, as there's no money in doing so!

  9. completely agree with your views that Philately is becoming less significant and is majorly overshadowed by computer games and game consoles. I think Philately as a whole needs to be re branded and packaged in way so that the younger generation can be attracted towards pursuing it as a hobby.

  10. Thanks for your comment Alwyn. There are youth development groups trying to do that (at least here in Australia), but I fear it's an uphill battle. I wonder how much success parents have with converting their children? My Mum started me collecting and I'm eternally grateful!

  11. I've been thinking the title (and contents) of post for several days, and as much as I hate to write this, I think discrimination and prejudice exists amongst stamp collectors the same way as they exists in other parts of life. Racism, ageism, sexism, snobbery... It's all there in various shapes and forms. There's also a good part of tolerance and good will to balance things. But there's no denying, we stamp collectors and philatelists are not saints. We are just a bunch of individuals with peculiar interest towards small pieces of perforated paper.

    Is it acceptable. Definitely not...We just have to learn to live and enjoy this common hobby of ours together, without prejudice of what others are and what their philatelic interests are.

    Oh, and I'm very serious about my collection of Sharjah ;)


    1. Great post Keijo. I've not come across racism per se, although I am aware of one well-known dealer who does seem to have an aversion to Chinese collectors!

      Sharjah on cover, now THAT's something I'd like to see :)

  12. I am in complete agreement. I was out of the hobby for 30 years and just recently returned. I went to my first stamp show since, then and found that I was the youngest person at the show and I'm soon to be 60. Kids have no interest now. When I tell people that I collect stamps, they didn't know people did this anymore (also heard this from a postal clerk) and that I was in a dieing hobby. I have also run into dealers that look down on my meager purchases and have been told that when I was serious they would show me the other stock books. Oh well, I'm having fun! Nice blog by the way! Dan

  13. Hi Dan,

    You're living proof! Keep having fun.

    Glad you like the blog, and thanks for popping in

  14. I collect all world and I am very serious about the stamps I possess or aquire - and worry not about the ones I don't. I study them all to the depth which interests me, and use them to learn about exotic things and places that I will never see. The opposite of serious is frivolous - and I suspect that no collector is.

    As an aside - 2 definitions of an expert

    1. An expert is a man who knows more and more about less an less.
    2. An ex is a has-been, and a spert (spurt) is a drip under pressure !!

    No offence to anyone meant - just a little dig and those who take themselves too seriously.