Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Stamp Collecting in later life

October 2005     

Stamp collecting starts here!

Click for more information on Western Europe Simplified Catalogue 2005The first in our new series from Stanley Gibbons.

New to the hobby? This article, taken from ‘How to Start Stamp Collecting’, a publication by the world’s leading stamp company, Stanley Gibbons, will give you an ideal introduction to the wonderful world of stamp collecting.

Starting a stamp collection is a lot of fun, learning all about the stamps which have been issued by the countries of the world over the years. Postage stamps are miniature works of art - colourful, well-designed and superbly printed. Some of them commemorate famous people and events; others show animals and birds, flowers, railways, ships and aeroplanes, buildings and bridges, coats-of-arms and flags, space and sport.

Stamps are educational and provide some of the nicest - and most practical - ways of learning geography and history, politics and religion, and the everyday way of life in different parts of the world. Through stamps you can also learn about the postal services and a country's postal history and transport systems, the interest and significance of postmarks, and the modern craze for 'covers' (postmarked envelopes), especially 'first day covers'.


Your First Stamps

The best advice to the novice is to buy the largest packet of whole-world stamps you can afford, together with a medium-priced album and some gummed 'hinges' to mount the stamps. This simple start will be your 'apprenticeship', and you will have the pleasure of sorting the stamps by country and arranging them in the album. You will be able to identify most of the stamps without hesitation: put aside any which you are doubtful about until you can trace them in the catalogue. To keep your interest alive, you will be seeking more and more stamps, and there are numerous sources of supply. Click for more information on 250 World Wide Stamp Packet

Your family and business friends may receive letters from abroad and may be persuaded to save the stamps for you. Even Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man have their own distinctive pictorial stamps, which are well worth collecting.

You can buy additional packets of stamps to augment your collection, and if you buy one of the stamp magazines you will find in newsagents, you will see among the advertisements that some dealers offer to send stamps 'on approval'. You can examine the stamps at leisure in your own home, keep those you wish to purchase and pay for them when you return the remainder.


I am sure that when you have read this you will be keen to get started.

As a special offer to all “laterlife” Readers, we have included many of the items listed in the article at special offer prices to help get you started.

Looking ahead to next month we will look at the next stage of new hobby, here we will be looking at the range of catalogues that are available to help complement your collection and also some ideas on what to ask for at Christmas!



At this stage some of your stamps will be unused, others postally used, and it is usual to collect one or the other, not both. Mixed unused and used stamps look rather a hotchpotch in the album, while a page of unused stamps, neatly arranged, can be very attractive. However, your preference may be for 'fine used' (i.e. lightly postmarked) stamps, which you can obtain from letters, from packets of 'kiloware' or purchase from dealers.

Click for more information on Nyasaland 1895 SG: 29You may be fortunate enough to inherit an existing stamp collection which provides a ready-made start and a foundation on which to build an even larger collection. Alternatively, a section of it - which has the most appeal - can be kept and the remainder sold off to a stamp dealer or at auction. Condition is vitally important. Nothing detracts more from the value of a stamp than a crease, a tear, a stain or a heavy postmark. Damaged stamps are usually worthless and should be discarded or replaced as soon as possible.

Unused stamps should have their original gum as issued in 'mint' condition by the post office, though traces of the use of a gummed hinge are generally acceptable. The ideal postmark is light (not faint) and clear, a circular town date stamp being preferable to part of a slogan cancellation. Heavy black cancellations which obliterate the stamp's design are entirely unacceptable. Some postmarks are often more valuable than the stamps, especially if kept intact on the original cover.

One-Country Style

Over 200 countries in the world currently issue postage stamps - 'definitive' or 'ordinary' stamps for everyday use and commemoratives or 'special event' stamps for anniversaries, national and local celebrities or occasions. The great dominions of Australia, Canada, India and South Africa were formed of provinces and states, each of which issued their own stamps years ago. New stamps are issued at the rate of about 9,000 a year so that the total number of stamps issued all over the world to date is truly vast.

Click for more information on Kut 1922 SG: 98Thus it is impossible for the collector to form a complete whole-world collection; difficult enough to complete even a representative one. But you should still persevere with your whole-world collection, getting to know as many different stamps as you can, until such times as you feel that you are ready to 'branch out', which, oddly enough, means concentrating upon the stamps of a certain country, group of countries or theme.

Many Kinds of Stamps

At an early stage one should know about the different kinds of stamps in general use, some for special purposes connected with postal operations, others having no postal validity at all. Definitive’s are often inscribed 'Postage and Revenue' which means that they can also be used for fiscal or public revenue purposes, on bills and documents, licenses, receipts and telegrams. Such stamps sometimes find their way into mixed packets and, if you can identify them by the pen-marks or rubber stamps used to cancel them, should be 'weeded out'. Other fiscal stamps are inscribed ‘revenue only’ and some people collect these in addition to, or instead of, postage stamps.

Charity or 'semi-postal' stamps are usually commemorations bearing an additional premium or surcharge which is accumulated by the post office and handed over to the charity - perhaps the International Red Cross or one of the campaign funds for the treatment of cancer, leprosy, tuberculosis and other diseases - to be used in medical research and the maintenance of hospitals etc. Some stamps, definitive and commemorative, are additionally inscribed 'AIR' or 'AIRMAIL' and usually bear the appropriate face value for the specific airmail fee.

The Stamp Collector's Bible

Click for more information on Commonwealth & British Empire Cat 2006The stamp catalogue, basically a dealer's price-list, is a most essential work of reference for the stamp collector. It provides complete, detailed lists of all the postage stamps issued by every country in the world from the earliest days, with information about dates of issue, commemorative events, face values, colours and designs, and - if it is a fairly new catalogue - the current prices of the stamps, unused and postally used.

For the beginner and general collector the most useful catalogue is the Stanley Gibbons Simplified Catalogue - Stamps of the World. It contains all the details the average collector needs for every country. If current stamp values are not of importance, many cheap catalogues are available. Alternatively, most pubic libraries have a range of Gibbons catalogues which can be referred to or borrowed.

Thematic catalogues are also published covering stamps featuring Aircraft, Birds, Butterflies and Insects, Chess, Football, Mammals, Railways and Ships. For the GB collector who wishes to economise and yet keep in touch with the latest market values of his stamps, Stanley Gibbons publish three key works - GB Concise Catalogue, Collect British Stamps and Collect Channel Islands and Isle of Man Stamps. These show all the new issues and latest prices since previous editions.

As you progress in the hobby so the catalogue will become of more and more assistance. It shows you which stamps you need to complete a set, their face values and their designs, thus providing a guide to the arrangement of your stamps in the album. The catalogue will also help you to become acquainted with the colours and their names - the basic reds, blues and greens of Stamps of the World or the more explicit carmine-reds, greenish blues and yellow-greens of the main catalogues.

The Collector's Toolbox

Your first essential item of equipment should be a pair of stamp tweezers - these are made of light plated metal with slender, flattened tips or 'spade' ends enabling stamps to be picked up and sorted quickly and surely. The magnifying glass is the one tool which everyone associates with stamp collecting. Through the magnifying glass, stamp designs appear in detailed close-up and are seen to be miniature works of art. You can see the lines or cuts which make up a portrait or scene on an engraved stamp, or study the quality and peculiarities of the other printing processes - the graduated 'dots' of photogravure or the smooth honeycomb background of lithographed stamps. You will also enjoy looking for errors and varieties, many of which are visible only through a glass.

Your Album Choice

Click for more information on Postcard Album (20 Leaves) - RedBefore you purchase your first stamp album you should have some plan in your mind, even just a few thoughts and inclinations, on the likely progress and eventual scope of your collection. Most beginners buy or are given a monster packet of stamps and a printed album with a page for every country. Sooner or later you will run out of space and the surplus stamps of some countries will be scattered untidily on other pages. In these circumstances, enthusiasm may flag as the only solution is a larger album with all the work of rearranging your stamps!

'Stamp Starter Packs' are an inexpensive way of starting a stamp collection. They include an album, stamps, magnifier, tweezers and hinges.

Arranging Your Stamps

The essence of a good stamp arrangement is neatness - stamps placed squarely in the spaces provided for them or in level, tidy rows on a blank leaf. It sounds simple - and indeed it is - but it does require care and thought. Some printed albums have stamp 'squares' in rows across the album page. Usually these are big enough to accommodate the majority of stamps which are invariably rectangular - horizontal or vertical - in shape. Larger stamps will extend beyond the confines of the square and in such cases the printed background should be ignored, with two stamps taking up the space of three squares. Personal preference and ingenuity should be employed!

Country names or other page headings should be uniform throughout the album and sufficient space should be left above and below the rows of stamps for sub-headings and captions if it is your intention to write-up the collection. It is generally preferable to complete the written work before you mount the stamps (even if you haven't got all of them).


I am sure that now you have read this you are keen to get started. As a special offer to all “laterlife” Readers, we have included many of the items listed above at special offer prices to help get you started. Looking ahead to next month we will look at the next stage of new hobby, here we will be looking at the range of catalogues that are available to help complement your collection and also some ideas on what to ask for at Christmas!


(The above is an extract from ‘How to Start Stamp Collecting’, a publication by the world’s leading stamp company, Stanley Gibbons)


Advertising Feature




back to laterlife interest

Site map and site search


Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti