What Should the Adult Beginner Collect?
by Ellis Parker Butler
The subject of what to collect has puzzled many an adult collector and the article is appropriate at this time when so many men and women are taking up this delightful pastime.
Ellis Parker Butler, well-known writer, needs no introduction to the stamp fraternity and his latest book "The Young Stamp Collector's Own Book" fills its place in the philatelic library. Mr. Butler has now become one of STAMPS' contributors and this article is the forerunner of several more to come.
The interest in stamp collecting is increasing; more boys and girls are beginning to collect stamps daily, as everyone knows, but never have I known so many adults -- men and women -- showing an interest. Some of these men and women did some collecting when young and say "I had a collection but I don't know what happened to it; I'd like to take it up again," while others never collected stamps but want to begin now. Their interest has been aroused by newspaper articles, radio talks, books, magazines, window displays, but more than all else by the talk of friends who are collectors, and the sight of the stamps collected by them.
Almost immediately these eager would-be collectors bump up against the disconcerting immensity of the stamp avalanches that have covered the world knee-deep with stamps. It is no longer possible for a collector to decide gaily that he will collect "All the stamps ever issued," as we so hopefully decided when we were boys back in 1880. Many men wishing to begin collecting have asked me "What should I collect?" I have no doubt that many other collectors and also dealers are asked this question.
Now, I collect Luxemburg, and I specialize -- as well as a man without much money can -- in the early issues, although I add to my collection all new issues as they come along. Before I took up Luxemburg I built up several collections, such as France and French Colonies, U. S. Revenues, etc., carrying them on until I had about everything I could afford, and then disposing of the collections. In choosing Luxemburg after such considerable experience I did so with forethought. No Luxemburg stamp at that time listed over $50.00 and only one was that high; most of the stamps were low. This made a "complete" collection possible. Only the three first stamps were watermarked, thus saving bother. The stamps were beautiful in color and design, there were many shades, many varieties in the official surcharges, and so on. Luxemburg is a small country, the cancellations are not many in the early stamps and they are interesting. I enjoy collecting Luxemburg and mean to keep on collecting Luxemburg, but I do not tell my adult beginner friends to collect Luxemburg. There are too many counterfeits to fool the beginner, and Luxemburg stamps are higher in Europe than they are here. There are more specialists there. To get rarities one must tap Europe, pay high, and if wishing to sell must take a low price here.
So I don't tell my friends "Collect Luxemburg." What then? There are many other countries, all of them now turning out interesting and beautiful stamps. The fields for the collector are so many as to be overwhelming. Should the collector choose a new country, Lithuania for example, with no stamps before 1918, and try to make a complete collection? Should he choose France or Italy, with classic stamps reaching back to 1849 and 1862 and new issues almost daily?
Or, since an adult is not so greatly inclined to get together merely a "whole lot of stamps" -- or not for very long -- should he be advised to collect some specialty? Airmail stamps of the world, for instance; these are a fine array and one that is increasing each month, with the added attraction of cachets if the collector wants to go into that branch. Or how about commemoratives? Most of them handsome stamps that make an album page attractive and each with its historical connotation, making it mean something? Or should the beginner be told to collect pre-cancels, of which the varieties are now counted in the thousands?
Well, frankly, what we are up against in advising the adult beginner is the probability -- as in my case -- that when he has collected awhile he will choose his own specialty, the one that most appeals to him after he has had some experience in collecting. For that reason my advice is "Collect United States postage stamps."
My advice is "With either a printed or a loose-leaf album begin with the United States current issues -- the stamps used today -- and work both ways from today. Get all the new issues as they come out, and also work backward from today -- 1932, 1931, 1930, and so on."
This seems to me to be the best advice to give the beginner. Our government is now giving us interesting stamps and enough of them to keep us excited. By gathering the current issues and working backward the collector can fill spaces as rapidly as his eagerness demands, and he can pick up an old stamp from time to time for his earlier pages. He can "complete" the pages of the recent years, thus avoiding the disgust of the new collector who begins with costly early years and often gives up because the game is slow. He can, when he has the urge, branch off into one of the specialties, and if he wants to dispose of his collection -- as far as he has carried it -- he has the best market for his stamps (trade or sell) right at hand.
To the beginning adult collector I recommend United States postage stamps as the best field for the exercise of his enthusiasm.