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Philatelic Investment
British stamp overprinted for use in Ireland at the foundation of the stateFor most collectors it’s not about investment. Some stamps – like the 1930 US Graf Zeppelin or the 1922 Rialtais Sealadac na hÉireann ‘overprints’ - may be worth a small fortune, but collecting as an investment requires a high degree of specialisation, and in the opinion of many, takes the fun out of it. Indeed, a distinction is often drawn between so-called ‘philatelic investors’ and stamp collectors.

Accountant or Rock Star?
Typically, stamp collectors are animated not by money but by interest in history, geography, art, and that “passion for completeness”. The type of child U2 stamp from the Irish Rock Legends issue from 2002who wants to get every football sticker for the World Cup often goes on to collect stamps.

The stamp collector appears in all walks of life. You might picture the young stamp collector as a future accountant, librarian or other profession that requires thoroughness, concentration and cataloguing abilities, but rock stars John Lennon and Freddie Mercury were keen collectors whose childhood collections are now in British postal museums.

The Generation Game
Since the first postage stamp, the Penny Black, was issued in Britain in 1840, people have been buying stamps or steaming them off envelopes, and mounting them in stamp albums or storing them in glassine envelopes.

In this way collections are often handed down through generations. There is an inheritance aspect to stamp collecting. Many collectors fondly recall sitting at the table pouring over exotic stamps with their mother or father. The passion is transmitted from parent to child, and often, to grandchild.

Although albums are now more sophisticated – at one stage stamps were stuck directly to the page, now they are hinge-mounted – collecting remains a stable hobby which has changed little since the 19th century. Parents might struggle to understand a child’s immersion in games consoles, but stamp collecting is truly for all the family. The equipment a grandparent used is not much different to what a child today requires.

The Worldwide Collection
Family albums through the generations show the progression in the way people collect. In the first half of the 20th century ambitious collectors wanted to Stamp from International Year of Planet Earth issue, 2008assemble worldwide collections, comprising the stamps of every country in the world. The Italian Count Philipp von Ferrary dedicated his considerable fortune to the purchase of rare Russian stamps http://russianphilately.com and probably had the largest collection ever assembled.

These worldwide collections are fascinating archives. One collector recalls his father’s collection – “It was full of stamps from countries like Ceylon, Rhodesia, Sikkim and Transjordan which no longer exist.” A trawl through an old stamp album shows you graphically how the world’s map has changed.