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How to Collect Topical Stamps for Fun and Relaxation
(Excerpt from ATA Handbook #69 by John H. Groet, 1963)
Edited by Ray E. Cartier, 2003

(Part 1)

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I often hear collectors sagely advising a beginner to start out with a general, worldwide collection. To accomplish anything in a worldwide field is most expensive and frustrating. There are tens of thousands of new stamps issued every year. Stamp shops all over the world are filled with albums in this category, partially filled, completely uninteresting, monuments to discouragement. When a beginner starts with one of these, in a few years he usually tires of the insurmountable task of filling the album. He quits collecting in disgust. Topical collectors on the other hand, maintain and increase interest in their collection, so it becomes a satisfying part of life for many years – even a lifetime.

Topical collecting provides all the joys of a general collection (wide varieties of countries and types of stamps, lure of faraway lands, etc.) without the disadvantages of a general collection. To the general collector who has decided to “give up”, topical collecting can be a lifesaver. For the new adult collector, it can be a doorway away from boredom that can lead to new enjoyment and new friends. General collectors have the start of many topical collections. They can select what they like and add to it, while holding on to the rest of their general collection to use as “trades” to secure desirable stamps for their topical collection.

Topical collecting can consume very little or a lot of spare time. Depending on your needs, it can (and often does) take a great deal of time, if the collector aspires to build a gold medal collection. But if the desire is to just enjoy the quest, the collector has control of how much time to invest. It can be as expensive or as inexpensive as the collector desires. You set the rules - your own rules - no one tells you that you must have every stamp, every proof, every error, that you must mount and arrange them in any specified order, or compose literary masterpieces to describe them.

Since you set the rules as to a.) the scope of the collection, and b.) the method of mounting, arrangement and write-up, you can both tailor your topical collection to the amount of time you have available and the amount of money you can afford to spend. You make topical collecting FUN, not a task. Otherwise, you defeat the very purpose of stamp collecting: rest and relaxation from every day duties. Follow the rules you set down, change them as you wish.

I doubt that it will make you wealthy – very few collections fall in this category. A good topical collection will increase as much, if not more, in value than any other good collections, but collectors should not collect topical stamps, or for that matter, any other form of stamps, with the idea of acquiring riches. Collect for FUN and RELAXATION; let this be your main reward. Sometimes you may stumble across a treasure. That serendipity adds to your enjoyment.

Getting Started

By this time you’re probably thinking, “Fine, but how do I get started?” There is no magic about forming a topical collection. You need a topic. You need a checklist of stamps relating to that topic. You need the stamps. You need an album or a three-ring binder and some archival-safe page protectors. More than anything, you need guidance, something the American Topical Association can give you.

Selecting a Topic

As a new topical collector you may find yourself torn between many topics. The temptation is to flit from one to the other, accumulating stamps at random and adhering to no particular plan. Such a procedure can be somewhat costly and unnecessarily time-consuming.

Selecting a topic is the most important decision you will make in forming a topical collection. Obviously your topic must be one that interests you, perhaps one related to your work, some other hobby, or a field that has continually fascinated you.

For example, doctors often collect medical stamps. An athlete may run the gamut of Sports on Stamps. An active Rotarian may select stamps honoring that organization. A gardener, bird watcher, railroad buff or boat fan, each will find topics related to his interest. Other topics are suggested by a list of checklists from the ATA, available for a self-addressed stamp business-size envelope (SASE) or through the links on this website. Actually, the possibilities are limitless.

The American Topical Association (ATA) can help you make that all important selection of a topic, and save you time and money. Topical Time, the ATA journal has nearly 100 pages per issue, 6 times per year, and is included with membership. It presents 24-30 different topical features every issue. More information about the ATA and its dozen free services appear throughout this website.

In addition, your decision should also take into account two other factors: 1.) how restrictive or 2.) how broad your topic will be. You will soon lose interest in a topic which includes only a few stamps or covers. If you select a major topic that includes thousands of stamps or covers, its very size may drive you off, because completion will be well nigh impossible.

The solution is to select a sub-topic, within the larger topic, for which you have acquired a special liking. For instance, your larger topic may be animals, but you may be particularly attracted to the cat family. You can concentrate on lions, tigers, alley cats and kittens. If you have already accumulated other animals on stamps, retain them. After you have exhausted the cats you may want to try another animal clan, or you may decide to use your excess animal stamps to trade or to donate to children.

- on to part 2 -

Reprinted through the kind permission of the American Topical Association.


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