Click anywhere here to go to our 'Home Page' button.
Home    New Digs    Gallery    Library    Members    Primer    Freebies

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 2)


Having selected a topic, your next task is obtaining a checklist of stamps in that topic by catalogue number. There are two ways to obtain such lists: the hard way or the easy way.

The hard way is the do-it-yourself approach. It means wading through thousands of pages in catalogues, listing each stamp under your topic. Your local library or stamp club will usually have the multi-volume set of the “Scott’s Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue” which runs over 6000 pages. Unfortunately you may spend 30 to 40 valuable hours only to discover that you have missed many items.

The easy way is to procure a basic checklist for a few cents per page from the ATA. Only members of the ATA can obtain these checklists, which have been assembled by a variety of collectors of topical subjects. The compilers of these lists have spent months, even years, of spare time searching through catalogues, stamp papers, collections, etc. to prepare these lists. You do not pay for the many hours of work, but merely for the cost of printing and distribution.

The ATA also has a number of topical handbooks, each covering a single or a related group of topics. Included in the handbooks you’ll find not only checklists but information that will be helpful in preparing your write-ups or simply adding to your growing knowledge. ATA will gladly send you a free list of all active handbooks for a self-addressed stamped envelope. Many collectors of like topics have formed various study units within the ATA. These groups supply information to one another through specialized newsletters or journals. Members trade with each other, ask and answer questions, keep up with new discoveries, offer much information on the topic and build friendships. The ATA can also supply you a list of the current study units, or check the "Study units" and/or "Chapters" buttons on this website.

Acquiring the First Stamps

Your topic has been chosen. You acquired a checklist the easy way. Now, I want to talk to you about the stamps you need.

A study of your checklist will reveal that your topical stamps fall into four categories: those in which the subject is the principal part of the design; those in which the subject is a minor part of the design (for instance, in the border); those in which your subject is symbolical – the lion in a coat of arms; or those which are ancillary. For example, a collection of topical stamps on aircraft could include Wright Brothers or pilots or founders of aircraft companies. I strongly advise that you start off by concentrating on those stamps that picture your topic as the major part of the design and then work toward the supporting stamps to your topic. You might even apply an ABC classification to stamps on your checklist. “A” would be your primary wants, “B” your next tier and “C” those that you’ll fit in later. This is a major aid when buying from dealers, as you can spend your money on the stamps that are most important to you before buying your lesser needs.

You could begin by purchasing the largest packet you can afford in your topic. These packets are sometimes advertised in such philatelic publications as Topical Time. A packet of from 250 to 1000 different stamps will guarantee hours of fun plus a real savings over what it would have cost to buy the stamps singly.

First, sort the stamps into the four categories described above. File for future use those that depict your topic inconspicuously or symbolically. Sort the stamps with your topic as the central theme against your checklist, and mark on your checklist the stamps that you have. Then, file the stamps in small envelopes or in archival safe sheet holders that hold 8-½ x 11 sheets. These are available from office supply stores or large discount stores such as Sam’s or Costco.

A large packet will probably not provide enough stamps for an interesting collection. Use your checklist to compile a want list of issues to “round out” your collection, not to complete it, but to give it form and substance.

Set off in search of additional stamps. You can next check the ads in Topical Time that often lists sets and singles. Distribute want lists to dealers, taking care not to send the same list to each dealer. If you don’t find what you are looking for, you might search e-Bay or one of the other on-line auctions or contact other dealers listed in Topical Time. On line auctions or sales can be found on the Internet under “Postage Stamps”.


An album is essential to a well-organized collection and to your enjoyment of the collection. Stamps in glassine envelopes in drawers or in stock books represent an accumulation, not a collection. Except for a few well-defined topics, topical collectors vary too widely in their choice of stamps to make printed albums for each topic commercially feasible. A majority of ATA members use three-ring binders, usually those with a plastic cover in the front and a space where you can insert a self-made album cover sheet. I suggest that your choice be confined to a standard page size, preferably 8-½ x 11. Odd-sized small and large pages are hard to handle and, if you ultimately exhibit, they are often difficult to fit into exhibition frames which readily accept 8-½ x 11 or European size A4 pages.

- back to part 1 | on to part 3 -

Reprinted through the kind permission of the American Topical Association.


Home | Terms | Awards | Utilities | Dealers | External Links | Site Map | Contact
copyright ©2003 owasu top of page