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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 4)

Write-up and Illustrations

Before mounting a single stamp on an album page, you must compose your write-up and insert it adjacent to or below the stamps. The page that prompts a viewer to say “How attractive” is generally not crowded.

The stamps must tell the story. Decoration or write-up merely supplements the stamps’ message. It must not steal the show.

The temptation to over-decorate or over-elaborate in write-up is inherent in topical collecting. It must be resisted. A treatise belongs in an encyclopedia - not on an album page.

As an example: your page is part of a collection of flowers on stamps. The subheading on the page is Water Lilies. Obviously you need not say, “This flower stamp shows the water lily, XYZ,” beneath each of a group of stamps on the page. Your write-up should merely identify briefly each species of water lily.

Lengthy write-ups will not be read. They are boring and detract from an otherwise pleasingly appearing page. Facts difficult to acquire and that aid in understanding should be used in moderation.

To condense your write-up to the bare minimum, work out your descriptions beforehand on a work pad or your computer screen.

Topical collections permit attractive arrangements. Do not destroy the effect with gaudy illustrations in a myriad of colors, or by paragraph after paragraph of scholarly write-up. Make sure that the stamps themselves tell the story. With experience, you will acquire proficiency in write-up and arrangement. Your own good taste must guide you in the final analysis. There are no inflexible rules. Once composed, write-ups are best done on a computer. Check with the ATA to find when there will be a stamp show in your area, and see how other collectors present their collections.

Work slowly and carefully to create a collection your friends will admire. Part of the joy of collecting is sharing your interest with others. Sharing a sloppy page necessarily lacks the personal satisfaction you will feel if you show a smooth job.

Adding to your Topical Collection

Earlier, we discussed the initial acquisition of stamps for your topical collection. Here are more ways to expand your initial collection.

Combing dealers’ general stock often uncovers many elusive items. Also, use the Internet. Several websites can be found by pulling up “postage stamps”. Topical stamp auctions are another way to enhance your collection. No set percentage of catalogue value can be established as the basis for a bid. Scarcity, supply and demand and your desires will dictate. Study the “prices realized” as published by various auction houses, and the advertisement in publications such as Topical Time to determine the state of the market, and tailor your bids accordingly. Auctions appear in the pages of Linn’s Stamp News, Scott’s Stamp Monthly Stamp Collector and Mekeel’s, among other publications. A listing of stamp newspapers and magazines in the US can be obtained from the ATA Central Office.

Swapping is a favorite method of expanding a collection. If you are an ATA member, its membership directory will give you access to topicalists of similar interests. Write them and generate an exchange, or meet them by joining one of the inexpensive study units.

Another means of establishing exchange contacts is through a Topical Time adlet, outlining your needs or detailing what you have for exchange. Perhaps most importantly, in the process of exchanging, you establish many inspiring worldwide friendships. I know one active ATA member whose wife insists (mischievously) that her husband is a stamp collector just so he can receive mail from the four corners of the globe.

Covers (cancelled envelopes, often with cachets – or designs – on the left hand side of the envelope), maximum cards and “local” stamps will add interest to your collection when used with discretion. Many dealers advertising in such periodicals as Topical Time offer excellent values in this material. Eventually you may even add essays, proofs, errors, reprints or other items to your collection.

Do not ignore special cancellations. Quite often, you will find topical cancellations that will tie into your collection. Others will turn up in dealers’ stocks of covers. Corner cards (that portion of an envelope bearing a firm’s business address and sometimes a picture of the firm’s product) also make interesting additions to your albums.

While none of the material just described is plentiful, a search for it is rewarding. With the exception of old 19th century covers, such material is not usually in the rarity class, but is still often very elusive.

As you progress in topical collecting you will devise other sources of stamps and covers for your collection. My suggestions are by no means exclusive. For instance, topically related pictorial and slogan cancellations are hiding in hoards of dealers’ cover boxes.

Exhibiting a topical collection is a topic within itself. There are other handbooks that will cover this in greater detail. Because topical collections are colorful, interesting and educational, many non-philatelic businesses, educational institutions and shows (libraries, sport, garden, outdoor) welcome the display of a good collection. The reward is the pleasure you will have in attracting others to your hobby.

Search for opportunities to participate in such displays. It is good practice in developing presentations you may later enter in stamp shows. end of story.

- back to part 3

Reprinted through the kind permission of the American Topical Association.


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