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Topical Stamp Collecting; A Universal Hobby for Seniors
Ray E. Cartier, Executive Director, American Topical Association

(Part 2)

What Topics Can I Collect?

What are the most collected topics on stamps? Space is one of the highest rated subjects, as most of today’s collectors have lived through the entire space age from Sputnik to the International Space Station. Biology, trains, cats, scouts and ships all have strong followings as well. As stated earlier, some collectors may specialize in just certain species, or segments of a particular topic. A space collector, for example, may specialize in just the early manned flights, interplanetary missions or some other facet of that topic. Those who collect plants on stamps might specialize in just roses or orchids. That is the absolute best attribute of collecting topicals. There is no one to tell a topicalist what he or she should (or should not) collect. The creativity is all up to the collector. If a grandparent wants to collect postage stamps from around the world that depict Walt Disney characters, no one will snicker. That collector may eventually know factoids about the creation of the characters and the movies that are not known outside of the corporation that Disney created.

Topicalists find that their collecting gives them hundreds of hours of stress free relief. Also, if a topical stamp collector suffers an ailment or accident that leaves him or her laid up, this is a hobby that can still be pursued. With websites, like the American Philatelic Society’s, or other dealer sites as shown in the American Topical Association’s publication, Topical Time, postage stamp purchases can be handled on line and the buyer can see the items being purchased before committing to buy the items and without ever leaving their home or apartment. E-Bay, the on-line auction house, has a great following among philatelists who collect stamps and covers.

Many people have no interest in organized philately. However, every successful group of professionals belongs to some type of organization to enhance their knowledge and skills. Collectors enjoy their hobby much more when involved in an association. There are two major organizations in the United States for philatelists. If you are a stamp collector but not interested in topicals, The American Philatelic Society is the most prestigious stamp collecting organization in the United States, and possibly the world. The APS is a 50,000-member organization with tremendous resources for collectors. A request to the ATA office can get you the particulars on this worthwhile organization.

But, if you are looking for a creative outlet, topical collecting can fill that bill for you. Seniors have to keep their minds active. Philately is a hobby that assists in that manner as well. Stamp collectors are very active and very inquisitive. It is no wonder that seniors are the most active members of the stamp collecting community. Recently, the editor of Scott’s Stamp Monthly reported that 40% of the readership were topical collectors. That shows how far Topical Collecting has moved into the world of Philately. Newspapers are one of the resources that topical collectors have, but the pre-eminent resource for those who collect stamps by subject matter, is the American Topical Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping collectors enjoy their hobby more thoroughly. The ATA, as it is called, has a number of ways in which it assists collectors in their pursuits.

Currently the ATA has a lending library of over 50 slide shows. These are currently being updated and copied on to CD’s to make them available for use on personal computers. The ATA has stamp checklists of over 400 topics ranging from Abacus to Zodiac on stamps. These are updated regularly. Here is a small sampling of some of the topics that are covered:

African Americans, Airplanes, Anti-Malaria, Archaeology, Art, Astronomy, Balloons Basketball, Beethoven, Boxing, Cats, Chemistry, Chocolate, Civil War, Computers, Dentistry, Dinosaurs, Donkeys, Albert Einstein, Fairytales, Fords, Fossils, Hummingbirds, Ice Hockey, Jazz Musicians, Ladybugs, Masks, Medicine, Nobel Prizes, Nurses, Olympics, Penguins, Red Cross, Rotary, Shakespeare, Submarines, Tennis, Universities, Waterfalls, Windmills, World Wildlife Fund, X-Rays, and Zeppelins.

Those are just 10% of the 400-plus topics for which checklists exist. Since its founding in 1949 by a nineteen year old boy named Jerry Husak, who is still an active collector today, the ATA has published a bi-monthly magazine for it’s members - Topical Time. All of the articles ever published in the past fifty plus years of this magazine have been sorted by topic and are available to collectors to enhance their research, and an index to the table of contents for the last several issues is also available. Almost 150 handbooks have been published by the ATA, of which 70 titles are still active. The latest several handbooks have dealt with Caves, The Roosevelts (Teddy, Eleanor and Franklin), Railways (approximately 1000 pages!), Masonic, Bears, Fairy Tales and Sherlock Holmes. These handbooks help collectors get an in-depth source for information on a myriad of popular topics.

For the more popular topics, the ATA sponsors Study Units. These are comprised of groups of people who have similar philatelic pursuits. Currently, fifty-seven of these Units exist covering such diverse collecting interests as Wine, Chess, Columbus, Masks, Petroleum, Biology and the Fine Arts. Also, the ATA has approximately fifty Chapters around the world. These Chapters are actually local topical stamp clubs, whereas the Units are each made up of collectors from around the globe. Fully 25% of topical collectors in the ATA are from overseas.

Another of the benefits of the ATA is their annual National Topical Stamp Show (NTSS). Held in a different city each year, the NTSS attracts excellent topical exhibits from around the country and frequently from overseas. A good number of topical dealers have their tables set up in the bourse, or sales area. Various study units have meetings and seminars. Social gatherings and side trips to see the local area attractions are set up as well.

Since postage stamp shows are important to collectors, the ATA also offers collectors current listings of postage stamp shows and exhibitions being held across the country. Additionally, this organization now helps collectors by advising them of stamp clubs in their communities.

The ATA has a translation service to aid in communications between members, both here and abroad. It also has a panel of experts to help collectors who have questions about their particular interests. The American Topical Association has been a paramount organization in the advancement of helping people learn and share their interests through philately.

Stamp collecting is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States today. It is truly a hobby that can be enjoyed by anyone who still has a sense of curiosity and an urge to learn more about a subject of their choosing. It is fun; it is educational; it is creative; and it is a perfect outlet for seniors who are ready to step out of the cocoons of their lives and enter an entrancing world of fun education, creativity, relaxation and satisfaction. end of story.

- back to part 1 -

Reprinted through the kind permission of the American Topical Association.


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