Stamp Collecting: Is It Still a Valid Hobby for Your Kids?

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In a time not so long ago, snail mail was the cheapest way to contact or stay in touch with someone. When I was growing up, my mother received postcards from around the world requesting reprints of her scientific articles. When I went to college, I wrote letters on actual paper and mailed them to my high school friends. Sure, these days communications are instant and with cell phones and the internet, but there are no charming mementos to hold on to afterward.

I recently took out my childhood stamp collection and moved them to a new album. Consider these relics from the cold war era. Who remembers that the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ) is CCCP (Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик) in Russian? It’s as if I own a small piece of history.

As I mentioned, my mother received postcards requesting reprints of her scientific articles. Back in those dark ages, there was no instant access through the internet, you actually had to subscribe to scientific publications or read them at the library. It was a chore to stuff envelopes with the reprints (yup, my job) but I always relished the postcards she brought home for the stamps that I carefully soaked, separated and sorted.

But without the Internet, I was actually in the dark when in came to the origin of some stamps. These stamps from Helvetia were a complete mystery to me until today. I had guessed that they were from some European country with its pastoral scene. My first guess was Greece, but I deduced that Greece was Hellas from the Greek letters on other stamps.

But through a simple search on the Internet, I learned from Wikipedia that Helvetia is the female national personification of Switzerland, officially Confœderatio Helvetica, the "Helvetic Confederation." Mystery no more.

Since we also had relatives from China, we received many letters carefully folded into an envelope shape from a single thin sheet of paper. The paper was thin and weighed nothing, but the stamps were often large and always beautiful.

I always imagined that the beautiful paintings portrayed on these stamps were from a famous folk story or myth.

Unfortunately, I cannot locate my American stamp collection. The only stamp I found was this Airmail stamp of Igor Sikorsky on the first day of issue in June 1988. This was one of the few stamps that I actually purchased for my collection. It was issued a year before I started work at United Technologies Sikorsky Aircraft as a Mechanical Engineer. I thought it was especially cool that Sikorsky was featured on an Airmail stamp because he invented the first commercial helicopter.

These days, I still snip and collect stamps when I come across an unusual one in the mail. But since 99% of personal correspondence is done through e-mail, these stamps are hard to come by. It’s not a hobby that I would want to sink money into, and it’s not a hobby that I recommend my children to take up because of the costs involved. As much as I loved it as a child, it’s a hobby that’s gone by the wayside, another victim of modern technology.

Earlier this year, I picked up a copy of the USA Philatelic magazine from my local post office. The cover instantly caught my attention with its vibrant painting depicting Latin Music Legends.

Inside I learned how Mexican-born artist Rafael López was commissioned to paint these dynamic portraits. His explanation sums up his work perfectly:

“In most portraits, people are not really doing what they do. They’re sitting in a chair looking very elegant and formal. But these people are sweating, they’re closing their eyes, and they’re belting out these tunes. Latin music is all about moving and dancing and feeling that beat.”

Wow, you can almost hear the music looking at these stamps. They are indeed miniature pieces of art.

Another collection that caught my eye was the 2011 Garden of Love Stamps.

I just love the artwork by illustrator José Ortega with the flowers, strawberry, butterfly, doves and interlocking vines. It is colorful, and full of life and abundance.

These 2011 stamps really make me consider taking up stamp collecting again. Or maybe writing a few more letters so I can use these stamps to bring joy to others.

Did you collect stamps as a child? Do your kids do so now and/or would you encourage it as a hobby?

Special thanks go to USPS media contact Roy Betts for providing high resolution images from the 2011 USPS stamp program.

Contributing editor Angela blogs about hobbies and other tidbits at mommy bytes.

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