Stamps have been collected for approximately 140 years. People began taking interest in these small slips of paper soon after
the issuance of the first stamp on May 6, 1840 in England.
One of the earliest indications of stamp collecting is an advertisement in an English newspaper in which a young woman sought as
many used stamps as possible with which to wallpaper her room. It would be interesting to know whether she obtained the necessary
amount. At todays market value, this "wallpaper" would have been worth an enormous sum: nowadays a single "Blackpenny" costs
around 2,000 Austrian shillings. Just how would this room have looked? As the name says, the first English stamp was black. The
2-pence stamp issued a short time later was dark blue - likewise not much better.
Initially, collectors sought to gather stamps from all over the world. Up until the turn of the century a general
collection of this kind included only a few thousand specimens. Few such collections could be completed, as there are only
two dozen of the "Blue Mauritius" and indeed just one single specimen of the "Red British Guyana".
As stamps became more and more numerous, collectors limited themselves to individual countries: known as country
collecting. Most obvious is to collect stamps from ones own country. Only a handful of Austrian collections are truly
complete. Just a few specimens remain of the "Zinnoberroten Merkur", one of the rarest Austrian stamps.
Soon post offices discovered stamp collectors to be a good source of revenue, and an unprecedented surge began. Only a few
countries remained serious, Austria being one of them. Collectors reacted with motif collecting. No longer did
they strive to complete country-specific collections, but rather collected stamps according to their pictures: dogs, flowers,
locomotives, ships, paintings, weapons, buildings, or beautiful women. One could once again collect "world-wide": the golden eagle
from Austria, the honey-bee from Spain, the sea eagle from Senegal, and the humming bird from Jamaica. However, amassing many
similar stamps with butterflies, birds, or busts had a monotonous effect and conveyed little. In addition, postal administrations
(mostly in smaller countries) soon discovered that motif collectors allowed themselves to be taken advantage of more readily with
all the colorful little pictures than country collectors.
Documentary was superseded by thematic motif collecting. Here a theme is taken up, a story is
told about it, and the stamps (along with entire letters and special cancellation marks) provide the corresponding illustrations.
An example can be seen in Mozarts biography: his house of birth is portrayed on a stamp, his sister Nannerl on a special
cancellation mark, his piano on a postcard, etc. - if these indeed exist. The collector can sometimes search for quite a while.
Certain collectors smirked, totally unjustifiably, at these "mini-picture-collectors". Once again they looked to the post office
and explored history. In demand are letters from the period of time before the introduction of stamps
("pre-philately"). One can reconstruct postal history: postal trends and fees. The very latest
thing is home collecting, whereby everything involving postal delivery is collected and explored that relates to
one place, region, or district.
This is indeed the pinnacle of philately, comparable to the world championships in ice skating or Gerhard Berger in auto racing.
What should the average person collect?
Naturally, the average person should initially collect stamps from his/her own country. Newly-issued stamps dont cost very much
- approximately 300 shillings a year in Austria. With this you can anticipate around 30 stamps. New stamps can be purchased at no
extra charge from any post office as of the day of issue. If you wish to be assured of receiving all stamps, you can take out a
subscription. This is free of charge, and the stamps are held at the post office counter until they are picked up.
You can choose which post office you prefer.
All those interested who are located outside of Austria should consult the Collectors Service of the Austrian Postal
Administration at the following address: Steinheilgasse 1, A-1211 Vienna. Telephone: domestic (0222) 25 025-0, international +43 1
In addition to definitive stamps, which are meant for normal mail, there are also commemorative
stamps. Commemorative stamps appear on special occasions, show an appropriate illustration, and are elaborately printed.
Once a year a supplementary stamp appears. It costs only a few shillings more, and the proceeds go toward an area
of philately - thus indirectly benefiting all collectors. Blocks also appear on special occasions and contain only
one or several stamps presented in their "Sunday best", for this the picture carries through to the border.
Austrian stamps are designed by artists and are produced using a lavish, high-quality printing technique, for which the Austrian
national printing press is world-famous. Indeed Austrian stamps have an international reputation.
Along with stamps one can also collect whole articles. Presently in Austria there are domestic and
international postcards, envelopes, and aerogrammes on which the stamp is already printed. Formerly these were the normal
definitive stamps. For a few years pictures have been used which do not exist as "normal" stamps. Earlier there were many more
types of whole articles.
Those wishing to collect not just newly-issued stamps can also collect in reverse - those stamps of past years.
Still older stamps can be obtained at many post offices. Larger post offices have their own collectors counter,
where the selection is often quite large. Stamps can be found here that are thirty or more years old, of course at the (low) prices
of those days.
Stamps put aside for longer periods or those which are out of print can best be purchased at a stamp dealer.
Names and addresses can be found in the telephone book. Even at a dealer, stamps from the last thirty years cost not much more than
their face value. Rather expensive, however, are those from the fifties.
New stamps, even foreign ones, can be obtained at stamp collectors societies. Here the new ones are often less
expensive than at a dealer, though it often takes a long time. One can also trade stamps and in this way make use of any
duplicates. Societies have catalogues, give advice, and offer expert examination of rare stamps. Many societies also have
extensive libraries. Addresses of societies in your area can be obtained at the Association of Austrian Philatelist Societies,
located on Getreidemarkt 1, A-1060 Vienna.
The Associations newspaper is called the "Briefmarke" ("postage stamp"). It contains all information related
to stamps, special cancellation marks, events, as well as valuable specialized articles in all areas of philately. A monthly
one-year subscription costs just 330 shillings.
How are stamps collected?
A stamp is "fresh" when it comes directly from the post office and has not yet been used.
"Used" stamps are already cancelled. A stamp is fully cancelled when it is
covered entirely by the cancellation mark, and is partially cancelled when only a corner is covered. "Wave
marks" or "publicity marks" are unpopular among collectors. Used stamps must be removed from their
envelopes, a relaxing (yet sometimes quite tedious) activity.
Before removing the stamp(s), it should be determined whether the letter perhaps says more in its entirety. Stamps "on
the letter" are popular nowadays. This applies especially to those stamps cancelled on their first day of validity.
Special covers are sold for "first day" stamps.
Where are stamps collected?
You can throw them in a box or keep them in a cover, but it is much nicer to store them in an album.
There is a variety of different types of albums. A slot album has strips of pockets in which stamps can be
slipped individually or on top of one another. This method is recommended in the beginning, since stamps can be more easily
rearranged or moved. However, larger collections require many albums - these cost money and need plenty of space.
In an adhesive album, stamps are glued in with an adhesive hinge. This hinge is made of gummed
paper which is folded into two uneven halves. The smaller part goes on the stamp while the larger part goes on the album page.
This method must first be learned. Adhesive albums can accommodate more stamps which can be arranged more openly - even allowing
space for captions. Rearranging them on a page is difficult, yet additional pages can be easily inserted. This type of album is
not bound, but rather consists of a cover and individual pages. Earlier, collected stamps were exclusively "glued". This is why
most old stamps have adhesive residues on the back. Today this is very much regretted, and stamps "with adhesive"
are of a lesser value.
In a form album squares to accommodate each stamp are already printed, usually with an illustration or a
description. Form albums are convenient, though there are few possibilities for personal arrangement. One can also collect
"formless" by purchasing special or blank pages from album manufacturers. In this way the collection can be
created according to ones own imagination. All large, specialized collectors create their own pages.
Fresh stamps should not be glued, there is a special adhesive-free album for these. Pages for this type of
album provide pre-printed fields for the stamps and provide transparent plastic pockets in which they can be slipped. If you
succeed in doing this without leaving fingerprints, your stamps remain "fresh". Adhesive-free albums are naturally more expensive.
Stamps should never be touched with the fingers, especially not the fresh ones. Special tweezers are available
for safe handling. Whether you use straight, bent, or hooked tweezers, or ones with thin, wide, round, or spade-shaped tips, is up
to your own personal taste. Medical tweezers with sharp tips are unsuitable, as they can damage the stamps.
Stamp sequences can be taken from catalogues, where stamps are illustrated, sequentially numbered, described,
and shown with prices. Prices are usually given based on whether the stamp is "fresh", "with adhesive", "used", and "first day".
Many additional details are often given. The most widely circulated Austrian catalogue is the "Austria" Netto-Katalog (ANK),
published by Christine Steyrer, Taborstrasse 29, A-1020 Vienna. Albums, hinges, catalogues, tweezers, and all other essentials can
be found at dealers and stamp societies.
Why collect stamps, anyway?
Stamp collecting is one of the least expensive hobbies: a monthly stamp subscription costs less than a pack of
cigarettes. (You can compare this to skiing, surfing, golf, or gliding). The instinct to collect lies in each of us - not just in
children. The stamp collector builds a world of his/her own. Stamps furnish an overview of art, culture, sports, history,
geography, zoology, botany, economics, technology, physics, chemistry - all without studying. Stamp collecting quickly leads to
sociable contacts all over the world - collectors are international (not even the Iron Curtain hindered trade contacts). Names such
as Kiribati, Bophuthatswana or Guatemala are just as common among stamp collectors as Vienna, Linz, or Graz.
One day, when they sell their collection, collectors can recover a portion of their money (something which cant be done with
other hobbies such as skiing, golf, or smoking). This does not mean, however, that one can make a fortune with stamps. Speculating
with novelties is senseless.
The money you spend on stamps buys enjoyment, enjoyment which returns each time you leaf through your album.
This is certainly worth the few shillings!
Richard Zimmerl, Senior Professor
Association of Austrian Philatelist Societies