Beyond Basics...

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(More tips and how to's for beginners
and intermediate stamp collectors)


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How To Get Stamps For Free
Getting stamps for free is easy and it adds "thrill" to the hobby. It is like finding a dollar bill lying on the street, waiting to be picked up. There are many ways to get stamps for free:

  1. Inform everybody you know (your relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbors - everybody) that you collect stamps and ask them if they can save the stamps from their mail for you. Most people do not collect stamps and they usually throw away the stamps they get. If you ask them, they will be happy to save the stamps for you.
  2. Similarly, tell everybody who writes letters to you that you collect stamps and would appreciate if they use a new or commemorative stamp when writing to you. Most people will oblige.
  3. Do you sometimes send a self-addressed stamped envelope to a business or an office to get a catalog or a free sample or an application blank etc.? Well, always put a nice stamp on that envelope because it is going to come back to you.
  4. Do you know anybody who has relatives or friends who live in a foreign country? Chances are that person receives letters from that country and therefore receives foreign stamps. Ask that person to save the stamps for you.
  5. Is your neighbor going to vacation in Europe this summer? Is your uncle going on a business trip to Japan? Is your colleague going to attend her cousin's marriage in Mexico in the second week of July? Well, ask them to send you a postcard from that country. You will get another foreign stamp.
  6. Large offices and big businesses receive hundreds of letters everyday. The person who opens the mail for these offices usually throws away hundreds of covers containing various kinds of stamps, unless her own niece has recently picked up this hobby. If you know such a person, and request the person to save the empty envelopes for you, you can amass large quantities of stamps in a short period of time.
  7. International companies, import-export houses, consular offices, big hotels, university admissions offices, acquisitions department of large libraries - they all receive mail from foreign countries and many of them have stamps on them. If you know the person who handles the mail in these offices, your collection of foreign stamps can grow at a faster rate than you can imagine.
  8. When you go the post office next time, look inside the waste paper baskets next to the P.O.Boxes. People usually collect their mail from the mail boxes, open the mail right there, and discard the covers in the nearest trash cans. A little rummaging through those trash receptacles can reward you with a philatelic jewel. (If not, at least with lots of bronze and silver). And remember, the bigger the post office, the bigger the bounty.
  9. Do you have penfriends in foreign countries? If not, you can make some. Click here to go to an Internet site to find penfriends in foreign countries who also collect stamps. If you make friendship with a person in a foreign country, he or she can supply you with lots of stamps that are ordinary or common for them but not to you. Similarly, your friend in the foreign country will appreciate receiving from you the stamps that are common to you but not to him or her. Penfriendship is a wonderful thing. Try it. (Tip: I have given you link to only one site in this paragraph where you can go to look for penfriends. There are actually many more sites in the Internet and some of these may suit you better. So my advice is go to Google or Yahoo and type in "penfriends" or "pen-friends" or "pen friends" in the search box and hit Enter. You will find plenty of sites to choose from. Just take a little initiative and I guarantee you that you will be rewarded handsomely.)
  10. Have you heard about stamp swapping, or stamp trading? That is a great way of increasing the size of your collection and getting varieties. You can swap your duplicates with a freind or a fellow collector. You give him what he needs and you take from him what you need, usually one for one. But the terms are generally negotiable. You might want to take from him one large colorful commemorative stamp that you don't have in exchange of two small definitive stamps that he does not have or vice versa. Remember, you are a beginner. It is highly unlikely, that any one of the stamps you are swapping between yourselves will someday sell for one million dollars in an auction. So one for one or similar deal is good enough for the stamps you have acquired for free or may have paid a penny or two for each.
    Stamp swapping can be easy if you join a local stamp club. For a list of clubs near you click here. Since stamps are light items, they can be easily swapped by mail. You can, for example, send 50 US commemorative stamps to somebody in Canada and that person can mail you 50 commemorative stamps of Canada. If you do not have anybody near you to swap stamps with, look for classified ads under "stamp trades" or similar, in philatelic journals and newspapers. For a list of leading philatelic magazines in English click here. It is sometimes possible to get a free copy of a magazine, as sample, without having to subscribe for it. One stamp newspaper I like is "Linn's Stamp News". If you don't want to subscribe to it, you can read their online version at www.linns.com.
    I must emphasize here that the easiest and fastest way to build a collection is by trading (exchanging/swapping) stamps. This is the best way of building a huge collection for pennies. In this era of Internet, finding trading partners is as easy as surfing the Net. Perhaps the best source for this is Stamp Trader List. Another very good source is Stamp Collectors Exchange Lists. Trading is usually done on a one-for-one basis, and in packets of 25, 50, 100 or more. If you surf the web and look for stamp collecting sites, you will find that almost every collector is willing to trade. Just e-mail them and go from there. You are encouraged to use the guestbook available on the home page of this site to establish contact with other collectors interested in swapping stamps. You can find trading partners from every country of the world. Some of these people can become your penfriend later. Trading is a good way of building friendship also! Remember, honesty is the essence of making a long lasting trading partner. And for the purpose of trading, you need to save your duplicates -- never discard them. Some collector somewhere do not have them, and he/she can give you in exchange stamps that you do not have!
  11. Sometimes senior stamp collectors can give you, for free, some of their duplicates. At other times, for a packet of stamps they might charge you only a fraction of the price that a dealer will normally charge. Where do you meet a senior stamp collector? At a local stamp club or in a stamp show unless your grand father or great uncle is a senior stamp collector.
  12. Older people in the family can sometimes give you stamps that were issued before you were born. Ask your grandma and grandpa if they have any old letters saved. More often than not, they will take out a bundle of letters with old stamps on them and they will be more than happy to give those stamps to their dearest grandson or granddaughter.

    Let me tell you a true story here. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India. He was also the chancellor of Visva-Bharati University which was founded by Rabindranath Tagore at a place called Santiniketan in West Bengal, India. Nehru was very fond of young children and he loved all children irrespective of their social and economic status, color, creed, religion etc. Nehru's birthday is still observed in India as Children's Day. Once during his visit to Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan he went to the young boys' hostel to meet with the resident children there. During that meeting, one young boy approached him and asked if Nehru could kindly give him some of the stamps, both domestic and foreign, that came to his office daily. Imagine how many stamped mail come to a nation's Prime Minster's office everyday, particularly noting that this story is from a time when electronic communication (e-mail) did not come into existence. Nehru at once agreed and upon his return to New Delhi he ordered the person in-charge in his office to save most of the stamps that came to his office everyday and mail them to the young boys' hostel in Santiniketan once a month to be distributed to all its residents. For the rest of his life Nehru regularly checked if the stamps were being sent to Santiniketan. As long as he lived, the supply of stamps continued.

    The morale of the story is don't be shy, don't be afraid. Always make the request for stamps to a person who you think is a potential source of stamps. You have nothing to lose. The worst that might happen is the person might turn you down or might not keep his promise. From my experience, I can tell you MOST OF THE TIME the person will oblige you. So whether it is the Head of a State, a high ranking government officer, The Director or CEO of a company, or your next door neighbor -- always ask (when possible). I have collected tons of stamps this way!

    Use your imagination and be creative. Free stamps are everywhere and they are all yours just for the asking.

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    How To Buy Stamps Inexpensively
    Image of an Iceland stamp In the previous section (Basics of Stamp Collecting, Page 1) under Getting Started, I have given some hints on how to buy stamps inexpensively. Packets are always less expensive than individual stamps bought singly from a "want list". Assorted packets are cheaper than a single country or a particular theme (for example duck stamps, butterfly stamps, locomotive stamps, olympics stamps, flower stamps etc.) packet. As with any other consumer products, the larger the size of the packet, the lower is the per stamp cost. And remember, it is always cheaper to buy a full year of issue or a complete set rather than a few stamps of that year or of that set. Try eBay for bargains.

    You will often see ads for 1000 all different USA stamps for $2 or similar. If you read the fine prints of these ads you will see that by placing your order for 1000 stamps for $2, you are also giving the dealer your permission to send to you other stamps "on approval". The other stamps, of course, are regularly priced stamps. You do not have to buy them, but if don't buy them, you have to return them to the dealer within a specified period of time and usually you have to pay for the return postage. The purpose is to tempt you to buy what you did not plan for. It is a hassle to return the stamps to the dealer and pay the postage from your pocket. So, before you respond to such lucrative offers, think twice.

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    Stamp Identification

    Identification of stamps is not always easy, especially for a beginner. There are several reasons for it. First of all, the name of the country is not always printed in Roman script. The name may be printed in Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, Indian or Asian script which many of us cannot read. Then, a lot of the times, the name is printed in Roman script, but the language is not English. So we still may not be able to readily identify the stamp. I have compiled a chart for the beginners which will help identify some of the common stamps.

    Click here for an easy to use stamp identification chart.
    (A new, more elaborate identification chart has been added for
    slightly more advanced beginners).

    Many countries, of course, print the country's name in plain English on their stamps. Therefore, it is easy to identify stamps of those countries. There is only one country in the world which is allowed not to print the country's name on its stamps. That country is Great Britain. Instead of printing the country's name on its stamps, Great Britain shows the ruling monarch's head on its stamps, usually in the upper right corner. Since Great Britain issued the first postage stamps of the world, they have been given this special privilege.

    So how would you identify the stamps on which the country name is printed in a language you cannot read? Many of the times a senior stamp collector can help. But if a senior stamp collector is not at hand? Well, books are available for stamp identification and I recommend that you buy one such book. I use Linn's Stamp Identifier. This little book has a wealth of information on stamp identification. It has an alphabetical listing of over 2000 stamp inscriptions and tells you what it means. It also has 65 pages of clear illustrations of difficult-to-identify stamps (with non-English inscriptions) and it solves the mystery for you right under each illustration. It also lists the Greek, Cyrillic and Indian (Hindi, Gujarati, and Oriya) alphabets. I strongly recommend to beginners to buy this book. This little investment will go a long way in increasing the joy of stamp collecting.

    Help on stamp identification is also available on the internet. Two such sites are ISWSC Worldwide Stamp Identifier and SCV Stamp Identifier. You may also sometimes find the site ISWSC Worldwide Bogus Stamp Identifier useful.

    Image of a Liechtenstein stamp I must make it clear here that when I am talking about stamp identification, I am talking about the country of origin or the name of the stamp issuing entity of a particular stamp. Stamp identification can sometimes become a little more complicated than that. Sometimes a particular stamp of a particular country needs to be identified more closely. This is because a stamp of a particular denomination and a particular design may have been issued at different times with variations in perforations or watermark or color. These variations are not easy to see just by looking at the stamp. One needs to use a perforation gauge to detect variations in perforation and a color guide to detect slight variations in shades of color. Detecting watermark is a little more complicated and the difference in watermarking between two stamps sometimes can make a huge difference in their prices. One stamp may have a catalog value of $2 and an identical looking stamp may be $10 and a third identical looking stamp may be $200 or even more! This is where a professional stamp collector steps in. Elaborate stamp catalogs are available which describe every stamp of every country that has ever been issued. Scott catalogs are widely used in USA for worldwide stamps. (Minkus U.S. Specialized catalog is also well known). Stanley Gibbons catalogs are used widely in England and British Commonwealth countries. Michel catalogs in German and Yvert Et Tellier catalogs in French are other well known stamp catalogs in the Western Hemisphere. These catalogs describe in detail every characteristic of every stamp, its date of issue, valuation etc.. Scott assigns a number unique to every single stamp of the world. Serious stamp collectors always consult these catalogs to determine exactly which issue of a particular stamp he has and how much is it worth. To determine that they use various kinds of watermark detectors (watermark fluid is the commonest and cheapest), perforation gauges, and color guides. Stamps are also differentiated by the method of printing! For people like me who collect stamps for enjoyment, this kind of hair-splitting and these gadgets are all unnecessary. If you are a beginner, I would suggest not to worry about these things. Stamp collecting then soon can become a hassle!

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