Why every kid should collect stamps

My blog-pal Anthony has a great memory, because this morning he reminded me of a post I wrote three years ago. With apologies to those for whom this is a rerun, it at least explains why I was more excited about the heat-sensitive eclipse stamps than yesterday’s actual eclipse.


I admit it: I feel nerdy confessing I collect stamps.I’m not sure how it started but I think it’s my father’s fault. He used to travel a lot for work, so he had friends all over the planet. And occasionally these friends would send us a letter, like this one:


Within a few years I’d amassed maybe a dozen such first-day covers, and I’d saved several hundred stamps from my father’s correspondence. I especially looked forward to Christmas each year.

Stamp collection 1050708 BLOG

Before long I was saving my allowance for the local stamp-swaps and mail-order offers. I’m sure I got swindled a few times (I was only eight or nine). But still, it was fun.

Then my collection sat idle for a few years, largely forgotten while I attended college and married and started a career. It wasn’t until 2014, in the aftermath of The Great Flood, that I rediscovered it.

And that’s how I got hooked again.

I had every intention of dismantling my collection and selling off the (very few, not-really-all-that) valuable stamps. But then I started looking at the stamps closely again — this time through new eyes.

There were a lot of things I couldn’t part with, like this envelope my mom’s best friend sent her from the USSR …

Tia May letter BLOG

… nor this small series from Peru. I still remember the round-bellied old fellow who taught me that, although some stamps may look similar, they’re actually printed by different companies (look closely at the very bottom).

Peru desocupados BLOG

I also noticed for the first time how deeply stamps can reflect a country’s culture and heritage. Peru was quite proud of its “riqueza del guano” (bird poop), it would seem …

Peru guano BLOG

… while Spain celebrated its pilgrims’ stops on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Spain Santiago de Compostela BLOG

Iceland’s stamps, on the other hand, were a veritable festival of things that gush and explode …

Iceland explosions BLOG
… though I must admit some of their more recent stamps — commemorating the Vikings, and celebrating the early settlements — are among my all-time favorites.

Iceland map BLOGIceland settlements BLOG

I also love this old stamp from France, showing the bridges of Paris …

France airmail BLOG

… and the series they did on their cathedrals’ stained glass …

France stained glass BLOG

… not to mention their “great moments in history” collection.

France Grandes Heures BLOG

Seeing these places and events illustrated so artfully brings them alive for me in a way no narrative ever could. That’s especially true of wartime stamps.

Germany war BLOG

The glorification of wholesale slaughter and destruction is sickening …

Germany war detail 1 BLOGGermany war detail 2 BLOG

… just as the remembrance of the victims is heartbreaking.

France war BLOG

And if you look closely, you can almost trace a country’s evolution through its stamps. In a sense, they’re a reflection not only of how a country wants to be seen — but also of how it sees itself.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the two Germanies’ Soviet-like and paternalistic post-war incarnations.

DDR Soviet-like BLOGGermany paternalistic BLOG

Speaking of paternalism … collecting stamps is also a great way to learn about history, because it helps you put faces to the names. (Though, ironically, long-faced Felipe IV on the far right was reputed to have a great sense of humor.)

Kings of Spain BLOG

I also love these cameos of Ludwig III, the last king of Bavaria. For one thing, I really did manage to “collect them all.” For another, the Freistaat Bayern overprints are historically significant because they refer to the Bamberg Constitution, which established the “free state” of Bavaria on September 15, 1919. But you probably knew that already.

Bavaria Ludwig BLOG

And while many stamps celebrate emperors and kings, others tell the story of a city or an entire state. Prague has survived centuries of war and occupation, for instance …

Prague BLOG

… and these stamps were issued to raise money for the reconstruction of Freiburg …

Freiburg rebuild BLOG

… but Yugoslavia no longer exists.

Yugoslavia BLOG

Stamps are also superb barometers of popular culture and current events. Consider the space race, for instance. Naturally, the Soviets had something to say on the matter.

Russia space BLOG

Then Laos jumped on the bandwagon …

Thailand space BLOG

… and then Liberia sort of suggested they’d put a man on the moon …

Liberia moon BLOG

… and finally Equatorial Guinea issued a stamp commemorating the “discovery of the three dead cosmonauts.” Go home, Equatorial Guinea. You’re drunk.

Guinea astronauts BLOG

But lest you get the wrong impression and think stamps are boring and depressing, let me cover one more topic: the unintentionally hilarious. Like this series from Germany I like to call “Dumb Ways to Die.”

Germany safety BLOG

Although plummeting off a ladder and tetanus have a certain appeal, I’m going to have to go with “brick to the head.”

Germany safety detail BLOG

There are also these beautiful British lithographs commemorating “The Great Postal Disasters.” Ah, yes, who could forget “The Norwich Mail in a Thunder Storm.” And remember the time the mail got snowbound in Edinburgh?

British postal disasters BLOG

But wait … what’s this about an attack on the Exeter mail? I couldn’t tell at first whether it was a dog or a wolf leaping upon the horse, in the lower-right-hand corner.

British postal disasters DETAIL BLOG

It turns out it was a LION. Yes, a LION attacked the mail service on October 20, 1816. And the mail was still only 45 minutes late! See? We’d never know this priceless fact, if not for my stamp collection.

The best part is, these are only a fraction of the stories I could tell you. Imagine what we might learn if we looked at all three books …

Stamp collection 1270217

But rather than risk boring you, I’ll leave you with one final treasure from my collection. Yes, that’s right: Stamps I collected about collecting stamps.

Call me a nerd, but you’ve got to admit that’s pretty cool.

Stamp collecting BLOG

All joking aside, huge thanks to my father for not complaining when I tore up and soaked his mail, and to my mother for driving me to God-knows-how-many stamp swaps, and to my friends Pam and Craig, who have so generously fed my collection in the past year.
And if you want to give stamp collecting a try, drop me a note! I have a few duplicates I’d be happy to trade … especially if you have any more Great Postal Disasters.


  1. What a great post – you did it again….. We, in Switzerland, have wonderful, beautiful, funny, great and sometimes multi-themed-long-and-large stamps too, in France c’est nulle….!!!!!
    I have one kind and nice bro-in-law who is (used to?) collect stamps. We once had a long running joke because I stayed with my sis and him for a few days and he insisted to ‘show me his stamp collection’ which in our country is an invitation for something else altogether!!!
    Also, once an year, I bring a brimming full large envolope of stamps to a friend in UK, over 96yrs old, who then amuses herself for a long long time every year with the collection of my mail’s stamps. Isn’t that wonderful? Before, she collected them for a friend’s husband who died – then, his wife took over and when she died, our friend continued to collect them from me. Costs me and her nothing and gives great joy.
    I got a parcel about an year ago from an elderly person here in France. He sent me a book I ordered 2nd hand. It was plastered with stamps of many years back, still with ‘Francs’ on it, not Euros, lovely and wonderful. I hesitated longtime before being generous and passing it also on to my friend in UK.

    • Thank you for telling me about that “want to see my stamp collection” idiom, Kiki — in hindsight it explains one or two unfortunate encounters, LOL! And what a beautiful story about your sharing stamps with your 96-year-old friend in the UK. It’s marvelous to hear about people who sustain their passions throughout life. And it’s so incredibly kind of you to help your friend sustain that passion. (Though I completely understand your slight reticence about sending away the lovely stamps that came with that secondhand book! I have a couple of envelopes too that I’ve saved exactly as I received them.)
      Well … thank you so much for all of your kind comments. You are just lovely!

    • Isn’t it crazy how much our take on things can change over the years, Tom? You’re a positive role model for me in that sense because you continue to dedicate every day to learning and growth.

  2. I must confess that out of the many things I developed the urge to collect, stamps did not make the cut. I can see the fascination, however.

    I can also appreciate the practical aspect in that a stamp collection takes up so little room. And the sustained attention to one thing. Which beats the large number of pathetic little semi-collections of things which need to be extricated from my basement. Someone will be happy when I unearth the little collection of beer cans from around 1970 (from an era when aluminum cans were exotic things.)

    • In defense of your aluminum can collection, JP, at least they’ll be worth a fortune when that metal becomes rare! Funny that you should point out the compactness of stamp-collecting, though: That was one of the points that drew me to the hobby, because I started it back when my family moved quite often. Now I appreciate the compactness more because I can tuck the entire collection onto a bookshelf when company comes over, but it’s still the same principle. Anyway … thank you so much for stopping by, and for your kind comment!

  3. Last winter, my nine year old (Adam) inherited his grandmother’s stamp collection. It doubles as a parent booby-trap because whenever I open any drawer to his desk to return the myriad articles of personal belongings he has left about the house, stamps come spilling out of the drawers like a broken dispensing machine (some loose, most in disarranged archival sleeves). I’m amazed at the interestingness of your collection! And what is the deal with Equatorial Guinea? Hahaha! That sure is a weird one.

    • Lucky Adam! As a kid I always dreamed of inheriting someone’s collection — but in hindsight perhaps it’s good I didn’t precisely for the “parent trap” reasons you cite. On the plus side, there are worse things that could come tumbling out of a desk drawer!

      As for Equatorial Guinea: That’s not the weirdest one I have by a long shot. But since I don’t wish to disparage China, ballet, and the art of marksmanship in a single stamp, perhaps I’ll save that one for an email. 🙂

  4. Hello Peter and Lynda,
    I’m not sure which list you’re referring to because my blog posts go out only to readers who have subscribed, and are always sent digitally (never in printed form). But if you no longer wish to receive posts from this blog please visit WordPress.com and unsubscribe. I’ll gladly walk you through it if you’re unsure of the process. My best to you!

  5. Your post made me smile. After a long workday, this is invaluable. I remember I collected stamps also when I was a kid. But I was too careless and guess I’ve lost them all. My grand-aunt would send me postcards with special edition stamps every now and then. I also had some stamps from Thailand my grandparents had brought back for me. Your article is pretty spot-on : so many things they convey. Thanks for this nice reading 🙂

    • How wonderful that this post brought a smile after a long day at work, Pierre! It’s a pity that you have since misplaced the stamps you collected as a kid, but imagine how cluttered our homes would be if we kept everything! 🙂 At least your appreciate the gestures from your loved ones over the years, and that’s what’s important. Thank you for making my day with your kind comment.

  6. Another beautiful post Heide….and I can definitely see the attraction in collecting them 😀. Wonderfully told and the images match absolutely perfectly too. I see our Queen took centre stage in one of your first pics lol. Thank you for sharing xx

  7. I inherited a stamp collection a few years ago from a second cousin twice removed. It’s a heck of a project.
    Just sorting out the useable postage resulted in a little over 3,000$ of postage. I gave much of it away to local nonprofits.
    Sorting out the USA, Canada, British stamps from all the other countries has been an exercise is global politics and history.

    • What a great — and very generous — idea you had in sorting out the useable postage and donating it! A big tip of the hat to you for that. I also agree heartily that the act of sorting can be a crash course in global politics and history (it’s become a secondary hobby of mine to look up unfamiliar commemorations). Well, thank you for stopping by, fellow stamp collector, and thank you also for the kind comment.

      • I’m a fairly prolific letter writer but even still the 3,000$ in odd postage from the nineties would last me several life times.
        And if I never saw another canceled 19 cent “Bambi” stamp again I’d be rather happy.
        In general I’m only collecting (filling a book) with the pre 1964 stamps.

  8. Thanks for the shout out. Much appreciated.
    Also, it seems like quite a few people have enjoyed this “repeat post”. This is obviously a testament to its well written nature, its lovely photos, and its wonderful theme.
    I was trying to escape becoming a stamp collector–but you’re dragging me back in….

    • What a kind comment, Anthony — thank you! Except maybe for the dragging you back into collecting part … but hopefully you’ll get so hooked on it that you’ll forget all about the dragging. 🙂

  9. I love, love, love this post–your enthusiasm is contagious. I did not collect stamps as a kid, but I did get one for the Christo Umbrella Art Exhibit that was set up along highway 5 in CA–and along a different highway in Japan. Very cool. And one of my mom’s friends collected stamps from other countries, so I was pleased to send her postcards from my six week trip through Europe when I was in college. She loved the stamps! Keep collecting!

    • How thoughtful of you to send postcards from Europe to your mom’s collector friend, Patti! I bet the stamps were even more priceless to her because you’d sent them. Thank you for your kind words; you’ve just made me beam from ear to ear.

  10. Funny that you mention the compactness of this hobby and also remark about how cluttered our homes would be if we kept everything… My mother died 2 years ago and I suppose the (you’ll be jealous!) 3 or 4 boxes of first day covers and stamp albums take up less space than her how many was it? Six or seven? Dolls’ houses. Plus everything else, which Dad has been unable to face sorting out. If the postage wouldn’t be killer I’d happily send you those 3 or 4 boxes 🙂

    Of your German ‘dumb ways to die’ stamps, my favourite is 25, poisoned car! I assume it is meant to be drunk driving? But I see poison bottles and a dead car lying on its back. Reminds me of a joke – what’s red and lies upside-down in the gutter? A dead bus.

    • I am so sorry to hear about your mother … my belated but heartfelt condolences to you and your family. But how kind of you to help your father sort through all those beloved possessions — and to “adopt” all those boxes of first-day covers and albums. As you say, at least they’re fairly compact as collectibles go, eh?

      As for your observations about the German stamps: *GUFFAW!* You literally made me LOL with your quip about the poison bottles and dead car on its back. Thank you for that, and for the terrible joke. 🙂 It’s wonderful to hear from you!

  11. My dad collected stamps and encouraged us to do so as well. After his passing, we inherited all of his stamp albums. Mom sold some of them and gave us the money during lean times, but thankfully she kept a few. I papered a table with them a few years ago. I treasure the memories of him soaking his stamps to remove the paper, then attaching tiny cellotape with his tweezers. Envelopes arrived in the mail with stamps exchanged from around the world. Dad lived in England, India, Canada and the US, so his travels introduced him to other collectors as well. I loved your storytelling around all your beautiful stamps. They’re really quite fascinating. I follow a couple of stamp lovers, artists and collectors on Twitter. If you have an account there, I can recommend a few. ox

    • Thank you for sharing these beautiful memories of your dad’s collection, Alys. Of course I have a million follow-up questions (Why England, India and Canada?) but will do my best not to pry. 🙂 I also imagine it must have been difficult for your mom to sell some of the stamps off, but it’s beautiful that in a way your dad continued providing for his family. As for Twitter: I’m sorely tempted to rejoin and meet these stamp collectors, but must steel myself and politely demur. (It’s a bottomless pit of trivia, dontcha know.)

      • Mom had some tough years raising us girls on her own after dad died. She helped preserve his memory, and when selling them, did so as she knew he would want to continue to help his family. He was a kind, warm and gentle man. You’re not prying, HB. My dad was born in England and studied at a horticultural school. After graduating, he moved to India to work on a tea plantation in India (Darjeeling). When the war broke out he either stayed (or returned….I’m a little fuzzy on the timing) and worked as a translator. After the war he returned to England, but wasn’t happy there. He moved to Canada and stayed with friends who fixed him up on a blind date with….my mom. They married, ran a couple of flower shops together, then sold them as the family grew and my dad took a job at a local nursery. They moved the family to California in 1966, and Dad died from lung cancer in 1969.

        So now you know why his stamp collection was eclectic.

        • What a marvelous life story! I can tell you without hesitation i would have loved your dad. He must have been very proud of you for following in his footsteps, both in your kind and gentle temperament, and in your love of nature. Thank you for sharing this story with me. xx

  12. WOW! that is really huge collection. I myself am a stamp collector. You can say that it is a hereditary, because my grandfather use to collect and my father also. Maybe because my grandfather was in postal services, he might had the habit of collecting them!! I felt so nice seeing such a huge collection and also made me little jealous that my collections are less…… ha ha ha!!! My Father has been collecting the stamps in the memory of my grandfather and i feel that i collect so that i can keep my grandfather’s memories alive. he passed away before i was born, however stamps are the only way of remembering him. Thanks for making my day by looking at this.

    • How beautiful that you are the third generation in your family to collect stamps — and how beautiful also that you and your father continue to collect as a way of honoring your grandfather’s memory. I would say that the sentimental value probably far outweighs any of the stamps I’ve bought over the years. And thank YOU for making my day with your kind comment! I greatly appreciate your stopping by.

    • I’m glad to have brought back some childhood memories, Otto! It’s a pity that so few kids these days enjoy this hobby, but I can see how old stamps might pale in comparison to video games. But I’m glad YOU enjoyed the post and thank you for stopping by!

  13. Beautiful collection! 🙂 Keep it up! I also collect stamps, along with my dad. He was collecting them for many years and when I was a teenager he gave me an empty album and 3 sets to start my own collection! I really enjoy this hobby, partly because I share it with my dad! Recently, while visiting Brighton in the UK, I discovered a little shop, a stamplover’s paradise, filled with piles of stamps everywhere! I just saw he has a website, a little outdated but still, it worths checking it out! 🙂 https://gustamps.biz/presta/index.php

    • How incredibly sweet that you and your dad collect stamps together, Amalia — as you say, these hobbies are all the sweeter when we have a loved one to share them with. And thank you very much for the link to the gustamps site. You’re right about the slightly “retro” interface, but I didn’t care one bit about that as soon as I saw the heading for “unorthodox stamps.” 🙂 But most of all, thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to leave your kind comment. I really appreciate it! Cheers to you, Heide

    • You could always start a new collection, based on the places you visit, I suppose … but there probably isn’t much space inside the van for collectibles, is there? 🙂

  14. As luck would have it, a business trip placed me in Nashville TN area during eclipse day. Add a travel habit of mine to mail postcards back home, the USPS special eclipse stamp, and we all have a nice memento of the event (postmarked 8/21 Nashville!). It is something physical and tangible in this increasingly virtual screen-based world. Real letters, real stamps will endure.

    • I’m so sorry you lost all of your stamps in a house flood! Our house flooded completely too in 2013, so I can understand the devastation a little bit. I hope you’re back on your feet now.

    • Thank you for the compliment, John! I do wish more people collected, although I suppose then there would be a stamp shortage. 🙂

  15. What a beautiful collection! My sister collected stamps as a kid and I loved looking through the books. The colours, the stories they told. It was always a treat. 🙂

    • I’m glad this post brought back some fond memories for you, Olga! I wish my sisters had been as interested in my hobbies and you were in your sibling’s stamp collection. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by!

  16. Great post Heide. I used to collect stamps as a kid too. I didn’t know about the FreiStaat Bayern thing, I’ll check it out. Liked the lion in Exeter too. Never noticed there were any in the streets when I was there.

    • It’s a pity you didn’t have any lion sightings in Exeter, Yann! HA HAHA! Do you still collect a bit, or has that hobby fallen by the wayside? I ask because I would be delighted to bring you a few treats whenever I finally do have the honor and pleasure of meeting you in person.

  17. I got many stamps also, amassed from my childhood and college days. Some are even expensive which i bought in auction and dealers and Ebay. But the problem is, i can’t find people who share the same interest in our country, so few that i can say the hobby is dead. this beautiful work of art i have will only be be cherished only by my own eyes till i die.

    • How sad to think that you may be one of the few collectors in your country who appreciates stamps … but how wonderful too that you DO appreciate stamps! Even if no one else finds wonder and beauty in them, you do — and that is enough. Thank you for stopping by, and especially for your comment.

    • If I ever get to retire maybe I’ll have time to analyze the typography and color choices over the ages. But for now I’m content simply to look at all the pretty pictures. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by!

  18. Oh Heide What a corker of a post! I enjoyed reading it. I gravitated to it first because of the beautiful envelope from your Mum’s friend in the USSR. I love when the stamps are attached to envelopes and you can see the hand writing. I really enjoyed your perspective on all the stamps and the humour too.

    I used to collect stamps as a kid but nowhere near as serious as you. I will have to go and look at my collection now. When I lived in Milano when we were first married the lady across the hall was a KEEN stamp collector. In her eighties she had three wardrobes full of stamp books! She and her cousin and best friend shared the passion for stamps. Fortunately for it was the days before emails and I did receive letters from home (Australia).She just about wet her pants with excitement when I knocked on her door to give her the stamp off the latest letter from home.

    Really looking forward to reading more of your posts and seeing your lovely photos. Louise

    • Ha ha! I *loved* your description of your 80-something-year-old neighbor practically personally wetting herself over your Australian stamps — because I have also been that person. 🙂 I wonder what became of her collection, though. Three wardrobes full is quite a handful, even for the most avid philatelist!

      And thank you for your kind words about my post as well. You sure know how to make a gal’s WEEK, Louise.

        • What a relief to think (hope) that the stamps stayed in the family! Although I don’t envy the son the task of sorting through them all, it’s better than having them end up on eBay — or in the trash. So yay to happy endings!

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your home burning, and that you lost everything. When did this happen — when you were still a child in your family home, or as an adult? Either way, that’s heartbreaking. Your wife has created her own beautiful collection, though. I had no idea there were such diverse national costumes! (I learn so much from you; thank you for that.)

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