While the average age of philatelists continues to rise, there is good reason not to exaggerate reports of its death. It remains the world’s number one collecting hobby for good reason. Certainly a generation is growing up who may one day be called on to reminisce about the time when they actually bought and used stamps at a post office. Yet while technology may indeed kill off the postage stamp for good, that passing will only increase its appeal as a link to our shared history.
Few tokens of a nation’s past are as revealing as its stamps and they can almost be viewed as miniature exhibits of a unique museum of culture. A stamp’s provenance, usage, iconography and even its price give us clues to, among other things, a country’s values, art, politics, geography, natural history and economy.
Indeed, as a recent Guardian article noted, many see them as works of art in their own right, uniquely placed to appeal to the Instagram generation. Suzanne Rae actually creates art which celebrate stamps as a medium on her site Art Stamped while John Simper, in his Twitter account @Philatelovely, has been posting fine examples daily in his Stamp of the Day feature for well over a year now.
Accompanying this post are a beautifully engraved US postage stamp ‘Western Cattle in Storm’, an optimistic $2-60 Zeppelin stamp from 1930 and a finely detailed UK issue celebrating the Postal Union Congress of 1929.
Whether it’s stamps, coins, theatre tickets, records or baseball cards, collecting is actually good for us. Simply being absorbed in a task which is not required of us by work or personal relationships is an excellent way to put the cares of the world to one side and psychologists agree that this is a very real benefit of any collecting hobby.
As we age, it becomes ever more important to keep the grey matter active. Regularly immersing ourselves in the history, provenance and characteristics of a collection is a great way to exercise our powers of observation, memory and judgement.
As a collector, you are part of a distinct social sub-group with a shared interest. Immediately, there is a rapport with any fellow collector and the social benefits of a mutual hobby often lead to lifelong friendships.
Finally, as the world continues to turn at an ever dizzying pace, there’s the nostalgia for a particular period in history. The past isn’t going anywhere soon. It can be a comforting anchor in the eye of the storm that is 24 hour news cycles. Whether it’s the football programmes you started collecting in childhood or finding an unusual coin in your change, collecting often has very mundane, but very enduring, roots. And while the average age of collectors in traditional fields like coins and stamps continues to rise, it has become an even broader church. The bug of collecting is every bit as strong in today’s children and while Happy Meal plastic toys and Pokemon cards might not be everyone’s cup of tea, they just might prove to be a gateway drug.
While Hogmanay may be a bigger deal in Scotland, the New Year is even more important in two other countries where it’s still marked by a flood of traditional mail in the form of postcards: Japan and Russia.
Last year in Japan for example, two billion New Year’s greeting postcards were sent, an average of 15 for every person in the country. These nenga-hagaki are generally seen as a way of expressing gratitude for all those who have helped you over the past year – hence why it’s so hard to leave any friends or family out! It’s considered a bit rude not to reciprocate the gesture so you can see why people try to cover all the bases.
In Russia, of course, Christmas was banned as a religious holiday from 1929 along with Christmas trees. In 1935 though, (with Stalin’s blessing), they became ‘New Year Trees’ as an alternative celebration when Grandfather Frost brings presents to children. New Year remains the principal holiday celebration in Russia to this day with Christmas a relatively minor affair on January 7th – in line with the Russian Orthodox calendar.
Almost inevitably, the most common theme of Soviet new year postcards is a cosy view of the Kremlin. Some reference Communist achievements in the space race to help Grandfather Frost on his rounds while lots of the more colourful ones are playful depiction of rosy cheeked children or comic hares, the traditional animal of the Russian New Year.
Our final words of the year are just to say a huge thank you to all of the Market’s traders, visitors and supporters who have helped make the best of an extremely trying year. We’ll be back just as soon as we can. Happy New Year to you all!