Stamp Collecting – What You Need to Know

Stamps are considered ephemera and often go unnoticed. People might view them as a thing of the past – after all, email is much faster! We receive letters in the mail and without giving a second thought, we toss the envelope in the garbage. This can be unfortunate when each stamp holds a remarkable history and is considered to be valuable ephemera! The objective of this article is to create excitement in those who are interested in pursuing the hobby of stamp collecting by providing the history of the stamp, sharing ideas of how to begin a stamp collection, and how to value a stamp.

Have you ever wondered why people bother collecting stamps? Are you interested in taking up the hobby of a stamp collection? If you answered yes to either of those questions, keep reading! There is so much you will learn in this article!

Many collectors find excitement in finding, collecting, and showing their collections of stamps. Others may take a special interest in collecting them because of the history each stamp holds while others find stamps to be aesthetically pleasing. There are a number of reasons why someone would go to the efforts of laying their hands on a specific stamp such as The Penny Black, which we will talk about later in the article. Whatever your reason may be for collecting stamps, recognizing that there is a history behind these collectibles can help you to gain more appreciation for the hobby. Stamp collecting is a unique hobby that many people have taken interest in. Did you know that there are approximately 20+ million stamp collectors worldwide? (“Why People Collect Stamps”, 2019, Retrieved from

While there are many options when it comes to collecting ephemera, such as postcards, vintage books, and so on, it’s important to notice that there is an extremely large community interested in collecting stamps.

If you’re interested in postcard collecting, check out Postcard Collecting – What You Need to Know

History of the Postage Stamp

Have you ever wondered about the history of the stamp? And I’m not referring to the Stamp Act that was passed by the British Parliament and had nothing to do with what we know as stamps today. I’m referring to the stamps we use to send letters and cards to our family and friends around the world. Since 1840, stamps have acted as vehicles of communication. Whether we send handwritten thank you notes, wedding invitations, or Christmas cards, the stamp has acted as a link to our loved ones. Imagine the relief and joy a mother felt in reading the words, “I’m coming home,” from her boy serving in World War II. Or a long-awaited wedding invitation from a nephew. All these letters and cards have one thing in common and this one thing is placed in the uppermost right-hand corner – a stamp.  

Surprisingly enough, the first postal service didn’t require stamps. In 1680, William Dockwra began this service with assurance of quickly sending letters anywhere in London. To his dismay, he began to realize that he had overshot, so to say, with his guarantees. He encountered charges and taxes with every letter that was sent, including that the receiver was required to pay to receive the letter. To add to the frustration, many of the recipients would refuse to pay for their letters leaving Dockwra discouraged and unsuccessful. According to The British Library Board, “…sending a letter was expensive. The charge was for each sheet of paper that a letter comprised [of], and for the distance covered. The receiver had to pay and not the sender!” (First Postage Stamp 1840, Retrieved from

Doesn’t the need for a postage stamp make so much sense now? Unfortunately, the idea of a postage stamp wasn’t considered until 50 years after Dockwra began his postal services! Can you believe that sending a letter was once an expense people couldn’t afford? Thankfully, Rowland Hill’s brilliant ideas lead to a solution.  

Having suffered long enough with the current postal service, Rowland Hill decided to meet up with Postmaster General Lord Lichfield to resolve the problem within the system. Together they constructed the idea of the postage stamp. The stamp would adhere to the envelope showing payment. Something as small as a simple stamp solved the impediment of communication with friends and family now making the process easier.

The Penny Black

The Black Penny, the first stamp

With this brilliant idea now taking flight, Rowland Hill created The Penny Black – the World’s first postage stamp. It displays the profile of Queen Victoria. It is recorded that in the first year of releasing the stamp in 1840, about 70 million letters were sent (Stamp, Jimmy, “The Story of the First Postage Stamp”, 2013, July 19, Retrieved from 

That number only increased in the following years. Can you imagine the enthusiasm that was felt throughout the country knowing letters could be sent without worries of their arrival? In the year 1840 The Penny Black was priced at one penny. Today The Penny Black’s worth is just a little more. According to The Stamp Echo,

“In 2009, a used Penny Black in poor condition can cost as little as $20 and up to $495 for one in extra fine condition, an unused or mint example would average around $1000 to $7000, depending if it has the original gum or not and if the margins around the stamp are close or wide” (Arpin, Daniel, “The Penny Black, How to Determine Its Value” 2008, November 13, Retrieved from

How To Begin Your Own Stamp Collection in 2 Steps

Starting is the hardest part of beginning or trying anything new. First and foremost, you need to know that acquiring a collection will take time and energy. So don’t give up! The nice thing about collecting stamps is that it can be personalized!

  1. Decide What Interests You

This step is important to establish before starting your collection considering that there are infinite themes available. If you are the type of person that gets overwhelmed with having to make decisions, simplify your choices by deciding at the beginning which theme you would like to collect. For example, if you choose to collect stamps with historical event themes, make a goal to find them and collect them. If you like adventure and enjoy the unknown, collect any and all stamps that come in your direction. In truth, there is no wrong answer to which stamps you decide to collect as long as it is fulfilling. I have made a list of options, knowing that there are much much more! Take a look to see if anything piques your interest!

  • Stamp from each month of the year
  • Animals
  • Flora and fauna
  • Historical events
  • Famous people/Political figures
  • Places
  • Holidays
  • International stamps

If you decide to start an international stamps collection consider finding a pen pal from another country, or multiple pen pals! This will allow you to get your hands on international stamps without having to wonder if they are legitimate.

Truly, the options are endless. Find out what you like by educating yourself on what types of themes are available.  

  1. Purchase Proper Materials

Once you’ve made up your mind on what you’d like to collect, make sure you have a place to store your stamps. This will protect your collection and keep them from staining, ripping, or being exposed to outside elements.

  • Binder or Box

Storing will be important in collecting stamps. While some stamps are in mint condition and others not so much, you will need to properly store them. You will want to keep them in the best condition as this will increase their value. I will expand on this topic in How to Value a Stamp section. Here is one that can be purchased on Amazon.

  • Stamp Tongs

Purchasing stamp tongs may seem a bit extreme! However, for the sake of preservation, they are necessary. Handling stamps with your hands can leave oil marks resulting in decreasing the condition. Using stamp tongs will be an investment for the future if you want your collection to last. is a website that sells tools specific to the hobby of stamp collecting. Check it out if you’re interested in what other tools are available to you! Here is another pair from Amazon. You can’t beat free shipping if you have Prime!

How To Value a Stamp

Determining the value of a stamp can be dependent on so many factors, which is why we’ve compiled a list to act as your guide! It is recommended that a magnifying glass should be used when trying to value a stamp. A magnifying glass can help with noticing the details of the condition of the stamp.

  • Rarity and Age

The rarity and age of the stamp will be important to consider when evaluating it’s worth. For obvious reasons, if a stamp is rare, the value increases and that coincides with the age. If your stamp is older, it will be worth more being that older stamps are hard to come by.

  • Condition

When determining the condition of a stamp, look for rips, tears, and folds. If a stamp has never been used, it is considered to be in mint condition, therefore adding to its value.

  • Stamp Catalog

You will need to know where the country of origin of the stamp in order to determine its value. Luckily, each country possesses its own stamp catalog! It’s important to be up to date when using a stamp catalog as a price reference since stamp values change often. You can find these catalogs to purchase online. If you’re starting out, or the idea of not spending money seems appealing, here’s an option. I came across the website The Stamp World and found a free online stamp catalog. I’m not entirely sure how often they update their catalog, but this is a great place to start! As mentioned before, stamp values fluctuate, so be aware! If you’d like to purchase your own catalog, here’s one!

Now that you have the knowledge to become a pro stamp collector! We wish you luck!