Zanzibar! At age nine, I wasn't sure where it was, but it sounded exotic, filling my head with visions of crowded bazaars and the spice-filled smells of foreign lands. It was also the title on the last page in my first stamp album.
At one time, most kids collected stamps, joining clubs at school, swapping their "duplicates" and pestering their neighbours to save their mail. The present under-20 generation doesn't rate stamp collecting high on their interest scale, as stamps aren't "interactive." You can't hang out at the mall with them, and suggesting on a first date to "come up and see my stamp collection" sounds like a bad cliché from a Mae West movie.
Philately, the "four-bit" word for stamp collecting, remains a passion for a dedicated few, but for others, the collections of their youth have been long tucked away on a bedroom shelf or given refuge in the garage surrounded by unread National Geographic magazines. In addition to personal collections, there may be albums or accumulations of stamps once the pride of past generations, inherited over the years, where the suggestion of passing them down to the grandchildren evokes a response akin to suggesting they be enrolled in military school.
Years ago, I was privileged to work in London for Stanley Gibbons Limited, holders of the Royal Warrant, "By appointment to Her Majesty The Queen, Philatelists." The Queen was also faced with a stamp collection inheritance formed by her dad and grandpa but, unlike the rest of us, Her Majesty has abundant storage space in the 600 rooms scattered around the castle. Additionally, Her Majesty has sufficient cash stashed in the Royal Tea Caddy to pay for a "Keeper of The Stamps," not a priority in regular folks' personal budgets.
So, where to go when it's time for the stamps to find a new home? There are a couple of factors to consider. If children formed the collections and the stamps were mounted in small, colourful albums with pictures of stamps on the pages, the chances of current interest and value are slim. These stamps were common when acquired and are just as common today, having come from personal mail, packets purchased at Woolworth's or penny "approvals" mass mailed by large U.S. dealers in response to coupons clipped from the backs of comic books. If there are sheets or blocks of unused Canadian stamps bought over the past 30 years, these also are common, but can still be used for postage if you don't mind sticking a variety of stamps on each envelope to make up the current rate. If there are too many, and you don't want to add on Cousin Olga and all those other names you pruned carefully off your card list last Christmas, then expect to receive about half the face value of the stamps, should you offer them for sale.
If the stamps were inherited from collectors, who you recall spending significant sums when adding to their collections, then the potential for a more substantial return is greater. An advanced collector having acquired the lower values in a set easily (the one cent and five cent values, for example) would have gone on to pick up the $1 values, which saw much less postal use, and which would have exceeded the spending limits of a child collector. Value in any collection lies in sets that contain the top values and are in nice condition, plus specialized material (shades of colour, different printings, watermark varieties and so on) in addition to the basic stamps themselves.
When you rediscover an old album or accumulation of stamps, keep them as you find them, away from heat or humidity. Do not attempt to remount any stamps which may have come loose from the pages, but rather place them carefully in an envelope. An elderly lady staggered up the stairs at Gibbons, while I worked there, with an armload of stamp albums, and stated proudly to the astonished staff, "I stapled all the stamps in so they wouldn't fall out on the train." When it comes to any collectable item made of paper, remember that staples, glue and scotch tape are not your friends!
In the Victoria area alone, there are three formal and one informal stamp clubs. The majority of members are seniors or "near-seniors" with many years of collecting experience, who would be pleased to look over your stamp collection and provide helpful opinions regarding its desirability to others. An excellent starting point would be the Muffin Break Stamp Club, which meets informally on Tuesday mornings at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre. Tuck your album under your arm, then if you like, pick up a coffee at the snack bar and see what the folks have to say.
Next time: The Games We Played
Comments and suggestions for future columns can be sent to Michael Rice at Box 86 Saanichton, B.C. V8M 2C3 or firstname.lastname@example.org