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While we were visiting the International Broadcast Center of the 2012 London Olympics (see post here), we wandered into a post office/shop which sold stamps and related souvenirs (essentially mugs and posters with the stamp’s design and some special coins) to the reporters and broadcasting crew.

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The collection of stamps was a well-regarded hobby back in my young days. It still is except that it has probably become a niche hobby. The hobby is known as “Philately” – There used to be stores dedicated to selling new and used stamps as well as first day covers and dictionary-like catalogs. Now, they are much harder to find.

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This is how the postal authorities of India describe stamp collecting.

Philately is a delightful hobby that sharpens and satisfies your aesthetic tastes. While expanding your knowledge of and interaction with the world you live in, you get to know interesting details of politics, history, prominent personalities, national and international events, geography, flora and fauna, agriculture, science, monuments, soldiers, warriors, scientists, arms and ammunition, modes of transport etc. This process of learning becomes more delightful through visuals and brief write-ups. In addition, philately cultivates a meticulous and focused attention to detail. It also helps  you to make friends across boundaries and age limits.

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This is how the American Philatelic Society explains why people collect stamps.

Most individuals collect for relaxation and enjoyment although many secretly hope that they will discover a rare and elusive stamp that will make them wealthy. Some individuals collect as an investment.

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A whole sheet of stamps which presumably included the entire Olympic series was on sale.  I(Chris) am not collecting anymore but I took these close ups of the stamps on display wondering how they will turn out. Not bad except some reflection.

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With the advent of self-adhesive stamps followed by the emergence of services like AOL and FedEx, fewer stamps are in circulation. Soon, they will be produced more or less as commemorative souvenirs and bought by collectors only. The US postal service recently announced that they are eliminating Saturday delivery – so even the institutions that produce them are under threat.

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One aspect of stamp collecting that I did not appreciate until I was older was the great diversity and high quality of graphics that appear on stamps. A stamp’s design was likely reflective of the style prevalent in a country at the time when it was released. Each stamp is a mini work of art.

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With a stamp collection that spans a period of time, say 1940-1990’s, it may be possible to catch a glimpse of the international, historical development of modern graphics design.

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Because my dad was in the import/export business, I was spoiled by a constant supply of stamps from far-flung places. I was proud that they were not pristine because they were collected, in opposed to being bought new from a store. I don’t care much about mint stamps.

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Note that the images posted on screen here are about 2X the size of the actual stamp. The details of the image and design which are not always easy to observe have been magnified.

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Every stamp tells a story.

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If I have time, I might scan some of my stamps so that they can be viewed anytime anywhere under optimum illumination, and be uploaded here for all to see.

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One Comment

  1. One can see the different values in the descriptions between the American and Indian Philatelic Societies. I wonder what the British one says.


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