As an APS member or prospective member, you are among the most active and involved stamp collectors or postal history collectors in the world. We are 28,000 strong, and we represent untold millions in our own country and elsewhere, ranging from casual dabblers in the hobby to very serious philatelists.
We know that the enjoyment and depth of interest in our hobby greatly expands when we join an organization like the American Philatelic Society and meet our fellow collectors who possess the same “collecting bug,” whether it be a shared interest in history or geography, topic or theme, or exhibiting talent.
There are, at the same time, threats to the hobby. But there are also increasing benefits associated with the hobby as never before.
We face threats to our hobby every day. They are present in our youth, in our prime years, and in our retirement. In our youth, we remember having broad interests and reading books, often a lot of them. We did play games, but often they were either physical or in-person, like Monopoly, cards and other face-to-face pastimes. Now, younger generations are faced with a dizzying array of media choices, often brought to our homes by computers. My children and grandchildren now devote considerable energies to things like Minecraft, Rocket League, and Call of Duty. I am sure this helps in their development of pattern recognition, eye-to-hand coordination, speed of reaction, cooperation with other players, and adaptability to rapidly changing situations. Gratification tends to come quickly or immediately. Stamps . . . well, they also gratify, but more slowly.
In our middle years, we are beset by career demands and family obligations which take up the lion’s share of our time. Unless we make time for them, our hobbies tend to shrink.
U.S. Scott 5171 is one of the Black Heritage series of stamps and depicts Dorothy Height, who was a Civil Rights and women’s rights activist.
The threat to philately in our retirement years tends more and more to be the limitations of our own bodies. Debilitating diseases often strike; failing eyesight is a particular problem for those who enjoy what is essentially a visual hobby. We cannot delay death, though we do enjoy far longer lifespans than our forebears a few generations ago.
In addition, there is a distressing lack of diversity in philately. The overwhelming majority of collectors tend to be white and male. There is no one reason for this or simple explanation, though in part we can attribute a historical lack of representation in the hobby and very few open doors. Over time, the cultures of our hobby has changed, and we all must work together to continue to grow.
Despite these factors, the future of stamp collecting and postal history is bright. The same computers which have distracted our youth so thoroughly have also opened up a whole new world of philately, especially for those who live in more isolated parts of the country, far from any philatelic meeting places. Computers have enabled us to engage in philatelic marketplaces across the country and across the world, and that has certainly broadened participation in the hobby. Computers have also made available access to a vast quantity of media, some of which is highly educational to collectors. It is much easier for collectors to become educated and familiar with an area that interests them. No longer are the only available resources at the local library — through the web, it is possible to find all sorts of philatelic knowledge and information. Naturally, it is even easier to do that if one joins an organization such as the American Philatelic Society, which gives collectors access to one of the world’s best philatelic libraries, with most materials available for borrowing and many more materials available in digitized form.
Another great development in our hobby is its potential to welcome all people. More women and more people of color are interested in philately and postal history than ever before. This is Black History Month, and philatelists interested in U.S. stamps will realize that an increasing number of issues put out by the USPS highlight the achievements and history forged by people of color in this nation. More issues are focused on the achievements of women, and all of us look forward to the day when our hobby better reflects the diversity of our population.
Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of philately and postal history is its infinite adaptability. It takes very little in terms of time or money to get started in this hobby. How you choose to develop your philatelic interest is completely up to the individual collector. Many people start by collecting a topic, such as “bears on stamps” or “birds” or whatever appeals, and then develop that topic into a thematic collection, where you begin to collect not only stamps picturing the topic, but also build it into a collection or exhibit featuring all of the things that relate to the chosen topic. Other collectors begin with a country or even an issue from a country, and develop that further. There are simply no rules about how you choose to develop your collection – only that it brings you pleasure.
If you choose to get serious about a topic, a theme, a country, or a region, or even choose to collect the world, so much assistance is available through organized philately. A collector need not re-invent the wheel. The American Philatelic Society can offer ample assistance to beginners, and can refer someone interested in a particular area to a specialist organization of collectors who are also interested in that area. There is an enormous number of such organizations. Many years ago, a Frenchman traveling in the United States, Alexis De Tocqueville, noted that Americans have a remarkable affinity for associations of all sorts. That is still true today, and it is particularly true regarding stamp collecting, whether it is general or specialized.
In the end, philately is not dead, nor is it dying. Rather, it is changing every day in the people who pursue it and in the way that it is pursued. You will, indeed, get out of it what you choose to put into it. Good luck and happy collecting!
Editor's Note: "Pluses and Minuses Concerning the Future of Philately" was published in the February 2020 issue of The American Philatelist. To read the full issue and discover back issues of The American Philatelist, click here and scroll down to the Back Issues section. Happy Black History Month!