Hobbies can be very personal. Everyone has got different things that make them tick. My thing is stamps. Philately is admittedly not a very common hobby. For many, a postage stamp is a nugatory piece of paper used merely for payment; it might even be considered an anachronism. The digital age has heralded a new approach to activities with which we may engage in our spare time. To me, however, philately stirs a zeal and fascination, unrivaled by none of the more common hobbies.
I was given my first stamp album at the age of seven. At first, I rummaged through all the envelopes I could find, looking for the small zigzag-rimmed pieces of paper. Despite my initial enthusiasm, the hunt for stamps got boring pretty soon. Let us face it, you do not find stamps every day; it is somewhat random. Any philatelist will acknowledge patience and dedication as essential prerequisites – if not upsides – of pursuing such a hobby.
Likewise, meticulousness and organizational skills are developed as stamps should be handled with utmost care. The use of special tweezers is recommended to avoid any damage, especially to the zig-zag borders – the feature which conserves its monetary value. Also, given the array of stamps that exist, they can be fixed in a myriad of ways: based on their country of origin, the shape, and the imprinted image (the vignette). Leafing through a well-organized stamp album has always been pleasant.
Hitherto, I have collected about 250 stamps. Being gifted a few by my mother, who is also a philatelist, and regularly visiting the post office to purchase them have been conducive to my collection. Museums are crucial to philatelists, too, as they offer a platform for people with a similar passion. They are often home to the most coveted stamps, like the Mauritius “Post Office” Blue Penny Stamp and the British Guiana 1c Magenta. These are two of the world’s rarest stamps and are undoubtedly the holy-grail of stamp-collectors.
Stamps can also widen our mental horizon. They allow us to have a peep into the past, showing that they are indeed slices of history. Art pieces, cultures, animals – anything can be imprinted. It is also impressive how any momentous event or even a whole epoch can be compressed into a tiny piece of paper. In fact, many stamps are issued on commemorative occasions, like the Olympic Games and the Anniversary of Independence of a country. The symbolism of each stamp is particularly significant as it often has more meaning than what is depicted. It can hence be considered an art form, though in miniature.
All stamps are amazing in their own way. If I had to select the ones I prefer from my collection, my choice would fall on Chinese stamps depicting birds such as the Tragopan. Illustrated using a vivid kaleidoscope of colors, the birds are a perfect embodiment of freedom and peace. True, stamp collecting may not be as refreshing as any sport, but I am enamored by this hobby. As my collection grows, albeit slowly, I grow too, all while learning about the intriguing world of philately. I would highly recommend anyone with the patience to do so to engage with such a hobby, for it can be a genuinely learned experience.
Written by Bhavini Dhondea