Collecting Stamps: The Most Popular Hobby

Stamps have an interesting history. They were created from a need of a better system for delivering letters. I’m sure you’ve seen in movies or plays the folded letters sealed with wax, given to the delivery person. It was then taken to the recipient who was to pay the delivery guy. The price was often high. If you didn’t have money to pay the delivery fee, you didn’t get your letter no matter how important it was. I’m sure the IRS is happy that stamps were created.

As with most systems in history, people found ways to circumvent problems. Are you old enough to remember the collect call commercial with “Bob Wehadababyitsaboy” calling?

Its a funny way to think about cheating the system, but that’s essentially what people did with letters. To make sure the recipient got the message, the sender would write a code on the outside so that the recipient did not need to open the letter to get the message and thus not pay the delivery fee. You can imagine how the delivery guy felt after traveling by horse probably for miles, paying out of pocket for expenses, only to walk away with no compensation for his work. Yes, a better system was needed.

It was the British Postmaster General, Sir Rowland Hill, who introduced the idea of a prepaid way of delivery in 1837. But it didn’t get started for another 3 years! The first stamps, the Penny Black, were just that: black and cost a (British) penny. They are still the most popular stamps, but not the rarest. You’d think that the prototype of a product would be the rarest, like the first automobile (3 wheels!), but the Penny Black is not rare! Why not? Remember the folded letter sealed with wax? And the ones with codes written on the outside? Envelopes were not used as it was considered another sheet of paper and thus added more to the price of delivery. So where did they put stamps? On the folded letter. Saving the letter meant you saved the stamp as well. And from my observations, we humans are sentimental beings, saving and hoarding even the smallest of items. So there are plenty of old letters out there with the Penny Black still on them!

Stamp collecting is one of the most popular hobbies in the world.

Stamp collecting is one of the most popular hobbies in the world.

Stamp collecting seemed to have started right away, gaining the name Philately, with the greek word ‘phileo’ meaning ‘I love’ and ‘atelia’ meaning ‘free of charge’. By that definition, I’m already a philatelist. You can collect stamps as individuals or as a family. Its a great way for kids (or you) to learn, not just about history, but foreign cultures, geography, art, languages and more! There are some beautiful stamps out there!

Do you like free of charge, too? How about free stamps for your kids to get started with a collection? Janet Houser is the APS Program Coordinator at Have your kids send her a request for stamps with a SASE and she will send them some!

Janet Houser
APS Program Coordinator
100 Match Factory Place
Bellefonte, PA 16823

The All Star Stamp Club is for elementary kids through which the adult leader receives APS support including meeting ideas, resources and stamp-collecting goodies at least 3 times a year. With a $15 annual fee, kids can join as individuals or with their class or school if there’s an adult or school employee interested in leading the club. More information is at

The Young Stamp Collectors of America is a division of the American Philatelic Society. Members receive colorful newsletters, an on-line monthly chat session, and free philatelic gifts. Any child can become a member by completing an application and mailing it along with payment to APS-YSCA. Info is available at

Teachers! Lesson plans can be found here:

If you want more information or activities for kids go here:

Alas, times are changing again with the delivery of documents and letters via email and other document-sharing sites. No need to send a love letter when you can just text ‘I <3 U’. Maybe stamps will become obsolete in the future but in that case, it would make them rare and probably more valuable! Nonetheless, stamps have become a beautiful part of history and collecting them is still a fun hobby enjoyed by many, including some celebrities from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ron Wood. Join in the fun today!

photo by: ideowl