Stamps - Why Do We Specialize?
( Originally Published 1893 )
ALTHOUGH a few phases of this subject have been thoroughly discussed. there are other points to be taken into consideration, the discussion of which, I think, will justify me in writing this article.
Why do we specialize in preference to collecting in general ? The discussion of this question, like Mr. Tennyson's "little brook," is likely to "go on forever without reaching any definite conclusion. Certain it is, however, that specialism is daily gaining more adherents.
Patriotism is one of the reasons of specialism, and, by nearly every collector, the stamps of his native country rank first in interest, Why ? It is patriotism ! No matter about the design, no matter about the colors ; the stamps of one's country are, to his eyes, the most beautiful and perfect ever issued by any country.
Another reason advanced in favor of specialism, is that more knowledge is gained through a special, than through a general collection. Is this true ? It is said that a special collection may be made complete, which cannot be said of a general collection, no matter how much money may be at the disposal of a collector.
How many collectors making a specialty of British North America stamps have the Canada 12 pence ? How many collections contain a U.S., 24c. 1856, unperforated ? Certainly not over one hundred of each are known, and yet it is stated that special collections may be complete !
Granted that a special collection were complete, what is the advantage ? It is said that a collector will not be content until he has a complete collection. Is it the completeness of his collection that gives that undefinable fascination to the collector ? No! it is the collecting itself. To secure each stamp in a certain condition, to make some sacrifice to secure a desired specimen, that is what gives joy to the true Philatelist.
In a complete collection, the possessor, as he has now nothing to do, unless it be to wait for a new issue, loses interest in his collection and finally puts it away forever.
In proof of the fact that it is the collecting itself and not the completion of a collection that possesses that strange power of fascination, I have known prominent Philatelists, who, having secured as complete a collection as the state of their finances would allow, would sell or lay away their collections, and begin anew, and except for their having seen all of the specimens before, they collect with as much enthusiasm and interest as before.
Again, although it is true that in the close examination a specialist gives his stamps, a habit of close observation is formed, which is very useful in business life, and although a superior knowledge of the stamps of the country, and the country itself, specialized, it is offset by the general collector's knowledge of history, geography, etc., which is also very useful.
A secondary reason for collecting, with most Philatelists at least, is of a monetary nature. As there is pleasure in collecting, just as surely is there money gained. I am sure all will agree with me on that point. The question arises, in which, special or general collecting, is the most money to be gained ? "
I would say that it depends upon circumstances. For a collector who travels extensively, stamps of many countries may be secured at a comparatively low price, hence a general collection would prove the most profitable, but for one who does not travel, the stamps of the country in which he lives can be readily secured. I have no doubt that at least a third of Canada's first issue are yet to be found by some enterprising collectors. Again, in the careful study of his stamps, the specialist discovers some new shade, an error or a variety, which in many cases may be disposed of at a good price. The stamps of British North America and the United States furnish to the specialist an almost unlimited variety of shades. etc. As an example, look at the U.S., 1868, issue embossed. A few years ago a collection of the different sizes of embossing was sneered at, but now the 3 cent with a grille 13 x 1fi mm., is valued at S5.00, and the same stamp embossed all over is worth $15.00. What an advance in price the British North America and United States stamps have taken ! This is caused by specialism almost wholly.
Speculation in stamps has been one measure in favoring specialism. Collectors have become disgusted at having to buy all of the surcharged stamps which are constantly being put on the market, in order to have a reasonably complete collection. It is lamentably true that speculation in stamps is becoming more frequent each year. The Central American States and the French Colonies' stamps are issued purely as a speculative venture. The collector becomes disgusted with such countries, and selling his general collection, he becomes a specialist.
If it be true that no two members of the human family are exactly alike in every characteristic, trait, etc., what a voluminous, what an inexhaustible library, has the student of human nature at his disposal. It appearing that no two persons, even though each one of them be a stamp-collector, can be alike in every particular, one must take a " general average " of collectors, and select one of the number as typifying the salient points and idiosyncrasies of the stamp-collector. Let us suppose such a collector be examined and discussed from a "human " standpoint, by an individual who holds an opinion neither favoring nor prejudicial to him. One of the most noticeable features of the collector, when speaking of his hobby, is the enthusiasm which pervades his conversation. At first, one might account it to be an artificial enthusiasm or a counterfeit spontaneity, but after a time, the listener acknowledges the collector to he sincere in all his statements, and that his ardency in behalf of the stamp-collecting is not assumed ; it is either felt, or imagined to be felt. In refuting sarcasms launched at his pursuit, he is too severe, usually, in his denunciation of those who " see nothing in stamp-collecting " and who indulge in a little legitimate humor at the expense of stamp-collectors in general.
By doing this he over-shoots the mark, and the very stress of his words causes them to rebound to his discredit. When speaking with non-philatelic friends about stamp-collecting, he is sometimes found acting the role of apologist for the fact of his being a collector, as if he were a trifle ashamed of his hobby. Oftener, however, he will contend for the merits of his hobby with so rational discourse and argument. that he gains the respect of his friends for stamp-collecting, though he may not enlist their sympathies in the cause.
In explaining the advantages of collecting he will oftentimes dilate too strongly upon them ; this might lead one to infer that he was endeavoring to bolster up a cause which, within himself, he knew to be weak ; also, it might give the impression that he was seeking to justify his hobby in the estimation of his friends by exaggeration.
It is wrong for an outsider to harbor such opinions, and it does the collector injustice ; whatever may be his faults, he firmly believes in the virtues of his hobby. Stamp-collecting to him is a faithful friend, and in turn, his fidelity to it is loyal. One of his ready resorts, when the dignity of his hobby is questioned, is to compare stamp-collecting with other bobbies, and while these hobbies suffer some in the treatment they receive at his hands, it causes the glories of his own to shine the more brightly.
He has learned that there are certain people whose minds are so constructed as to render it impossible for them to comprehend the idea of stamp-collecting ; they cannot understand why any one should collect postage stamps! and to such as these he does not endeavor to explain the rationale of collecting. He allows them to consider him, if they desire, as one afflicted with some mild and amusing mental disorder.
The stamp-collector is independent, but like a sensible person, desires the good opinion and respect of the uninitiated for his hobby ; the fact of so many ridiculing collecting causes him regret. Any innuendoes cast at collecting have the tendency to strengthen his faith in his pursuit by reason of his seeing how undeserved are such flings, and the one who would belittle his hobby is viewed more in sorrow than in anger. He knows he rides a hobby, but he considers it such a one whose good parts eclipse those of all other hobbies. To those individuals who speak condemnatory of all hobbies, he would respectfully refer them to the following remarks of Sterne, which he thinks are quite apropos : "Nay, if you come to that, sir, have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself, have they not had their hobby-horses. their running horses, their coins and their cockel-shells, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets, their maggots, and their butterflies ? and so long as a man rides his hobbyhorse peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you nor me to get up behind him. pray, sir, what have either you or I to do with it ? "