Until around the age of thirty or so, I was a stamp collector, specializing in the United States, France, and Vatican City. Then I gave up on the hobby around the time several million other collectors did, probably because we’re all more distracted now with all the new electronic media. Although I sold the cream of my 19th century U.S. collection on eBay, I still have most of my albums. Looking back on my collecting days, I realize that the hobby actually contributed a great deal to my development.
From a relatively early age, I learned how to recognize foreign countries by how they identified themselves, not how we identified them. As I Hungarian, I knew that Hungarian stamps said Magyarország, not Hungary. Many countries, such as those in the Arabian Peninsula, Greece, Eastern Europe and the USSR, East Asia, and Armenia did not use the Roman alphabet, so I had to identify them using other means. (Of course, back then, we did not have the Internet to help us.) Just to give an idea of the complexity of identifying stamps by country, here are a few examples:
Bohmen und Mahren: Czechoslovakia under German Nazi occupation
Hejaz and Nejd: The two sheikdoms that later made up Saudi Arabia
Island: Yes, an island, but more properly, Iceland
K.U.K: Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Austro-Hungarian Empire
The stamp illustrated below, for example, is from the USSR. But note that Russia was not the only country employing the Cyrillic alphabet: There was also Bulgaria, Serbia, the Ukraine, and other Eastern European stamp-issuing countries.
Also I learned about the currencies of those countries, such as Hungary’s own fillers, forints, and pengös. The above Russian stamp has a denomination of 1 ruble. Until recently, stamps of all countries adhered to a Universal Postal Union treaty that specified that the stamp bear a denomination in their local currency. Now, with the U.S. Postal Service’s “Forever” stamps, that convention is apparently no longer in force.
In addition, as a collector we had to be aware of fine printing details, such as those that characterized the issues of the American, Continental, and National Bank Note Companies in the 1870s in our own United States. These included secret marks, varieties in the number and spacing of perforations, paper and watermark variations. It was difficult but fun to find a more valuable Bank Note issue that had been wrongly classified by a seller or fellow collector.
No, I do not regret my stamp collecting days.