Philately, or the collection and study of stamps, has become a popular pastime. Postage stamps are the third largest category traded on eBay and there are millions of stamp collectors all over the world.
At the heart of stamp collecting is the fact that every stamp has a limited print run. In other words, there is a scarcity of supply. This is not only of interest to dedicated amateurs, but also to investors.
Are old stamps valuable?
The first postage stamp, the Penny Black, was issued in 1840. Even though millions were printed, if you happen to have one, today an unused or mint example could be worth as much as €5000, depending on a number of factors. It is not uncommon to hear of a collector who has acquired a set of old stamps from an attic sale and discovered some rare and valuable examples.
British stamps overprinted with "Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann 1922" (Provisional Government of Ireland) and "Saorstát Éireann 1922" (Irish Free State) could be worth hundreds of euros, as these were printed as power passed to the new Irish government.
Even rock stars like John Lennon and Freddie Mercury were keen collectors whose childhood collections are now in British postal museums.
Where should you start?
Today, there are so many countries in the world and each produces so many stamps that a complete worldwide collection would run to thousands of volumes. The answer is to be selective in your pursuit of stamps. Try limiting your scope by choosing one of the following:
- A specific country
- A type of stamp
- A theme or subject matter such as transport or birds
- A particular historical period
While tiny details like watermarks, perforations, paper differences and printing errors excite some collectors, and are of the utmost importance to philatelic investors, other collectors are focused on the quality of the image or design.
It’s natural to want to collect stamps of your own country so many Irish collectors focus on Irish stamps. ‘The Irish Abroad’ also makes a fascinating theme for collectors because noted Irish people have appeared on stamps from far-flung countries.
There are a number of philatelic societies in Ireland. For more information, we suggest that you contact either of the following:
The Éire Philatelic Association
The Irish Philatelic Society