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World Post Day: is this the end of philately?

Photo: Collected

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Is this the end of philately?

Photo: Collected

Do you remember when we received letters from the postman? Many collected stamps from the envelopes and stuck them on specially designed albums. In the age of online platforms, when the postman is barely making a visit, it may seem that philately is a dying hobby, but many are still passionate about stamp collecting. On this World Post Day, we take a look at the hobby of stamp collecting – the passion that is so intertwined with the postal service – and explore its rich past, glorious present and possible future.

Trends in philately

The first stamp was issued in 1840, and from day one there were people interested in collecting this new item as a souvenir. Stamp collecting quickly became so popular that people came up with a new word to describe it: Philately! To this day, stamp collectors or philatelists collect stamps in multiple ways around the world.

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Every year, thousands of stamps are issued on various subjects, and each of them finds a special place in the albums of collectors. Philatelists often combine their personal interests with philately – this is what many call thematic collecting. A passionate entomologist can combine his passion for butterflies and collect the stamps issued on the theme. From the life of a caterpillar to its metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly, all of this can be shown through postage stamps.

Other collectors simply satisfy their desire for collection by collecting different postal stationery – envelopes, aerograms, postcards, etc. issued by many post offices. History buffs can study how the postal system worked, and these collectors mostly collect envelopes with the stamp still stuck on them. They study, among other things, the different postmarks on the stamps. In fact, the field of study of philately is so varied and vast that it is often referred to as a science!

The commemorative stamp of the 50th anniversary of the Concert for Bangladesh held in New York, with the errors marked. Photo: courtesy

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The commemorative stamp of the 50th anniversary of the Concert for Bangladesh held in New York, with the errors marked.  Photo: courtesy

The commemorative stamp of the 50th anniversary of the Concert for Bangladesh held in New York, with the errors marked. Photo: courtesy

The philately of yesteryear

Less than a decade after the stamp’s release, stamp collecting became a popular pastime in Victorian England. The hobby quickly spread throughout the English colonies and around the world. The hobby spread in India through the hands of foreigners. In the region that now comprises Bangladesh, the earliest stamp collectors are found as early as the 1930s. Throughout the Pakistani era, the hobby was practiced by avid local collectors, but not in an organized manner. .

After the 1971 liberation war, people feasted on a new identity and steps were taken in early February 1972 to create an organized platform for the study of philately in Bangladesh. The first stamp exhibition in Bangladesh was held in February 1973. Many stamp exhibitions have been held in the country since then and Bangladeshi collectors now even participate in international stamp exhibitions.

Lockdowns – A blessing in disguise?

The COVID-19 lockdowns have changed the world in unprecedented ways. With the coronavirus scare, people have found themselves stuck at home with lots of free time. Many people have found their stamp albums and reconnected with their childhood passion. Seasoned philatelists were also able to review their holdings. Now was the time to study the collections, and many interesting articles were written during the lockdown times.

Not only local or national but also international philatelic exhibitions have stopped and philatelists have found the right time to go digital. To everyone’s surprise, the virtual stamp exhibitions were a huge success. Bangladesh is a pioneer in this area, having hosted a number of online exhibitions during the pandemic, which have received quite positive responses. Prominent clubs and associations in Bangladesh and around the world also held Zoom sessions which brought together people from all over the world.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, there has also been a resurgence in the stamp trade, and rare stamps have fetched record prices at auction. Social media also came into play and suddenly Facebook pages were used to trade stamps on a level never seen before. The same technology thought to have distracted stamp collectors for decades was suddenly bringing them closer than ever.

Stamp Collecting — Is It a Dying Hobby?

Who will be the future owners of today’s famous collections, one might ask? And the answer does not seem so simple.

There have been claims that yes, the end of philately is really near. Physical exhibits no longer fascinate crowds as they once did. New collectors who have joined philately in the near past are all middle-aged people who were collectors as children. The addition of teenagers into the folds of this hobby came to a halt as social life, career and family took the lion’s share of their time.

On the other side of the coin, rare stamps are always sold for large sums of money. A sense of nostalgia seems to drive some collectors, and it is hoped that more and more people will find stamp collecting appealing as a relic of a bygone era.

It is possible that at some point only the rich and famous would be concerned with the pursuit of philately. There will be considerable interest in rare stamps, however, less common stamps from the fashionable era may not find a new place in stamp albums.