Is Stamp Collecting Dying?

Is stamp collecting dying?
Is stamp collecting dying?

This is a question many stamp collectors have been asking in the recent years. And no wonder—how often do you find stamps on your mail? Probably very rarely, which is the case for most people–including myself.

While businesses are using metered postage or postage permits, everyone else is primarily using email. The need for stamps in today’s world is almost nonexistent. Fewer people being exposed to stamps means the hobby of stamp collecting is experiencing a decline in popularity. This is especially true among the younger crowd. Most adults grew up exposed to stamps in some way, but among today’s youth, that’s not always the case.

 

Here’s what I think

I actually believe philately (a cool word for stamp collecting) is doing well these days. Many people would disagree, and I know exactly what their view point is. In fact, I shared that view point in the past, and still completely understand where they’re coming from.

 

Many people, especially in the older age group, are turning to philately as a relaxing and very rewarding hobby. The internet has opened doors to vast fields of philatelic knowledge previously difficult to attain, and for some, completely unattainable.

 

Now there are lots of online communities (including this very website!) where new and seasoned stamp collectors alike can get almost instant help with their collection, make new friends, and find an abundance of philatelic information. Websites like eBay, HipStampThe internet is a blessing and a curse to philatelyStamps2Go, and Amazon have made it easier than ever to start a collection. Yes, the internet has been a huge blessing to the hobby of stamp collecting.

But…

The internet has also been a curse to the hobby. It is so full of games and distractions, that most people, if they’ve even heard of stamp collecting, think it’s really boring. Why waste time hoarding a few scraps of paper when they could be chatting with friends, playing addictive games, or reading all the latest news?

 

I think as time goes by stamp collecting will slowly but surely decline in popularity. Fewer people will turn to stamp collecting for relaxation or as an investment. They’ll find other opportunities closer at hand and more practical. Stamp collecting will be way off the radar for most people, and they’d never even consider it as a possible option.

 

That isn’t to say philately will become extinct. I can guarantee that there will always be those that find immense enjoyment in the hobby. For as long as I live, I know that that will be the case with me. There are definitely many others that share the same strong passion for stamp collecting. In my opinion, it’s impossible for the hobby to die out entirely. It will continue to live on. Whether in a big way or small, only time will tell.

 

Hope you enjoyed reading this article. Before I finish though, I’d like to ask you something.

 

What do you think about the future of stamp collecting?

 

Thriving, dying, or none of the above? I’d love to hear your opinion, so please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

 

This article was originally published in June 2016.

40 Comments

  1. Stamp collecting has been one of the world’s most popular hobbies since the late nineteenth century with the rapid growth of the postal service. I am sure it will continue to grow as long as there are people like you creating this awesome site and ensuring the hobby stays alive. I do understand what you are saying with the rise of the internet the hobby has been sharply reduced by the number of postal items arriving in homes today, but I am sure there will still be those whom will continue this hobby.

  2. Hi Ian

    I have to agree with you that for now I think the hobby is still going strong because the older generation staying involved. However, you say that that the hobby might start loosing momentum.

    Don’t you think that if stamps become a thing of the past that any stamp collection will increase in value? Surely then there will remain a huge interest.

    1. Hello Gary,
      I actually think that if stamp collecting became a thing of the past, stamps would become LESS valuable. My reasoning for this is that there would still be billions of stamps, like there are today, but the demand for them would be low due to the small number of collectors. Stamp values would be driven down because of this. Hope I’m making sense… 🙂
      Thank you for your comment!
      Ian

  3. Huh. Philately. I’m in love with the word lol. I don’t think it will completely die out either, but I do think that it will become more of a niche as time goes on. I think there will always be someone interested – it’s just whether they’ll be able to find any or not. Interesting post!

    1. Hi Austin,
      I agree, philately is a really neat word. “Philatelist” and “philatelic” are also quite fun. 🙂
      I’m sure it will become more of a niche, and I agree that there will always be those that are still interested in it. Stamps are generally easy to find if you know where to look, so (hopefully) that won’t be a problem.
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!
      Ian

  4. I would say stamp collecting will only become more expensive because of the reasons you have laid out.

    I use a franking machine too.

    just looking at the picture of the stamp above is massively interesting in itself.

    Stamps tell their own unique stories nt to mention whose handled some of them.

    Good post.

    1. Hi John,
      Thank you for your input! I actually think that as time goes on and if stamp collecting does lose its momentum, then with fewer collectors, stamp values will drop. There would be a plentiful supply of stamps, but a low demand for them. This is just my opinion, and I guess only time will tell!
      Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad you liked my post.
      Ian

  5. Hello Ian

    Stamp collecting is an interesting and relaxing hobby. I used to be into it a lot but it has taken a back seat in my life over the years. Stamps to me are history on paper and I find them fascinating. I can spend hours just looking at different stamps. However in today’s world, with the advent of all different social networks plus email, I think stamp collection will not be the same. It will probably die down.

    Thank you for sharing

    Danielle

  6. There is also an advantage or opportunity for collectors in this ear: It’s getting cheaper to do so. For dealers, the decline of stamp prices means falling profits, but for collectors, this means more accessible and obtainable. Maybe some are only falling by $10 or $100 over 2 or 3 years, but it does make it easier to get them. Some though, if you’re very astute, are on the rise as well.
    Also, the classics become more scarce every year. Things happen to collections. It’s more frequent that pre-1900 era stamps are destroyed each year through accident, disaster or neglect than are now found each year (and when they are found, often the condition is pretty poor, dry, broken, etc.) As the numbers in these stamps dwindle, their value increases. Consider the B-Grill Scott #82. Only 4 found on the same cover in 1969… now only 3 accounted for. They were taken off cover and sold individually. Only 3 are now known to exist, at a price of $1,000,000 each.
    I look at big disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and wild fires in California, and every time one goes through I think “I wonder how much philatelic history was lost today”.

    1. Hi Scott,

      What you said about the fact that stamp collecting is getting cheaper for collectors and more difficult for dealers is very true. As a small eBay dealer myself, I noticed a significant decrease in market value for 1920s era US stamps this year. Whereas last year Washington/Franklins and Fourth Bureau Issues sold very well, this year I struggled to make any profit on them. And since the price of stamps has gone down, purchasing new stock is cheaper, yet less profitable. Now, I fully realize that the reason sales were bad this year may have no relation to the poor stamp market, after all, it’s hard to believe the market would change that quickly in just one year. However, it is an interesting occurrence that really makes me wonder….

      I have to agree that classics seem to be getting scarcer, and I’m afraid the number of old collections being discovered in attics, etc., are fewer than the number of old collections being trashed by unknowing heirs or getting destroyed by natural (or unnatural, as the case may be) disasters as you mentioned.

      You make a good point about how much philatelic history gets destroyed. We as stamp collectors should, and I believe we do, try our best to keep our collections as safe as possible. However, there’s no knowing what the future holds and sometimes even the most secure collection will somehow get destroyed.

      It’s really unfortunate what happened to the #82, but it makes me wonder how many others are hidden in various unsearched collections awaiting discovery. After all, there were many more than 4 originally printed. I think the likelihood of more being discovered is extremely low, but it’s fun to fantasize. 🙂

      Have a great day Scott.

      Ian

  7. Hi, I’m a millennial interested in trying to do something about reviving the interest in stamp collecting in a younger generation. Accessibility to both information and stamps themselves is much easier now than in the past, so that’s clearly not the problem. The challenge as you state is we are competing against so many other options which are seen to be far more stimulating. I have attempted to use this new technology to spice things up a bit. See my YouTube channel at the following link
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkeSM6aOWfaUPIGb5rPOGyA
    or type “Exploring Stamps” into the YouTube search engine. The problem is even if I think I have a reasonably product, to get visibility on a search engine and thus the potential to reach an audience, requires signs of activity. Put a giggling child or cute cat up and you go viral much quicker than the topic of stamp collecting. Any thoughts on how to leverage the exciting or older stamp community to get this visibility so that eventually I can reach new collectors and help to revive the interest?

    Graham

    1. Hello Graham,

      I checked out your channel, and also subscribed. It’s spectacular!

      I’ve been pondering your question and have come up with a few ideas for you.

      First of all, you’ll have to seek out the older stamp community rather than post your videos and hope for the best.

      Getting a larger presence on social media is the first step. I have found that Twitter seems to have the largest community of stamp collectors, so creating a presence there would be a good idea. You could also create a Facebook page for your channel and join relevant Facebook groups, get on Pinterest and create a variety of stamp-related boards, and look around for other social media platforms where philatelists hang out (perhaps LinkedIn, though I haven’t really looked into it much).

      Another idea is to join at least one stamp forum. You could put the link to your channel in your signature, or even create a thread about it (if that’s not against the rules). I’ll warn you that this avenue will take up a lot of time though, because you’ll have to regularly post insightful/valuable comments or threads in order to gain trust. Forums are also kind of difficult because it’s so easy to cross the line and become considered a spammer. So, although going this route would probably broaden your presence significantly, you’d have to be very careful about what you say in order to remain a valued/trusted member.

      Another option, and maybe you’re already doing this, is to reach out to other stamp bloggers and ask them the same question you asked me. Naturally, we know a lot of philatelists and I’m sure you will get some great responses and more exposure. 🙂

      And finally, your best bet would be to go meet and talk to older stamp collectors in person. Attend any shows in your area and talk to dealers (who aren’t busy) about your YT channel and mission. Every single philatelist I’ve talked to agrees that we need to grow the hobby, so I’m sure some of them would be happy to help you out.

      The Ameristamp Expo, which is in Reno NV, is happening March 3-5 and there will be lots of influential philatelists and APS leaders attending. I will also be there. 🙂 I know plenty of people there will be more than happy to help as well.

      A great way to reach new collectors directly is, not surprisingly, through social media. I see you’re on Instagram, so that’s good. But I would also recommend using SnapChat to reach the millennial crowd. You’ll have to be really funny, engaging, and transparent to get a big following there.

      Hope I’ve given you some new ideas here, and if you have anything more you’d like to run by me, I’d love to help out! By the way, I tweeted about your YT channel on Twitter. I’m hoping at least a few of my followers will see it and check out your channel.

      Wishing you success!

      Ian

      1. Hi Ian,

        Thank you so much for the shout out and kind words. I had no idea that Twitter would have the largest community of stamp collectors, and will certainly explore stamp forums further on social media and the other ideas you suggest. To me stamps are like hieroglyphics, little pictures telling future generations something interesting about the past. Hopefully we can keep this interest alive.

        Thanks
        Graham

        1. Hello Graham,

          No problem. Yeah, Twitter seems to have a lot of active philatelists. Good to see you’re leveraging this platform. Hope you get some great results. 🙂

          I love your description of stamps! There are so many ways to describe them. Stamp collecting definitely needs to stay alive; it’s too great a hobby to die out. The future of the hobby rests on the shoulders of the current collectors and the actions we take towards furthering philately. I am trying my very best to help it grow. And I think if every collector made the effort to do the same, philately just might make a comeback. 🙂

          Ian

  8. Hi, Ian! I totally agree with you, philately will never die, and we must do our best for that happens. I believe in the future of philately, and I use to write posts on my blog about different subjects related with it. Best wishes, Cătălin

    1. Hi Cătălin,

      That’s great to hear. Promoting and growing the hobby is my #1 goal with this website. Lately I’ve been adding some new features to it, and you can be sure that more will be coming out in the near future. Every day I’m hard at work behind the scenes testing stuff and coming up with new ideas. Philately is not dying and definitely not dead, but it could surely use a nice boost. 🙂

      Ian

  9. One way of looking at it is to consider how cigarette card collecting has fared since these stopped being included in packets many years ago. I think there is a small community of hobbyists still collecting them, but it must have declined a long way since its heyday.

    1. Hey John,

      I guess that’s what happens when the very thing you collect is discontinued. The hardcore collectors will keep the hobby traipsing along, the rest will move on, barely noticing the change and likely forget altogether.

      There’s an ongoing debate about this very thing among philatelists. Should stamps become obsolete, the plight of the hobby will unfortunately become much clearer.

      It’s up to us collectors to preserve our respective hobbies – and even to grow them if we devote enough time, energy, and creativity. It’s a simple matter our passion for the hobby, and our motivation to keep the hobby going strong.

      Ian

  10. First, great stamp image used to start your post.
    I basically agree with all your comments. I think stamp collecting is changing. Not sure if that means growing (though there is a lot of internet activity) or shrinking (fewer organization members, dealers, etc.).
    Much of what you recommended related to internet activity. This creates BUZZ. So, the more internet and social media activity that is created, and the more appealing that activity is, the more the hobby will benefit.
    Keep up the good work on this website.

    1. Yeah, when I found that picture I knew it was perfect.

      I totally agree with you, the internet has been great for the hobby. We just have to utilize it even more and in smarter ways in order to really grow the hobby.

  11. This is the first time I came across this forum and I am more than amazed at Ian’s energy/passion to respond to each and every comment. Kudos to you, Ian! If stamp collecting survives over the coming decades, your name should figure at the list of its Saviors!

    I remember my childhood days ( I’m 67 now) and my keen passion for getting (mainly used) stamps from various sources, the fun in exchanging duplicate ones and in counting the total numbers!

    With letter writing having completely become a matter of the past, and in India (where I hail from), the postal system betraying a number of times to deliver Stamped Envelopes, the process of its extinction has been further accelerated. What remains today, or will remain in the days to come, is the urge to buy & collect mainly new stamps; that too among a handful.
    With the demand decreasing, the sale value of (rare) stamps in general is bound to come down.
    It’s bad and it’s sad! But we may have to accept the truth!

    1. Hi Shantanu,

      Your words mean a lot to me! Keeping the hobby alive is my goal. 🙂

      Yes, people are using stamps less and less these days. There’s been a noticeable decline in the last decade even. But there still remains a thriving group of collectors out there, though the number is hard to measure accurately because a lot of them only pursue the hobby online with sites like eBay. My hope and one of my main goals with this website is to connect these collectors and form a strong community whose passion is growing the hobby. It’s taking a lot of time and hard work, but I’m not one to give up easily.

      Have a great day!

      Ian

  12. Hi, I don’t think there will ever be an increase in the number of young people collecting stamps, but in the UK that’s been true for the last 50 years. I think that stamp collecting is historically the domain of the older generations and I think that dealers should target that market by holding ‘informal weekly local community meets’ to encourage people to collect. It doesn’t have to be an expensive past time, in fact it can be one of the cheapest and most fulfilling around, especially the ‘fun of the chase’. Existing stamp clubs tend to attract knowledgeable and experienced long-time collectors, when what the hobby actually needs is some ‘grass roots’ encouragement on a basic, simple level. Many retirees (I’m sure) would appreciate the social interaction whilst actually sharing a common interest (which doesn’t involve the commercially driven ‘food, gym and foreign holiday culture’ 🙂 So, my view is that dealers need to adapt and change the direction of the hobby, instead of relying on the declining methods of stamp fairs and, unbelievably, the Internet. ‘Back to basics’ is the best way to reinvigorate the worlds greatest hobby.

    1. Hi Geoff,

      I think you have a great idea! It’s just a matter of convincing dealers that it will be profitable and worth their effort. I agree that informal community meets would be a powerful way to get new blood in the hobby. I am actually starting a new stamp club in my local community, which will hopefully attract curious locals.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Ian

  13. Hi Ian, Thanks for your interest in my comments, and good luck with your new club. Just to add to what I said, if dealers don’t adapt they will fail. Stamp fairs and the Internet are great if you are already interested in the hobby, but they are useless to enlist new collectors, which is proved by the fact that stamp fair attendance is falling dramatically and Internet selling platforms (for stamps) have trouble maintaining sales. My idea of ‘back to basics’ is based on what initially got people collecting decades ago…..swapping, discussing and actually creating and building a fascination in the subject face to face. If a dealer initiated a successful community stamp club then they would have a perfect market in which to sell. Additionally, a shared interest within the community would also benefit community friendship, which is sadly diminishing in most towns and villages, certainly in the UK. ‘Back to basics’ is the way ahead in my view. Yes, it will take time, but better to spend that time rather than lose the hobby. The dealers I see regularly are exasperated by the lack of custom, but I say the answer is in their own hands. Adapt, or fail. At the moment they seem happy to fail.

    1. Hi Geoff,

      Yeah, a ‘back to basics’ movement is what the hobby needs. I know there are enough dealers and philatelists to make it a reality, but sadly, most of these people probably wouldn’t do it due to the work and time commitment involved. I know for myself, my ridiculously-busy schedule would make weekly, even if unplanned, stamp meetups a difficult commitment to make. But I know there are plenty of philatelists with enough time on their hands who could make this work. But again, now it’s just a matter of getting people to do this. Regardless of their brilliance, ideas are nothing without action. With that said, have you considered starting a local weekly stamp meetup? I don’t think this lies solely in the dealers’ hands. Anyone with a passion for stamps could pull it off.

  14. Ian. Funnily enough, that’s exactly why I found your thread, because when I retire I might try such a club. Before finding this thread, I just happened to go through the thought process of why philately appears to be dying and concluded that the Internet is a very poor platform for encouraging anyone to start the hobby. It’s like anything non-tech related – an interest is usually ignited by bumping into someone face to face and the hobby being verbally shared and then shown. Hence my ‘back to basics’ view. Stamp collecting is my longest lasting hobby by far (48yrs) but I never would have started it by surfing the web. Not a chance. When I speak with younger people, they don’t even know what a penny black is. But when I show them and explain, they become interested and start asking questions. I’m staying linked to this thread to hear the outcome of your local club endeavours. Free tea and cake is always a magnet 🙂

    1. That would be neat if you got it started! Traditional stamp clubs are great for the hobby, but I also think clubs that meet more frequently and less formally with little focus on ‘business’ would do a better job of growing the hobby.

      You are definitely right, I would not have started collecting by surfing the web either. The internet provides some excellent resources for those already pursuing the hobby, but it’s unlikely to make anyone drop what they’re doing and say, “You know what? I’m going to become a stamp collector!” Personal, face to face interaction with another collector is pretty much the only way someone starts collecting. And yes, free tea (or coffee in the US) and cake doesn’t hurt either. 😉

  15. Hi Ian,
    I live in central NJ and recently inherited a large (4 boxes) stamp collection. It is unorganized and probably was started back in the 1920s. I’m looking to sell or donate to a group. Any ideas?

    1. Rita,

      If it was indeed started in the 1920s, there is a good chance it carries some decent value. I would suggest looking up dealers near you, and taking it to one of them for an appraisal.
      This article goes into more detail about that and covers several other options as well (including donations): https://stamps.org/Inherited-a-Collection

      Hope this helps! Let me know if you need any further guidance!

      Ian

  16. Hi Rita,
    A stamp collectors dream 🙂 Do you know which countries it covers? Is it US? You need to be careful disposing of older collections, mainly because some of the material could have become very collectable. Of course, condition is everything. A possible indicator of the collection is whether it contains higher denomination stamps. If the stamps are US, then Ian may give some guidance there. But I wouldn’t just get rid of them without doing some research first. Maybe pick out 20 higher values and look on EBay for some basic guide to value. It’s rare these days to find an untouched collection from the era you mention. Keep the thread updated, because we are interested.

  17. Stamp collecting will be a minor footnote in a tiny range of human history. However, there will always be collectors of stuff, and the rarer stuff will be always be valuable. If you like it, collect it. But don’t expect your kids to care. It’s a random interest. Might be worth billions in the future. But you’ll be dead.

  18. Well, less people will collect stamps, but not none. Regarding other hobbies, people will “always” be exposed to banknotes and lottery tickets, especially in countries where both banknotes and lottery tickets are designed and printed with beautiful, artful and educational designs. I am a banknotes collector and I collect some stamps, postcards, lottery tickets, wine and beer labels as well. I also collect exotic trees (outdoors).

    1. Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for commenting and sharing what you collect. Traditional hobbies in general don’t seem to get as much attention as they used to, but I know the interest will remain for a number of people as long as collectibles exist. 🙂

      Ian

  19. Thomas, I think collecting anything is interesting because it’s challenging and educational. You raise the subject of banknotes…..When our local bank branches close, we are encouraged to use Internet banking, so no notes – just numbers. My children use numbers 99% of the time. When we all get to the stage when notes don’t exist anymore, will they still be collectable, or will the collecting market collapse? I don’t know, but I get a feeling that the stamp market decline is the forerunner. Saying that, I would never be without a tangible, challenging hobby. Geoff.

  20. I think stamp collecting will remain sluggish for another 25-30 years. By that time a lot of the stamps will have disappeared which will drive the price of old stamps up like old baseball cards. I have some stamps but to sell them is not profitable for money or time. The unused stamps I have will probably be used on mailings when I have the opportunity. I am too old to wait the 25 years! The 4500 cancelled stamps I have I will give to my granddaughter in hopes will find a use for them either in a collection or in a art form.

  21. I’m 63 and I have been collecting since I was 8. Stamp collecting is a wonderful hobby. I collect from all over the world but concentrate on about 10 counties. I had to drop the United States because they only sell the ugly self-adhesive stamps/booklets. Such a shame. Meanwhile, there’s many other countries to collect.

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