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Many Stamps, Few Letters

Ron Tabbert poses a few questions about who is writing letters in today's world?
Jubilee Stamps

Ron Tabbert


When was the last time you wrote and mailed a personal letter?   For decades, maybe even over a century, families stayed in touch via the Post.  Soldiers in war theatres, kids away at college or at camp, relatives living across the country.  Before they were married, my mother and father wrote one another several times a week and they only lived three miles apart.  My mother in North Dakota and my grandmother in western Montana wrote each other at least once a week.

That, in fact, is where I first got interested in stamp collecting.  I saw a United States stamp with a salmon jumping up a small falls and the rest is history.  That was 47 years ago.   Times have changed.  Most communication is now electronic, and a bit more instantaneous, to be sure.

Yet, and many collectors will point this out in varying tones of appreciation or disgust, postal administrations are printing more stamp designs than ever.  Nearly 200 nations of the world issue about 11,000 different stamp designs every year.  Canada came in at 56 stamps in 2011.  If you count all the varieties (lick-‘ems, stick-‘ems, souvenirs sheets and overprinted souvenir sheets, etc.), it’s more like 94 various stamps in one year.

Why so many when no one writes anymore?  Ah, the story begins long time ago in a galaxy far away.

Stamps were first printed in 1840 in Great Britain.  The obvious subject was the Sovereign, Queen Victoria.  Most countries first began with stamps showing their head of state.  Canada, bless her, and thanks to Sir Sandford Fleming, chose as the subject of our first stamp the industrious beaver.

Then, in the late 1800s, the idea got round that stamps travel the world and could be used to inform and share our historic events, our heritage and culture.  In 1892, the United States issued a set of sixteen commemoratives for the anniversary of Columbus’ landing in America.  Commemoratives are larger and give more area to print a bigger design.  Each had a different design and cost from 1-cent to five dollars.

Five years later, Canada printed sixteen stamps commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, sixty years on the throne of Britain.  They all had the same design, but each was a different colour and denomination, running from ½-cent to five dollars.  Even in those days, you can imagine not all of them were used on mail.  Finding the larger denominations used on envelope becomes a quest in itself.  That series is the inspiration for Canada Post’s $2 commemorative for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee this June.

In the ensuing century, postal administrations continued to issue stamps commemorating great personages, historic accomplishments and anniversaries, resources and tourist sites.

About fifty years ago, they discovered collectors.  More importantly, they discovered the money in collectors’ wallets.  And many collectors (being descended from pack rats!) can’t say “no.”  Sets of stamps showing flowers, space flights, dinosaurs, trains, kiwis and pasta dishes came on the scene.  For six decades it has grown.  And now we have all those stamps and nowhere for them to go.

Except maybe in collectors albums.

All of this actually affects the stamp market.  Because few people send personal mail with stamps, modern used stamps are hard to come by.  Dealers don’t have them.  There are so many it takes a bundle of cash to put them in stock.  And, with prices almost equal, a collector may as well buy the mint ones at the Post Office.  Which may just be what the Post wants us to do in the first place.

Advice from a collector:  when you do mail a personal letter, don’t use a meter.  Don’t use a queen or flag stamp.  (They print billions of them.)  Use a larger size commemorative or a topical stamp.  (They only print millions of them!)  Place it well in from the edge so it won’t get damaged, and hopefully somewhere down the line it will make it into a collectors hands.

We’ll have some classic oldies, right on down to the most recent Chinese New Year and Queen Jubilee stamps at the Golden Stamp Club, 3:00pm, Sunday, Feb. 26 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 909 Ninth St., Golden.  Questions?  Call Ron at 250-344-5939.  Or…better yet, mail a letter to Box 959!  And…if you must… .