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Friday, September 09, 2011

I Stopped Collecting Stamps in 1985...


Wait a minute.

This probably sounds a little strange for someone who's often going on and on about how we must try to bring new collectors into the hobby. Well, let me assure you that the title is not what it seems. So, let me explain what brought those words to mind.

I collect postally used stamps. My personal philosophy is that I like to have a collection of stamps that have "done" what stamps were designed to do: Carry the mail. For me, there is a certain charm and interest added by being able to look at a stamp and know that it carried some letter-- anything from a wedding invitation to a payment for a credit card bill-- from "Point A" to "Point B."

In fact, this part of philately/stamp collecting is so important to me that several of my collections are centered not just around the stamps, themselves, but around the postmarks on the stamps.

The collection I currently consider my "primary" is of town cancels on classic Sweden-- only on the issues of Scott/Facit nr. 1-51.

My broader Denmark specialized collection does consist of "one of each" but is also supplemented not merely with varieties and plate flaws, but also with what I think of as "luxury" cancels on all issues. In the US, collectors typically called them "Socked-on-the-nose" (S.O.N.).

So what's the issue?

As mail service-- and the way we communicate-- has entered the technological age, not only are we seeing fewer and fewer letters with stamps, but the way "snail" mail is being processed is increasingly automated.

From the perspective of my Denmark collection, hand cancels (like the one from Horsens, at right) pretty much became a thing of the past, during the mid- to late 1980's. But that's not all. Even nice machine cancels (like the one from the town of Års, upper right) started to fall by the wayside as more centralized mail processing became a fact of life.

What does that mean, in a practical sense? Well, local post offices stopped "handling" mail, and would simply bag incoming mail and send it-- by van or by train-- to central sorting facilities, where the postmarks would be applied. However, instead of 100's (or even 1000's) of different towns, Denmark ended up with just a handful of the postmarks of central sorting facilities.

The photo to the left shows a typical "modern" Danish cancel. It is certainly a "nice" one, and would fit my old qualifications for a "luxury" town cancel... except for the small detail that there is no longer a town involved. The cancel-- from 2010--reads (translated) "Central Sjælland's Postal Center." There is now just one standard postal marking for a region with 100's of towns and villages, and a population of some 300,000 people.

To me, that's just not very interesting. And that's why I realized that I "stopped collecting" around 1985, when town cancels started to go away.

Of course, I haven't actually stopped collecting. 1985 just became my "cutoff point," after which I no longer look for luxury cancels on newer issues.

Of course, this particular "issue" is not unique to Denmark. Other countries around the world are increasingly automating their mail delivery systems, and town cancels everywhere are becoming a thing of the past. In some places, cancels (as applied by a canceling device) have completely gone away, to be replaced by rather unattractive ink-jet "spray on" cancels.

Of course, many postal administrations still allow collectors to bring in their stamps to be hand cancelled by a postal worker at the post office. But whereas I can certainly appreciate the "extra effort" to keep stamp collectors happy, I must confess that I am a bit of a "purist:" Such cancellations-- while certainly "genuine" in all respects-- just do not fit my idea of "postally used."

Ultimately, I can't say that I blame the postal services of the world for "getting with the times." Everyone has to carefully watch where the money goes-- and in saving money, speed and technological advances often becomes a very important factor.

That said, it still makes me sad to realize that my stamp collections have become somewhat "finite;" that is, the possibility of ongoing expansion has gone away.

1 comment:

Dorincard said...

Get yourself an MPP canceller:
I have one! :)