by Lloyd A. de Vries
Vol. 1 - Synergy
If you used the Internet in the pursuit of stamp collecting in the past two or three years, congratulations: You were part of a revolution in philately the Internet.
New venues for buying and selling have opened up on the Internet. Collectors are talking to each other, regardless of their countries, much more frequently, quickly and inexpensively. News is distributed more quickly and more widely.
Philatelic commerce is going wild on the Internet. Every Tom, Dick and Herman with access is posting email, message board and chat messages about what he's selling. The cost seems to be almost nothing. Web sites provide cheap full-color advertising for a fraction of the cost of print publications. The online auction sites are taking off, too, with inflated prices reported for what we consider common, ordinary stamps and covers.
At first, it might seem that the Internet would be bad for stamp collecting. After all, e-mail is replacing "snail mail" for many personal messages, as well as for advertising and business. Online magazines and news sources are replacing "hard-copy" printed publications, particularly as postal rates for specialty publications go up and up. How can this be good for philately?
Well, first, stamps and postal services survived the invention of the telephone, 'way back in 1876.
My kids "talk" to my mother on the telephone or in e-mail, but I know they're not going to write and mail a letter to her. I can't remember ever sending a letter to my grandmother, except when I was at college, and after awhile, the telephone replaced even that.
The philatelic press? Many are moving to the Web, in whole or in part. However, for reading for long periods of time, most of us still prefer a book, magazine, newspaper or some form of print-out. And I dare you to read a story off the Internet on your laptop while clinging to a pole in a New York City subway! (Although I've seen it done.)
The real benefit to philately is the Internet's help with our Missing Persons search. We're finding stamp collectors who weren't connected in any way with stamp societies or stamp newspapers.
About a decade ago, the U.S. Postal Service boasted there were 20 million stamp collectors in this country, and we all laughed. Add all the stamp publication circulations and all the stamp societies membership numbers together, forgetting about duplication, and it still didn't add up to one million.
Then in the early 1990s, I started meeting online (as it was called then) many collectors who considered themselves real philatelists, but didn't read the papers and magazines, didn't belong to the societies, didn't exist as far as Organized Philately knew.
Most of them didn't know we existed, either.
In 1999, the top recruiter for the American First Day Cover Society signed up all his new members via the Internet.
Maybe the USPS wasn't that far off, after all.
So the Internet can do many things for stamp collecting: Allows us to communicate globally, communicate instantly, buy, sell and advertise our stamps and covers, and promote stamp collecting to a wider audience than ever before at a lower cost than ever before.
However, there are things the Internet can't do: It can't replace the pride of ownership you get when you actually hold a prized stamp or cover in your hands or put it in your album. You can't ever be certain that what you're seeing on the Internet hasn't been electronically enhanced or actually exists. Chat rooms are fun, but not as much fun as sitting at a stamp show hospitality suite or a show hotel lounge with a few of your philatelic friends. And even those "palmtop" handheld computers aren't ready to replace the paperback or society journal yet.
People still collect gramophone cylingers, cathedral radios and old railroad timetables. They'll still collect stamps, too.
©2001 Lloyd de Vries