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My dad and I had stamp collections; we had a friend with whom we spent many an evening swapping stamps and tall tales

In the mid-1800s attempts were made in England to deliver letters from one part of the country to another. They charged by weight and distance. The problem was that the delivery payment was the responsibility of the recipient and many refused to accept the charge. Sir Rowland Hill stepped in and established a prepaid mail system with everything the same price.

In 1840 the first postage stamp was issued. The birth of the postal system had been put into motion and its first child was born. It was a stamp for one penny with a side view portrait of Queen Victoria outlined in white on a black background. It immediately was labeled the Penny Black.

The Penny Black solved many problems but created others. The cancellation method was with black ink. So, a new cottage industry was developed — the erasing of the cancellation and the reuse of the stamps. The penny was changed four years later and printed on a blue paper and eventually replaced by a Carmen red on regular paper.

Most other countries in the world followed the British by establishing their own postal systems. Several of the status high schools in London used stamps for an education tool. They formed stamp-collecting groups as part of their world history and geography courses. That was the beginning of stamp collecting interests. Today there are over 200 million stamp collectors worldwide and close to a million different stamps to collect.

My dad and I had stamp collections; we had a friend with whom we spent many an evening swapping stamps and tall tales. When World War II came, the collection was put on the shelf and we never returned to them.

Stamps are generally issued in two forms. Definitives are usually the small ones and they are in the system for long periods of time. Commemoratives are the larger stamps and are issued for only a short period of time. Each issue is dedicated to someone or something special. Some countries like Liechtenstein and San Marino rely on their stamp sales as a large portion of their economy. Most of what they issue never wind up on envelopes for postage. The stamps are produced to generate income for their small country and are intended to wind up as souvenirs or in collectors' albums.

Every collection is a reflection of the collector. A list of all the variations would be larger than the New York phone book. Basically, some collect for investment and others as a hobby. I consider my collection as a hobby.

Due to the large number of stamps issued worldwide, many choose a country, or an area to specialize in such as Great Britain or the British Commonwealth, or South America and a certain country.

Most beginners start with the United States and then branch out. There are the rich collectors who seek out the flukes and mistakes. An example is a United States twenty-four cent airmail stamp issued in 1918. It has a picture of a Curtiss Jenny aircraft in the center. A printing error occurred and a sheet of 100 entered the postal system.

The airplane was upside down. It was tagged the "Inverted Jenny." One recently sold at auction for over a million dollars.

Four years ago an octogenarian friend lured me back into the stamp-collecting arena. I eased in specializing on Canadian stamps, then the United States, and on to the British Commonwealth and about twenty other major countries.

There were five of us intermediate elderly who collected stamps together. We rarely saw each other but we do share our duplicate stamps with one another.

Without leaving our homes we vicariously traveled to exotic lands, viewed the world's greatest art, got a grasp on world geography, learned more than we want about world history and famous people and a multitude of other thought provokers.

I enjoyed scrounging up stuff like shoeboxes full of stamps to sort out, or old albums to look through. I use the internet some but have a stamp store owner on the lookout for junk for me to go through. Most of our group of five are on limited income and keeping our hobby within close boundaries is a must. My collection of over 60,000 different stamps had very little value, but I loved it.

Fred Benton is a member of the Jottings Group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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