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Stamps and Letters

Well… I’m prepared for my retirement, as I have recently unearthed my stamp collection. Though this is probably the most old-man hobby ever, I actually spend some time in my teens collecting, or rather, organizing stamps. At some point back then, I discovered bags and boxes full of stamps in the attic, which apparently my grandmother had collected. Since apparently I had nothing better to do as a kid, I started putting those stamps into a stamp album… and for a while, I collected stamps of the letters we received. I also got a bag of stamps from some store because they had horses on it, and I was a very horse-obsessed child.

In ended up filling not only one small, but also one very thick stamp album. However, I was apparently not very patient and/or organized, as there wasn’t really much of a system to how I arranged them. I sorted them very roughly by country, but most of it was just a huge mess. Especially the German and American stamps, as that’s what I had by far the most of:

My stamp album spent the last 12-14 years quietly sitting in boxes or on shelves, hardly ever being looked at. Very seldom, when I was going through boxes in the attic, I might have peeked inside. Eventually I moved them from my parents’ attic to my own shelves, just in case. So they were just gathering dust for years… until earlier this year, when one of my Australian friends asked for penpals via Facebook. She had just recently become an avid stamp collector, and was looking for someone to trade stamps & letters with.

I volunteered, as I liked the idea of having her as a penpal. I used to have a few penpals in my childhood & early teens, and I still have an entire box full of letters at my parents’ attic. But somehow, this hobby seems to have fallen out of fashion with the rise of the internet. Also, I guess we all grew up into vastly different people, so our penpalships disappeared into oblivion. But thanks to my Aussie friend, I rediscovered how much I enjoy writing letters. It feels great to write a long, coherent text with my hand, something which I hardly ever do anymore – to do lists and class notes don’t qualify. I discovered that writing a letter is kind of meditative, because it’s such a different experience from writing at a computer screen. There is slightly more time to think, but once something is on the paper, it can’t really be changed much anymore. However, I also discovered that it’s really hard to remember what you wrote in the last letter, because there just is no way of quickly looking that up like in an e-mail. How did people manage before the internet?!1

One of the positive side effects of gaining my Australian friend as a penpal was that I enjoyed having a penpal again so much that I got myself a few more penpals. I have heard back from one of them so far – actually my first “pen only” penpal in 12-14 years, and I’m looking forward to getting to know someone entirely via letters.

And the other positive2 side effect brings me back to this post’s main topic: stamps. Since my Aussie friend and I started also exchanging stamps from our collections, I had to keep looking at those insanely messy stamp albums. So eventually I just couldn’t stand it anymore and acquired a new system to organize my stamps. Those were just plain black sheets with a varying number of rows to hold stamps. They are certainly a huge improvement over the old albums, because they are clear and the stamps can be seen better, and reorganizing is made easy because every individual sheet can be moved just like a piece of paper inside a folder. They have a few disadvantages though; they are kinda thin and tend to bend, and sometimes the stamps move inside their rows. Altogether, it’s a huge improvement though. Just look at this:

Naturally, I re-organized my entire collection. My stamps are now primarily sorted by country, then by prettiness and/or series. I have finished almost all countries, except for the US and Germany, as those are SO MANY. I have started sorting the US, but unfortunately that’s when I ran out of empty sheets, and I’m currently way too broke to afford more of them. I was surprised that what previously looked like such an unseizable mess is actually not as messy as expected.

During the process of sorting them, and also as a result of postcrossing, I discovered some gorgeous stamps of planets… and fell in love with the idea of collecting space-related stamps. That stamp I got via postcrossing actually got me researching, and I actually arranged for someone from the US to get me a whole mint condition sheet of those awesome planet stamps. They are definitely the highlight of my newly re-arranged collection. But I also had a few other space related stamps, which now (next to horses) enjoy their own category in my stamp collection:

Since collecting stamps is such a bottomless pit, I decided to concentrate on planets and space as my area of interest (though I also generally like nature and animals, especially indigenous species). I hope my collection will have many more planets and stars in it by the time I retire and can give my full attention to this hobby! I’m sure my penpals will help somewhat. I’m really glad that just one penpal sparked these two hobbies – I think stamps are a pretty fascinating, as they are tiny little glimpse into the history of a country, while having penpals is just really satisfying in a digital world. And to think that it was once pretty much the only way of long distance communication…

Those are fragments that I found inside the torn off corners of letters, in the bags and boxes of stamps that my grandmother collected. Imagine how many letters she must have written and received… well, my [her] collection gives me a rough idea.

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