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Articles On Stamp Collecting: Topical/Thematic Collecting


*Topical Collecting: In The Eye Of The Beholder
     Many collectors find topical stamp collecting as an attractive and enjoyable hobby. Some say its beauty lies in the fact that it gives them freedom to choose the topics they like. Usually, these topics match their profession, interests, sports, or other hobbies. Others say it makes for creativity and originality. They pick new topics or topics rarely explored, conduct a research on these topics and produce novel collections with stories. Thus, for them, topical collecting makes much sense, too. Still others say  that the pleasure they derive from collecting topicals on a limited budget makes it a delightful endeavor. Indeed, topical collecting offers collectors the opportunity to develop their individuality in an activity that adds joy to living. Today, it ranks as one of the most popular categories in stamp collecting.
     What is topical collecting? It is, simply put, collecting stamps and other philatelic items according to topics. By choosing a topic, one easily embarks on a topical collecting and the process of selecting a topic is limited only by one's imagination and the availability of philatelic items. Birds, flowers, butterflies, cats, fishes, scouting, trains and christmas are some examples of the more popular topics. The olympics, ships and dogs are perennial favorites of collectors. Topics such as environmental protection and the preservation of endangered species and their habitats have caught the fancy of collectors in recent years as a result of increasing public attention given to these problems. That post offices the world over have been issuing environment-friendly stamps and the WWF (World Wildlife Fund For Nature) stamps for the past several years is cognizant of the importance of nature conservation and its increasing popularity among collectors. There are some topics which are not often touched on but they are, nonetheless, interesting. These are heroes, saints, popes, presidents, writers, maps, minerals, landscapes and so on. Topics abound, and the beginner-collectors can just pick the topics they like.
     Choosing a topic is a relatively easy task. However, the process of selecting the materials which would make the collection may be quite tricky and requires the collectors to make a constitutional choice. Initially, as is often the case, the beginner-collector tries to acquire all the philatelic materials related to one's topic. There are mint stamps and used stamps. There are first day covers and postally-used covers. There are postal stationeries, aerogrammes and maximum cards. These materials can be bought at the post office and local  stamp shops, or they can be obtained by joining the stamp exchange programs of local and international stamp clubs. At some point in time, this acquisitive tendency of the collector stops. The collection is now substantial and the collector establishes a few criteria for selecting philatelic materials. These criteria may include budgetary constraints, aesthetic standards, postal rules and thematic significance. Budgetary constraints and aesthetic standards are highly personal criteria but postal rules are standards established by experts in the field of philately to which the collector adheres.
     Thematic significance can be both an objective and personal criteria. As an objective criterion, it refers to the relevancy of a country's postal issue to its culture and history. The National Treasure series of Japan, the Americana issue of the United States, the Christmas stamps of the Philippines, the Interregnum issue of the Vatican, the New Year's issue of China: all have high thematic significance because they reflect the cultural heritage and history of those countries. In contrast, the Jersey Oriental New Year's issue of 1994, which was printed in both sheet and booklet formats, has little thematic significance since the topic has nothing to do with Jersey's culture and history. As a personal criterion, thematic significance means the relevancy of the philatelic materials to the narrative story of the collection. Materials are acquired or ignored depending on how they fit into the story the collector has in mind.
     Let's take a topic, say, the eagle. As beginner-collectors, we start our collection by acquiring some used and mint stamps which show the eagle. Then, we buy a number of first day covers and a few highly valued postally used covers. To add variety to our collection, we procure postal stationeries and aerogrammes. To make it more attractive , we put in maximum cards. These materials depict one thing: the eagle. Having gathered much of the materials we need, we can make our collection more interesting by doing a little research on our topic. We study the different types of eagle, their anatomical structure, their mating and breeding behavior, their habitats, their impact on the environment, and the myth and symbolism associated with the eagle. Thus, our collection has a story and meaning.
     This procedure can be applied to similar topics, especially to plants and other animals. Of course, subject contents will vary according to topics but the same procedure can be used in most topics. This was how topical collecting got started. Sometime during the 1940's, a French priest, the Abbe Lucien Braun, discovered that his pupils were collecting stamps according to topics because it was easier and more educational from the pupil's point of view. Later, an American teen-ager, Jerome Husak, saw the wisdom of the idea. He began to organize a club for topical collectors, the American Topical Association. Soon after, topical collecting became so popular that it helped the growth of stamp collecting in terms of increased membership worldwide and, more importantly, in terms of increase in the number of special categories.
*This article was published in the Philippine Philatelic Federation (PPF) Journal of 1997, Vol.1.
Updated: October 12, 2010
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Alex Angara Moises. Advance Thematic Collector. Philippines