Thematic stamp collecting is increasingly popular among serious philatelists and hobby stamp collectors and forms a fascinating insight into many topical subjects.
Thematic or topical, stamp collecting is forming a collection based on a particular theme or topic rather than on a country. Thematic collections can include definitive stamps, airmail stamps and special issues. And the theme need not be confined to stamps as other forms of postage stationary may be used to develop the theme. Aerograms, printed envelopes, special franks or post marks may all be used in a thematic collection. Neither does it matter the year of issue. The most significant aspect of thematic collecting is to develop a theme around a subject.
For the thematic collector the world is literally at their fingertips because the range of collecting themes is vast with a considerable amount of topic “cross over”. For instance a stamp issue whose main theme is police work may show not just police officers but police dogs, police uniforms or vehicles. So on one set of stamps there is the possibility of themes for at least three topics: dogs or animals, uniforms and automobiles.
Early Postage Stamps
In the beginning all stamps were definitive type and showed portraits of reigning monarchs or heads of state, or crests and armorial symbols thematic stamp collecting grew slowly. But as time progressed and more stamps were issued they showed a wider range of subjects. For instance the earliest stamps of Canada had the effigy of Queen Victoria but also separate stamps featured a beaver similarly St Louis’s provisional issues of 1845 had a representation of a bear. These developments gave collectors seeking different collecting fields the option to broaden their collecting interests.
Until fairly recently the number of stamps that showed themes other than national symbols or heads of state were issued only sporadically, but towards the middle of the 20th century the number of countries issuing stamps with a theme, say birds, flowers or indigenous animals grew and as they grew so did the oportunity to collect topical stamps.
Themes Within Themes
It is now virtually impossible to form a whole world collection so it is becoming increasingly difficult to make a complete collection of the most popular thematic stamps. Birds have always been a popular topic with stamp collectors and when once it may have been possible to gather a near complete collection of birds on stamps this is now increasingly difficult or even impossible. Difficult because so popular are birds on stamps that perhaps millions of stamps have been issued showing birds. One answer to this collecting problem is to specialise in one bird species or to birds indigenous to a country or continent, ground nesting or flightless birds.
But to produce an interesting theme around birds on stamps the bird philatelist may consider a collection that draws a time line from the very earliest bird-like creatures that developed during the age of the dinosaurs to the intermediary stage and through to the fully fleged bird of today. The stamp collector could also develop that theme to form a collection on particular families of birds, extinct birds, or endangered species.
The range of topics is vast and can include:
- Famous people like Winston Churchill, John Kennedy, Florence Nightingale,
- Flags, their symbolism and development
- Lighthouses from the Pharos at Alexandria to contemporary digital devices
- Public services like – nursing, police, fire and rescue services, the armed forces
- Medicine its branches like cardiac care, HIV/AIDS, history of medicine
- Animals is a vast area
- Railways and transport
- Tourism and landscapes
- Artists and paintings
- Stamps on stamps
- Christmas themes
And so much more. Many people collect stamps with a connection to their job or hobby, the choice is entirely individual.
Thematic Collecting Pros and Cons
The problem with collecting by theme or topic is that some stamp sets may have to be broken up to get the stamps needed. This may mean that only one stamp in a set is of interest to the thematic collector. But there are other times when whole issues are devoted to a theme.
The only thing that limits the topical or thematic collection is the interest and imagination of the philatelist.