It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s one of the world’s most popular hobbies.
The first thing to do is to choose an area or topic for your collection. People used to collect stamps of the whole world when starting a collection. Now, with so many countries producing so many stamp issues each year, forming a world collection would be a difficult task.
Starting with a general collection can be a good idea until you discover a smaller area which interests you more. The country in which you live is a great place to start. Or course, if you have a favourite country, or if your heart is set on a particular subject, start with that! A very popular way of collecting is to take a subject or theme of interest and build a collection around it. This is called thematic collecting.
The possibilities are endless for thematic collectors - animals, butterflies, sailing ships, painters, conservation - just use your imagination and let the stamps take you there.
The other main forms of collecting fall into the following categories:
1. Worldwide collections: stamps of all countries from 1840 to the present.
2. Geographic collections: stamps of a single country or a group of countries.
3. Specialised collections: usually built around the stamps of a single country but sometimes restricted to a small group of stamps or even the exhaustive study of a single issue.
Most beginning stamp collectors want to get lots and lots of stamps. One of the best ways to make a flying start is to buy a large packet of used stamps from a stamp dealer. E-bay is a great place to do this, in many cases you can get thousands of stamps for only a few dollars. Then you can have fun sorting them into countries and themes and putting your favourites into your album.
Starting with a large packet of mixed stamps is a good idea for two reasons. First, it provides a good start with enough variety to make it interesting. Second, it avoids duplication. If you go back later and buy a second packet, particularly if it's a theme-based packet (stamp dealers also sell packets of stamps based on the more common themes such as birds, flowers, etc), you may receive many of the same stamps.
One of the best (and cheapest) ways to build up your collection is by asking your relatives and friends to save you the stamps from all their letters. When you ask people to save their used stamps for you, it's a good idea to ask them for the whole envelopes. That way the stamps are less likely to be damaged.
A mint stamp is one which has not been used for postage. If you’re collecting mint stamps, the post office is the place to find all the latest Australian stamp issues. Stamp dealers will have new issues from other countries. A collection of mint stamps is usually worth more than a collection of used stamps but occasionally an individual used stamp can be worth more than a mint version of the same stamp. Some people collect only one type and others collect both used and mint stamps.
One of the great things about stamp collecting is that you don't need a lot of expensive equipment to get started. The first thing you need is a stamp album. There are many different kinds to choose from, but one of the most popular kinds is a loose-leaf album, with separate sheets in a binder. The separate sheets allow you to organise your album just the way you want. Bound albums, which often have labels for various countries at the top of each page, can be a bit frustrating - what do you do when you want to start a third page of English stamps, and the album only has two pages in that section? You can make your stamp album more interesting by writing something about the stamps, such as when and why they were issued or the designers' names.
Stamp tweezers are different from the tweezers you might use to pull out splinters. They have blunt ends so that they will not damage stamps. Stamp dealers and post offices sell the right kind of tweezers. The only other tools you might want are a magnifying glass and a perforation gauge. A magnifying glass will help you see small details and detect any errors. Some serious collectors use a perforation gauge to measure the perforations on their stamps. Sometimes a reprint of a stamp design may have different perforations from the original.
There are lots of ways to add to your collection without spending $$$... Lots of older relatives probably have an old shoe box hidden in a cupboard somewhere, and these can be real gold mines for rare and interesting stamps!
Remember, stamp collecting is meant to be fun! Enjoy.