Stamp Clubs   Stamp Dealers   Information   HELP NEEDED   Write Something   Collector News   Newsletter

Starting a

Thematic Collection
by Christine Earle

As published in STAMP MAGAZINE

The beginning of what is known today as Thematic collecting can be traced back to a few early philatelists who, rather than collect stamps by their country of origin, decided to organise their collections based on the design of the stamp. Until then, most collections were either ‘All World’, which today would be impossible to maintain, or you specialised in a geographical area, or a period of time. With Thematic philately it is the subject portrayed on the stamp that is important, not the country of issue, or its geographical location. Over the years many collectors have turned to Thematic collecting as a way of diversifying their philatelic interests.  It is also the ideal medium with which to attract new members into our hobby.

Choosing which theme to collect is a personal thing. The subject you choose may be work connected — a structural engineer who collects ‘Bridges’, a doctor collecting ‘Medicine’, or a driving instructor forming a collection based on the ‘History of the motor car’. Or it could be a previously enjoyed hobby or pastime —  one well-known collector, a keen cyclist in his youth, has built up an excellent thematic collection of philatelic ‘Bicycles’. Another collector, an amateur ornithologist, has combined his love of ‘Birds’ with his love of philately. Perhaps there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, such as climb ‘Mountains’ or go ‘Exploring with Christopher Columbus’, the only limit to choosing a theme is your imagination — one extremely successful British collector, who has formed an international medal winning collection on ‘Roses’ doesn’t even have a garden!

Whatever theme you eventually choose to collect, it is worth taking your time and thinking it over, before you rush out and buy your first thematic stamps. Choose your subject carefully —  many years may be spent building up a Thematic collection, you don’t want to find you’ve run out of enthusiasm half way through.

If it is work or hobby related you probably know quite a lot about your chosen subject already. If it is a completely new subject then there will be the further challenge of not only finding suitable philatelic material for your fledgling collection, but finding information about the subject as well. Research the local Library, or if you have access to a computer there are several encyclopaedias available on CD-ROM that will give a good basic information for you to start with. The Internet and the World Wide Web are also useful research tools. Build up as much data about your subject as possible, that way it will become easier to find the relevant philatelic material to fit your theme.

At first you will probably be attracted just to the stamps of your subject, but do not forget that Thematic collecting involves all philatelic material. Stamps, covers, postal stationery, postal slogans, meter marks, etc., all have their place in a Thematic collection. (Note the accent is on ‘philatelic’ material — postcards and other ephemera do not really belong in a true Thematic collection.)

Club packets, local Stamp Fairs, approval books  and large exhibitions like The Stamp Show 2000, are the ideal hunting grounds for thematic material. Make friends with the dealers, many more are specialising in thematic material these days, and are most are keen to help you find the more elusive material.

Once the basic collection has been formed, some collectors are keen to display or exhibit their work. A good place to start is the local club or Society, most have an annual competition that usually includes Thematic philately. The judging at this level should be aimed at helping the exhibitors to present their material in a logical manner, without too much emphasis being put on the value of the material displayed. From the local society you can move on to the Federation Competitions, again the judging of your exhibit will be aimed more at helping you improve and prepare for National Competition, than levelling adverse criticism at your efforts, so don’t be afraid to have a go. Just follow a few basic rules to start with, for example:

Try to organise your collection so that it tells a story, with a beginning a middle and an end, rather than just an accumulation of  material all of the same subject.

A ‘Plan’ of the exhibit — much like the index of a book — is usually required in all but the most basic competitions. However, don’t be put of as it is a good way to develop the theme and keep the collection on line. 

Although many collectors these days are using a computer to write up their collections, there is nothing to stop you using a typewriter (make sure the ribbon is of good quality and the keys are clean producing good crisp letters) or even hand write-up your exhibit. However, do make sure your writing is legible and don’t overwrite, it is a philatelic exhibit not a thesis or essay.

For good presentation it is best not to mix mint (unused) and used stamps on the same page, (it does not look very tidy). Try to obtain as much philatelicaly diverse material as possible, (easier to do with some subjects than others).

Find out as much as you can about your chosen theme, you’d be surprised how much easier it is to find relevant material that belongs in you collection, once you really study your theme.

For more help and information contact the British Thematic Association (see address below) who will be able to give you details of several specialised thematic societies, for example, Bird Stamp Society; Captain Cook Society; Society of Olympic Collectors; The Ship Stamp Society, etc.  


Further Reading:

An Introduction to Thematic Collecting by Margaret Morris. British Philatelic Bulletin No. 5.    Price £2.95. available from the British Philatelic Bureau, 20 Brandon Street, Edinburgh EH3 5TT.

The Handbook of Thematic Philately by W.E.J.van den Bold —  Details available from the The British Thematic Association, Contact: Ian Paton. 15 Humberstone Road. Cambridge. CB4 1JD.  


Copyright © Christine Earle 2000 first Published in STAMP MAGAZINE May 2000


Any contributions or comments please  contact me