The History Of Stamp Collecting

Alvin Harlow was a writer of history and he had one hell of a knack for finding interesting, odd-ball details. His epic 1940 book on stamp-collecting is taxing yet impressive. And he wrote for the everyday person, so even if you don’t care about stamps or railroads or Teddy Roosevelt, you may still enjoy his prose and facts which were always presented in a humorous and alluring way.

In Paper Chase; The Amenities of Stamp Collecting, we see this within the first few pages. He’s got us hooked! As a hobby, stamp collecting is not that old – only being done for about 100 years before Harlow’s book came out in 1940. Ladies started the hobby by wallpapering their rooms, which gave the room the obvious aesthetic effect and made rooms appear larger, even though one had thousands of tiny Queen Victoria’s heads looking at them. He also makes the correct assumption that nearly all people of his generation had tried it, and how next to talk of “colon” matters, stamp collecting was a near-second in conversation at the insane asylum. It has sort of a therapeutic quality to it, as it seems to relax the afflicted nerves.


Stamps were once proposed to be free. But, that was quickly decided against when the issue of abuse came to be discussed. For mail-order warehouses and the like would have a field day sending their catalogs of every sort to every home in the world. So, we ended up with pay by the ounce postage. Works for me.


Further reading (it’s free!):