THEY come to your neighborhood every day, like bugs, but they don't crawl around. They're pretty, like rocks, but not heavy in your pockets. And unlike coins, you can get many of them for free. They're stamps. And you might want to collect them.
To get started, look in your mailbox. When you find a stamp you want to save, ask permission to cut it out. Then soak the stamp in a shallow bowl of water until it slips off the envelope. (You'll need to weight the stamp with a book or other heavy object while it dries so it doesn't curl up.)
A three-ring notebook will do nicely to store your first stamps. Mount them with hinges bought at a stamp or hobby store so you can remove them later; otherwise, they lose all their value. You'll also want to put them in some kind of order -- say, US stamps on the first five pages, another country's stamps on the next. Some people like to organize the stamps by topics -- butterflies on one page, Walt Disney characters on another.
You'll probably want to collect more stamps than you can get from your mailbox. If your parents work in an office, ask them to be on the lookout for interesting stamps. Also, ask the people who write to your family to use ``commemorative'' stamps. These stamps, issued in a limited number, commemorate a person or event. This month, for example, the postal service commemorates former Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, orator and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, and the 50th anniversary of the National Wildlife Federation.
You can obtain foreign stamps either by getting an overseas pen pal, going to a stamp store, or joining a stamp club. Many elementary schools -- and some libraries, churches, synagogues, and community centers -- have Ben Franklin Stamp Clubs supported by the US Post Office. There, you can meet other young stamp collectors, learn more about the stamps you want to collect, and have an opportunity to trade stamps.
Another club for young stamp collectors is the Junior Philatelists of America (JPA), organized and run by young people. Membership in this organization includes a bi-monthly newsletter, a stamp exchange program, a stamp identification service, a pen pal and translation service, and many opportunities to write, compete, and study about stamps.
To help get a collection going, try the following:
``10 Easy Ways to Start Collecting Stamps,'' a pamphlet available free at post offices.
Ben Franklin Clubs. If none is available at your school, community center or YMCA, call your main post office and ask if they have a Philatelic Division. They should be able to help you find a club, or start one.
Treasury of Stamps Album, available free from your main post office. This is a three-page album with room for many of this year's commemoratives.
Junior Philatelists of America, P. O. Box 195, Minetto, N.Y. 13115-0195. Send a business size self-addressed, stamped envelope for information.
Send $1.10 and a self-addressed envelope to: Customer Affixed Envelopes, Fish Booklet Stamp, Postmaster, Seattle, Wash. 98109-9991, and they'll send you one pane of the five fish stamps issued to commemorate the National Wildlife Federation, marked with the place of issue. This is called a first-day cover.
Stamp stores can give you lots of help in learning what to collect and how to display it. Many children like to start with a paperback US stamp album, which has pictures of the country's stamps in the order they were issued. Others prefer stock books -- books with pockets where stamps can be inserted. These can be arranged and rearranged as a collection grows.