STOP for a moment and think of your favorite subject. Sports? Science? Art? Maybe you love to travel. Now take a look at stamps. Chances are you'll find your favorite topic pictured on a postage stamp. In fact, you'll probably find a lot that you enjoy in these tiny works of art.
One of the reasons stamp collecting is so popular - some call it the most popular hobby in the world - is that there are so many kinds of stamps to collect. As a collector, you can put together a collection that's as unique as you are.
From Queen Elizabeth of England to the kid next door, all sorts of people spend their spare time studying, trading, and simply enjoying stamps. Some call the hobby philately (after a Greek word meaning "free from tax") and refer to themselves as philatelists. Others call it stamp collecting.
It all started about 150 years ago in London when a girl decided to cover the walls of her dressing room with postage stamps. After collecting 16,000, she put an ad in the local newspaper, asking " ... if any good-natured person who may have these (otherwise useless) little articles at their disposal would assist her in her whimsical project."
That did it. Stamp collecting grew popular so fast that some called the hobby a "mania."
Postage stamps themselves were a new idea back then. They'd just been invented in 1841. Before that, a person sending a letter asked someone traveling in the right direction to deliver it. When it arrived, the person who received it was asked to pay for the delivery. The process was slow and full of trouble. What if you got a letter you didn't want, and the delivery person wanted you to pay for it?
The invention of postage stamps spread quickly from England to other countries. Today you can explore the entire world through stamps. You can buy new designs from the countries that are emerging out of the old Soviet Union. You can experience exotic island cultures through stamps from places like Cyprus or Fiji. You can see a bit of ancient history on stamps from China and Egypt.
The first step in your exploration is out to your mailbox. Check the mail for stamps that interest you. Ask friends and family members to save for you the stamps they receive. If you know someone who works in a company that gets mail from foreign countries, ask them to save those stamps for you, too.
The next step is learning how to improve and take care of your collection. You'll find information about collecting and stamp clubs at the library or the post office. The United States Postal Service supports clubs, called Benjamin Franklin Stamp Clubs, for students in grades three through seven. Ask your local postmaster for information.
In addition to the obvious joys of stamp collecting, there may be one you haven't thought of. Start a stamp collection and you'll have a ready answer for that aunt who always seems to ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up, young lady?" Now you can look her straight in the eye and answer, "A successful philatelist." *`Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle the imagination, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twicw a month, always on a Tuesday.