Inspiration Sometimes Comes from Unexpected Sources

in inspiration •  last year

One of my very first steps towards the independence of self-employment came in 1988 when I decided to turn my childhood hobby of collecting old postage stamps into a sideline business.

I had developed a fair amount of expertise by then, and stamp collecting was considered one of the top "collecting hobbies" all around the globe.

The Winds of Change

1993 stamp from Iceland

For some years, I built a nice sideline income from doing what I do best: Taking "an unorganized mess" and finding "hidden gems" in that mess and "re-marketing" them as treasures to passionate collectors.

Then came the Internet, and email, and cell phones, and texting.

We all know what has happened to the old fashioned practice of sending letters through the mail... it has become somewhat of a rarity.

According to the US Postal Service, physical mail reached its peak in 2001, when 103.6 billion pieces of first class mail were processed. By 2016, the number had dropped to 61.2 billion pieces, and it keeps dropping.

On a more personal level I experienced the winds of change when our 8-year old grandson sincerely asked "What do stamps do?"

Death of One of the World's Most Popular Hobbies?

1935 stamp from Hong Kong

It would be wrong to say that the Internet "killed" stamp collecting. After all, most people have collected stamps that went out of circulation decades earlier than the present moment... part of the attraction was always that you could create a collection of something truly "antique" (1800s) relatively inexpensively.

However, "the writing is on the wall," in many respects.

Since many kids today-- like my grandson-- are barely aware of the existence of "stamps," very few "new" collectors flow into the hobby, these days. Meanwhile, the existing collector base is "graying;" that is, many of those who grew up with stamp collecting as a "common" thing are now passing on.

On a More Personal Level

As a hobbyist stamp dealer, I have been approaching the point of just giving up. 

A very old US 3c stamp from the 1860's

Not because I don't care any more, but because it has become less and less viable to chase ever fewer dollars in a market that has more and more sellers, and fewer and fewer buyers. This has been especially true, during the last ten years or so.

The recent "Great Recession" of the economy around the world has not been kind, either. Historically, rare stamps were one of the collectibles people would buy as a "store of value" during uncertain times... but they have fallen out of favor.

At our house, income from my stamp trades have accounted for 25-40% of our income for many years now... but the sad reality is that I spend ever more time and effort making the same income... in a world where the cost of living never stops rising.

Time to throw in the towel?

An Unexpected Source of Inspiration-- and a Change of Heart

A couple of days ago, I got a large envelope in the mail, form Germany.

One of the first stamps issued in Switzerland

Turned out to be an announcement and catalogue from a collectibles firm I have occasionally done business with... announcing-- in a glossy 48-page full-color prospectus-- the opening of their new offices (basically a free-standing 3-story office complex) with "more room for their 85 full time and 120-odd part time employees" where they would be better able to serve collector needs.

It was an unexpected reality check for me... a very real life reminder that this venture I have been putting effort into for almost 30 years hadn't exactly "curled up and died.

It was also an important reminder that-- if you have the expertise-- there are opportunities to be had, even in shrinking markets. Let's face it, even if something shrinks by 50%, it doesn't mean "it went away," it means that 50% of the market is still there!

And I think that's a life lesson we might all keep in mind in these days of so many people shouting "The Sky's Gonna Fall!"

So I will be taking on the 2017-18 "season" with renewed energy!

How about YOU? Have you ever had a "stake" in some kind of venture or industry that was shrinking doe to changing times? How did you handle the situation? If the choice is there, are you more likely to "seek new ventures" or try to "profit on the way down?" Leave a comment-- share your experiences-- be part of the conversation!

(As usual, all text and images by the author, unless otherwise credited. This is original content, created expressly for Steemit)
Published 20170817 09:26 PDT

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It seems the same situation is true for comic books. Although some comic books can fetch incredible amounts of money, the number of collectors seems to be shrinking. I have some old comic books, but I doubt any of them are worth anything.

As for stamps: My mother was a big collector and has given me her collection of Canadian stamps, German stamps and Greek stamps. I can recall her showing me these little plastic boxes from Bradasol cough candies that were filled with just one colour of a particular stamp that was replicated in several different colours (I suppose different values). I'm not sure what she did with those boxes of stamps (perhaps disposed of them) because what I have are just albums with one stamp of each.

My Mom spent hours soaking the stamps off envelopes and sorting them. I'm not that dedicated. I still rip the stamps off mail that I receive, but just store them with paper still backing most, in envelopes. Perhaps it is not worth my time to even keep them?


Wow... you mom sounds like she was pretty dedicated @happyme! I'd keep saving the newer stamps you get in the mail since they have actually become much scarcer now that so few people use stamps to send mail. Whether they become worth anything remains to be seen... but if you decided to get rid of them, at least they would still make a nice contribution to a local Boy Scout troop-- as I recall, they still can earn merit badges for stamp collecting.

Stamps are very similar to comic books, as far as collectibles go. My ex was a comic book collector, and some of her "near mint" Silver Age books we're quite valuable, but most were just printed paper. In stamps, 99% will never be worth more than a penny... even if they are old. It's that 1% that makes things interesting.


Thank-you for the advice. How things unfold is anyone's guess.
I looked through some stamp-collecting books years ago and it would take a very long time to research all of my Mom's collection. It takes someone like you who knows what to look for to quickly find the treasures.

I think the experience of writing and publishing novels has taught me a lot about the impact of technology on print media. It seems no one nowadays wants to spend a nickel to see a dust storm. They want everything free - don't want to pay for news, entertainment, sports or music. Taylor Swift is constantly bemoaning her shrinking revenues ( I wish I had even a portion of her diminishing returns) No one wants to mail a letter, let alone put a stamp on an envelope and send it snail mail. As much as I love books I have to admit that what Frank Strang said in Equus is true - Printing is a failing trade.


I think it's our increasingly ADHD society... every piece of information we are exposed to gets smaller and shorter every year; I fear the day when people will start complaining that a 140-character tweet is "beyond their attention span." I don't envy your task as a fiction author...

I've inherited a huge album of (mostly USSR era) stamps, which is probably stored away safely in a closet at my mom's place. I remember flipping through every week or so when I was a kid. I felt special fondness for space exploration themed stamps, and those that had huge trawler boats on them. I hope they'll be worth a fortune in ten years, otherwise I'm just gonna pass them to my kids.


Interesting! One of the newer trends with stamps collectors is to collect stamps "by topic" (like space exploration) rather than "by country" and it's one of the things that's helping get people from younger generations involved in stamp collecting.

Very good job @denmarkguy. Thankyou for sharing.