Stamp collecting getting more complicated

Five years ago Canada Post announced a major business restructuring that included, among many other things, a promise to reduce the annual stamp program, with fewer stamps to be issued each year.

Speaking directly to collectors, Moya Greene, then president and CEO of Canada Post, said: "Following direction from many of you, I commit to a gradual reduction in the number of issues and individual stamps Canada Post will produce."

Philatelists had long been griping about the large number of issues, especially commercial stamps and ones that were unpopular when it came to topic and design.
Ms. Greene has since accepted the top position with Britain's Royal Mail. Meantime, whether there has been a reduction in our postage is open to debate. For example, no less than 20 new stamps were issued in the first three months of this year.

But something else has happened. An ever-expanding product line-up has developed, with more and more varieties or formats of individual stamps being produced within each issue.

Most people couldn't give a hoot - a stamp is a stamp. You stick it on the envelope and that's that. But for philatelists, especially those whose strive for a high degree of completeness in their collection, the additional versions have made things more complicated and more costly.

Last month's issue of two sunflower stamps is a good example. The two come in booklets, souvenir sheets and, in something new, what Canada Post calls "commemorative coils." There are also official first-day covers with stamps on them from either the booklets or coils.

With the collector's natural inclination for completeness, what started out as a move to acquire two stamps becomes a quest for a total of at least six. And that's not taking into consideration that there are two additional formats on postage-paid postcards, or that you'd need to buy a booklet of 10 in order to get just two self-adhesives and a minimum strip of four to get the two coil versions.

January's two Year of the Rabbit stamps come in a souvenir sheet, a pane of stamps, an uncut press sheet, four different first-day covers, corner blocks and postcards.

Canada Post launched postage featuring the signs of the Zodiac last month, the start of a three-year series for a total of 12 stamps. But different formats, including gutter products, first-day covers and postcards, can add up to 36 stamps by the time the series ends.

In addition, some regular definitive stamps are now being sold in uncut press panels.

This proliferation of many renderings of a single stamp suggests a new approach to the hobby. Gone are the days of simply picking up a mint or used copy of a new stamp. Now collectors must not only determine whether their pocketbook can survive getting one of everything, but also decide the whole question of the degree of completeness to pursue.