Many stamp collectors, after a period of accumulating anything and everything, soon come to realize that it is impossible to complete their collections. So, they decide to specialize. Some collect their own country, the country of their birth, or the birthplace of one or more of their parents or grandparents. Some concentrate on covers and postal history.

One very popular choice is the topical collection, that is, collecting based on the subject of the stamp's design. When developing such a collection there are a number of things which should be kept in mind. First, choose a topic which is of interest to you. A doctor might collect medicine stamps, a pet lover dog or cat stamps, etc. In 1993 the ten most popular topics were birds, trains, ships, cats, space, animals, butterflies, Christmas, flowers, and maps. Second, the subject should be on-going. "The Uniforms of King George V of England might be an interesting mini-topic, but most likely, all the stamps in that category have already been issued. Choose a subject which will give you a chance of adding fresh, new items to your collection. Third, the topic should be restricted enough that you will have a reasonable chance of achieving completeness. Instead of selecting the broad category of music, which would include musicians, instruments, operas, composers, and musical scores, pick an instrument such as the violin, and go after stamps showing violins and famous violinists. Rather than collecting sports in generaI, select a sport and collect stamps related to it. Many countries issue soccer stamps for the World Cup every four years, so even that might be too broad. How about basketball or baseball?

Although most topical collectors collect just the stamps, there are many other items which can be added to your topical collection. Covers - (envelopes with stamps affixed) are often very attractive and liven up a collection. Essays and proofs (see list of philatelic terms) of issued topicals will add depth. Postmarks with words related to a topic are interesting ( Trout, LA. or Rosebud, MO.) Special printings such as stamp booklets, stamped envelopes, and souvenir sheets are highly collectable. Advertising covers from an earlier era often show pictures of farm animals, musical instruments, and other topics in their letterheads. You have the option of just enjoying your topical stamps as they are, or you can dig deeper into your topic by doing stamp-related and outside research to learn more about your topic. If you are interested in exhibiting your collection, the research and write-up plays an important part in the judging score.

There are organizations for topical collectors. The best known American group is the American Topical Association, which publishes a bi-monthly publication called "Topical Time." The ATA also sponsors a number of units covering individual broad topics such as Sports, Music, Stamps on Stamps. They publish individual lists of stamps by topic, which are most useful for checking off stamps of your topic as you acquire them.

Many stamp dealers offer stamps by topic, and you can buy packets of 100, 200, 500, or even more different stamps of your area of interest. Some dealers specialize even more - i know of two English dealers and one Australian dealer who specialize in stamps related to the game of cricket. Many topical dealers even offer a New Issue Service which will help you keep your collection up to date!

You need to consider how to mount and write up your collection. Some people use stock books or hingeless blank pages. Many use plain or quadrille ruled pages and lay them out themselves. Some companies, such as White Ace and Philatelic Concepts, supply pre-printed pages related to various topics. If you use blank pages, select a fairly heavy paper with high rag content ( such as Harco brand #140), which will allow your covers to be supported adequately. You can add your own logo if you like. You can be flexible with the arrangement - mount by country, by subject within your topic, or in any other way that's consistent and gives you pleasure.

Remember, it's your collection! You can present it in any way you wish, and keep in mind, collecting should be fun and not a chore! - Peter Street

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