– Hello Michael, and thank you for agreeing to an interview for ’Blog de timbrofil’. I know that you are an enthusiast collector of stamps from ’dead countries’, or countries which no longer exist. How did you decide on such a stamp collecting theme?
– First of all, thank you for inviting me to share with you and your readers. I am always excited to talk about my interest with others.
My grandparents were postmasters in a small town in California, and they got me interested in stamp collecting when I was quite young. Additionally, my grandfather also ran a small import/export mail order business on the side, and often received letters from many different countries. He always gave me the envelopes and the stamps to add to my collection. As I collected the stamps I often dreamed of what it was like to be in those faraway places.
Over the years, stamp collecting fostered a great interest in geography, maps and travel. As I continued collecting, I noticed many ‘countries’ which weren’t on the maps and it enticed me to begin finding out the background and history of those countries. I found it so interesting, that I decided to specialize my collection in that area. Plus, it gives me a finite (although large) number of stamps to accumulate.
– Where do you usually get the stamps for your collection?
– From time to time, I go to regional stamp shows and sort through the material offered for sale. The good thing is that I still have many holes in my collection which aren’t that expensive. In fact, there are many dead countries, I still don’t have a single stamp from. Also, I sometimes aquire stamps on eBay or Delcampe if they fill some of my needs. Once in a great while, I will splurge and buy a collection at an auction, provided that it has a lot of stamps which fit into my collecting interest.
– Your great philatelic website, www.dcstamps.com, is a place where stamp collectors often visit. How does the site help them to understand the facts about a country that today is just history?
– When I started DCStamps back in 2011, I had three primary purposes for the site. I wanted to teach myself web design, I wanted to use the site as a tool for helping me organize my dead country collection, and finally I wanted to be able to share my stamps with a wider audience.
Over the years, the site has expanded a lot, and now includes a wide variety of resources for dead country stamp collectors such as:
- Dead Country Histories – At the moment I have more than 130 historical articles published on the site, with one or two being added each month.
- List of Dead Countries – I keep a full list of countries which ceased to exist before 1960. This list is frequently updated as I continue my research.
- Regional Transition Charts – I developed these tools to help collectors understand the movement of nations in a particular region. They make it easier to see what came before and after a particular dead country.
- My Stamp Albums – These are digital albums of my personal collection. Currently I have almost 200 available on the site, with many more to develop.
At the beginning of 2018, I started a weekly blog called the DCStamps Investigator. Each week I discuss a specific aspect of Dead Countries, their stamps, and sometimes banknotes. The blogs will be wide ranging, based on things I have learned over the years from my research. Plus, I will also be inviting other expert collectors to contribute with blog entries as well.
– On your site, you display your stamps in custom made digital albums. In your opinion, how has the internet impacted stamp collecting through time?
– That is a good question, with a long and mixed answer. As we all know, the internet has changed the world. In the past, collectors like me were unable to share their stamps with others, unless they lived close enough to be able to view the actual albums. Today, I am able to share my collection with the world. But to do this, it takes a different way of organizing and managing my collection. I scan my stamps, create digital albums, paste the image on the album, and keep the originals in stockbooks. These digital albums are then posted on DCStamps.
To me, it is far better, as I can display stamps in a way that highlights MY collection, not based on pre-printed albums created by someone else. For example, if I have a stamp with selvage, or a block of four, I can design a place for it in my album. I can even display the back of a stamp if there is something interesting like a grill, currency printing or a collectors mark.
I find it interesting that most collectors still manage their stamps the same way that it was done a hundred years ago. As I said, the internet has changed everything, but in general, stamp collectors are still far behind the times.
Maybe it is because of the age of the average collector (who might not be technologically savvy), but I am thoroughly convinced that if stamp collecting doesn’t fully embrace the digital age, our hope of attracting a broader and younger group to the hobby, is doomed. As expected, businesses, such as auction houses, have led the way with nice, functional, and modern sites. But beyond that, the percentage of collectors or expert sites with high quality websites are extremely limited.
That is one of the reasons that I will be redesigning DCStamps in 2018. While the site is now mobile friendly, it is beginning to outgrow its format. I believe that it needs to modernize its look and create a better user experience while being able to access the large amount of content on the site. Especially as I continue to add new material.
One final comment on the question, I believe that Google Translate is one of the best tools for stamp collectors. I now have true access to some of the best sites around the world, regardless whether it is in German, French, Japanese or even Romanian.
– Another thing about your site: I know that you are exploring the idea of forming an international specialty group on dead countries. How people can learn more about this idea?
– I have been thinking about this for a couple of years now, trying to imagine how to make a truly international speciality group that would work in the modern world. I am doing this with caution, primarily because there are so many existing stamp speciality groups that are dying. While I don’t want the group to be about numbers, however, there does need to be enough enthusastic individuals to make it work. Also, since dead countries cross so many other specialities, we need to think about how to differentiate the group, and create something unique.
This year, I will be discussing the group in my blog, the DCStamps Investagor, so stay tuned. Also, I will be dedicating a place on DCStamps for the group to form. If any of your readers are interested, please drop by DCStamps.com and leave a message. I will be happy to will include them on the list I am developing. Hopefully by the end of 2018, we will have launched the group (even if it only starts with a handful of people).
– How do you see DCStamps changing in the future?
– For 2018, I have 4 specific goals: 1) Create a weekly blog, which I have done with the DCStamps Investigator; 2) Redesign the site to make it more user friendly, prepare for future growth and bring it up to current technology; 3) Review all existing articles, especially the older ones, to bring them up to current standards and format; and 4) Set the foundation for the Dead Countries Specialty group.
– How and why would you recommend stamp collecting to the young generation?
– Another complicated question. For me, stamp collecting was my ‘gateway drug’ for developing a love of geography, maps, learning about different cultures, and of course travel. For others it’s different.
As younger folks are expressing themselves in many different ways, I would first target them to topical collecting. Today, you can find stamps from all around the world on just about every subject imaginable. Maybe a person has an interest in: Disney, Tintin, manga, frogs, spaceships, movies, dragons, pop culture, music, the Bible, Sherlock Holmes, or even mermaids. It is easy to find and collect little pieces of beautiful art on all of these and countless other subjects. I would encourage them to collect their passion.
However, as mentioned before, we as collectors need to do a far better job in promoting the hobby in a way that speaks to the younger generation. The newer generations consume information in entirely different ways than my generation. Video and visual media is far more prominent and appealing to this generation than lines of text. The good news, however, is that stamps are a visual medium, with beautiful images created by very talented artists. The bad news of course, is that most stamp collecting sites aren’t very visually appealing and can’t compete with many other hobbies for the same audience.
How many philatelic sites do you find with quality videos, YouTube sites, or display stamps in visually appealing manners. Just look at a few video game fan-sites, and compare them with to stamp collector sites.
– If you had to choose another area of interest in stamp collecting right now, other than dead countries, what would it be?
– Gosh, that is a hard one! If I were to choose a single country, I would probably collect stamps from Japan. I used to live in there, working in Osaka. We really love the country and people and continue friendships to this day. Japanese stamps have everything: a unique history from creating an empire, and losing it through war, a fascinating culture, and of course beautiful stamps. To me, the Furusato, Japanese Prefecture Issues are some of the most stunning stamps issued.
– Michael, many thanks for this interview, and please address a message to the readers of my blog!
– Stamp collecting is a unique hobby, in that one can find and collect almost any conceivable subject matter or interest. I have three quick appeals: 1) Collect your passion. For me it is history and geography, with dead countries being my niche. Find yours and go for it; 2) Find a way to share your collection, even if it is small, with others online; and 3) Be a part of the global conversation. Visit and comment on stamp forums and stamp-oriented blogs such as Blog de timbrofil or DCStamps.
Cătălin, I want to thank you again, for giving me the opportunity to share with you and your readers.
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