(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 29, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Philately is the hobby of stamp collecting, to put it in simple terms. It is a vast umbrella that has under it, myriad things and subjects that the philatelist has explored. The first postage stamp was the famous "Penny Black" issued by Great Britain in 1840. In the early days, the Royalty was featured on stamps. As years progressed, other things found their way on postage stamps. Anything or anyone honoured by the Postal Union on postage stamps has achieved a remarkable accomplishment.
By the turn of the 19th century, stamp collecting had already become a hobby. Many countries followed suit when communication system and networking developed. Philately clubs were formed in the 20th century. The collectors began to see that in the hobby of stamp collecting there was so much to learn about other countries through stamps. On studying the stamps issued by a particular country, one could know in brief, about its culture, tradition, sport, flora, fauna, personalities, etc. Collectors then began to specialize and streamline their collections to a particular subject of interest and they always found something new.
I was exposed to this hobby in childhood through my paternal aunt who had great affinity towards me. She kept aside all the duplicates from her son's collection for me and presented a little album when I was barely 8 or 10. That kindled the hobby. When I was in high school I began to collect stamps with great enthusiasm, exchanged my extras with my friends and my collection gradually swelled.
Counting my stamps was a great fancy from time to time and the joy I got when the count was four figures was unparalleled! I even bought stamps to make the number grow, but found myself cheated (of course knowingly, because we were left with no choice) by the packets that displayed attractive stamps of animals, flowers and birds on top and just useless common ones hidden behind them!!
A stage came when I sorted out my stamps according to subjects. Someone gave me a hint of 'themes' that I also had seen in a few exhibits. I had made good use of my time when I failed to pass my school for a year (another long story) and spent with my hobbies. I made my own stamp album - a labourious process.
Stamp hinges were hard to get here, but I managed to get some although I used few of them when I discovered that slip-in albums were more convenient for my type of collection. So I made these albums using thin cardboard and butter paper. This way, I could arrange or rearrange my stamps as I wished and could add more pages if I wanted. When I think back on how I did it, 30-plus years ago, it still amazes me -- the time it took and the patience to stick those strips with a thin line of glue (manufactured at home using wheat flour). Let's see, I was telling about themes, but I digressed into how I made my album. Now back to the themes.
Among Animals, Birds, Butterflies, Sports, Marine Life, the most I collected was of course, Flowers! I was not a gardener then, but had great interest in nature. There were a few plants at home around the house but they were just some flowering shrubs like barlerias, hibiscuses, oleander, tabernaemontana, etc. Of course, I am able to spell the names only after finding Dave's Garden. Back in those days, I knew only their names in our vernacular.
My mother took care of our plants at times but someone came to prune them off during the dry season. I helped in watering them with a hose (those were days when water flowed 24/7) which I enjoyed - the spraying of water, playing with soil etc.
Flowers became a great topic for me, as I found many stamps with flowers. I was in my 11th class and there was Botany in my subject. I had made a specimen album that my friend borrowed before school exams. Using a small lens, I used to look with curiosity at the names printed on stamps. There were some rare flowers featured on stamps of different nations. When our country issued a series of flower stamps, I went to the post office to buy them with great zeal.
Around the same time, a famous cousin (See the links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagwat_Chandrasekhar & http://www.cricinfo.com/india/content/player/27591.html) who had visited Guyana gave me a few stamps from there; they featured some lovely flowers.
I had seen little stamps from Japan with a daisy, which my father used to bring from letters his office used to receive (see those blue stamps here).
I later had a penpal friend in Ecuador who sent stamps that featured flowers.
Thematic collecting has been so enjoyable because I felt there was some set purpose.
As years passed and with new responsibilities of a family and a job, and what with waning interest among my friends also, the enthusiasm laid low and my hobby took a backseat to other activities. I began to forget to show my thematic album to friends. We had other things on the agenda. I now had a garden of my own, and I was spending much time digging around and looking for plants from friends. In the meantime, I had learned a thing or two about botanical names of plants, a basic knowledge which DG greatly broadened much later. I learnt that there were thousands of varieties of plants and that postage stamps often featured rare varieties.
Collecting stamps featuring flowers has been fun, so also with birds - there are many in this section too. I have not exhibited in philatelic exhibitions because I was not a member of any club, but merely collected like a pure amateur. The next generation is not aware of the beauty of this educational hobby because they have other distractions. I have also stopped adding to my collection for obvious reasons, but the fun and knowledge I got from it in various other subjects is immense. I am sure there are many who have chosen flowers as their subject in collecting stamps while they enjoy their gardening! Happy collecting and gardening!
I did not know that we actually had Commelina (see Ghana Stamp) growing like a weed in our yard when that stamp was added to my album!
I only knew the word Hibiscus. Did not know that it is a country's National Flower until I discovered through a stamp!
Canna - I had seen these plants before elsewhere, but never thought it would look like that and spelt like that!
I had heard of Tulips in an English poem in college, but did not know how it looked like until I saw on a stamp.
I show below, some chosen few flower-stamps out of about 6-7 pages from my "Thematic Album".