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A Book About Collecting

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A Book About Collecting

The Error World by Simon Garfield

© 2008 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, All Rights Reserved

The Bottom Line

A fascinating look at stamp collectors and collecting in general. Simon Garfield takes on a journey through his life, showing us a love of collecting taken to an extreme that ends up changing his life.
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  • Written in a lively and engaging style


  • Some of the British terms and conventions may be a bit confusing
  • Some of his reminisces might not be appropriate for younger readers


  • A story of a man and his stamps.
  • Written by a journalist, author and stamp collector.
  • A fascinating look at collectors and collecting.

Guide Review - A Book About Collecting

What drives a stamp collector? For some it is the beauty of the artwork, for others the things depicted, and the history of the stamp. But for many it is the collecting itself, filling blank spaces in albums and obtaining rare and unique items. Collectors often start by trying to collect everything, but soon narrow down the scope of their activity to avoid being overwhelmed. For author Simon Garfield this road led to a focus on errors on stamps from the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

He describes the life of a young collector in England in the 60s and 70s, trips to The Strand in London, a famous center of English philately. He deals with dealers and other collectors, learning about the business side of the hobby. Even then he was tempted by stamps that were just out of the reach of his budget. Like many Garfield drifted away from the hobby as other interests competed for his time. Returning he found himself again obtaining by a variety of error issues but now he had an income to pursue them. However he was still tempted by more expensive items and often gave into his temptation. This goes on until his divorce, which comes in part from the stamps, and his decision to part with a collection built over decades.

But this is not simply the story of the rise and fall of a collection. Garfield details his relationships with friends and family, and how his stamp collecting intersected with those relationships. He also examines the phenomenon of collecting, the psychology behind it and what drives people to try to have one of everything. He also offers a number of stories about famous collectors and collections, as well interviews.

This is a good book, offering interesting stamp tales as well as those of the wider world of collecting. But most of all it is a story of a collector, a story that will resonate with all who have ever picked up tongs.

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