In Britain, the interest of young people in stamp collecting is at an all-time low. Critics claim that the hobby is mostly made up of old men in philatelic societies, or, put less charitably "geezers with tweezers."
In the spirit of "it's always darkest before the dawn" let's remember another time in the U.K. when youth was only a minor value in the equation -- the late fifties and early sixties, when the old guard still held sway, "angry young men" chafed under the strictures of a still largely Victorian tinged society and youth culture, led by the Beatles was about to change the land and the world.
The Level Heads of Stamp Collecting
But explosions don't happen in the world of stamp collecting, and things move slowly and quietly. There will be no Beatles of stamp collecting and any youthful change will come about through incremental growth of interest in stamp collecting by younger collectors, who are unfortunately currently present in too few numbers.
Of course part of the reason is that so many areas that used to seem exotic to young collectors of another day now just seems dangerous and antithetical to the spirit of calm and peace that is ideally the world of stamp collecting. The colorful stamps of Persia were once widely collected. But now that Persia is Iran and it issues stamps taunting the rest of the world -- as it did with the U.S. embassy hostages stamps back in the 1980's - young collectors aren't enticed to put together a collection of the area.
In earlier days, many stamp collectors came to the hobby through being pen pals with others across the globe. Now communication is electronic and the young don't want to wait weeks for a missive or picture of their pal when both can be sent and received instantaneously over the Internet.
Also in these tough economic times one can't derogate the idea that stamps are expensive, and prices paid for little pieces of paper that only sit in an album are barely justifiable when the prices of food and fuel are going through the roof.
Royal Stamp Subjects Not so Hot
The stamp subjects still don't make it for young people. The Royal Mail's idea of pop cultural subjects - the likes of Hammer Horror films and James Bond - is great for those of us of a certain age, but the creaky monsters and the heroic spy that has been roundly parodied by Mike Myers with his Austin Powers character (and yes, both have appeared on stamps; from the Ivory Coast and Angola, respectively) appear to be ancient history to teens and twenty-somethings.
What can be done? Whatever it is it must be soon: the youth stamp organization in the U.K. currently has a membership of only about 1,000. Here in the U.S. the Ben Franklin Stamp Club, which met in public schools, hasn't existed for years. The declining numbers and death of youth clubs is matched by the larger, older organizations as well. The American Philatelic Society's membership has been declining for a number of years, evidence that younger collectors aren't joining as greying membership passes on.
There was a day when kids collected until their lives (college, marriage, their own kids) interrupted, impelling them to put down the tongs and albums and take a hiatus from stamp collecting. Once many of those would come back after they settled down, hit middle age and had access to some disposable income with which they might enjoy their hobby. Now with the economic squeeze, not to mention that never-were stamp collectors can't return to a hobby they never enjoyed, a perfect storm seems to be approaching the world of philately.
That the USPS dithers about putting living people on stamps, potentially bringing exciting personalities to their stamp subjects and surely attracting young hobbyists, is another example of the powers-that-be failing youth and continuing to coddle the geezers with tweezers. Hard to blame them though when the oldsters are mostly the ones buying the USPS's stamps for their collections. And that's what's wrong with this picture. These collectors, whose philatelic tastes were often formed during wars, especially WWII, are happy to have another issue commemorating The Battle of the Bulge and the like. But the kids aren't buying it.