Does information really want to be free, as some said in the early days of the Internet? Judging by paywalls that have gone up at many sites (although About.com Stamps is still free) those who host informational sites have a different point of view.
The free exchange of information in the philatelic world is free only insofar as one may not have to make an expenditure for specific knowledge. That is, one can take advantage of fine philatelic libraries owned by the American Philatelic Society, but only after membership dues is paid. No one would question this. And the amount of information available to one for the price paid for all the organization's benefits makes the dues a bargain.
Saving Precious Stamp Collecting History
The current work of the APS and other philatelic museums and libraries around the world is undertaking is the massive task of creating a central database of philatelic literature that will take the mystery out of esoteric areas of stamp collecting for many.
John Apfelbaum of Philadelphia, a member of the family that runs Apfelbaum's stamp auction company, has written about the lost opportunity of collecting philatelic writings representing original research mostly in areas of classic philately.
Writes Apfelbaum at his blog: "One of the greatest difficulties in our hobby is passing specialized information from one generation to the next. Philatelic books are often indexed and catalogs exist of book titles, but the vast majority of philatelic writing is (and was) for periodicals, and no adequate philatelic periodical index exists."
Philatelic Organizations and Clubs Enter The Digital Age
Philatelic societies large and small are adding their journals and newsletters to the Internet, both archived and as they happen. Some are available free of charge to all, while others come as part of the benefits of the organization.
One of the recent organizations to put its newsletter online is The Circuit -- The Official Journal of the International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors.
It is a professional looking thing. Such great presentations are the result of working with stamps, arranging them in albums, including collector made albums that give the collector a good feel for layout and design in many areas of printing and journal keeping.
Another impressive offering in the club newsletter category is the Insider, the publication of the New York Federation of Stamp Clubs. Currently such an offering is of atypical quality, although as philately pulls its tradition into the 21st century collectors are sure to see more this type of digital publication.
The Insider is practically a snapshot of the great variety that stamp collecting has to offer. With articles from long time collectors who have gained knowledge and perspective on their collecting areas each issue is a mini-education in the world of philately.
Included in the issue of September 2012, edited by Albert W. Starkweather, are articles dealing with timely articles like the one dealing with how the USPS shut out collectors from the first day cover society in June, in favor of players and their families. Also related to current events is an article by Alfred Carroccia taking a cue from the Olympics being held in London, England to look at philatelic items related to previous years' Olympics. Going back to an earlier day of moving the mails, George McGowan takes a look at mail canceled on streetcars, a now quaint version of mobile post offices in service around the turn of the century. Many more articles and short studies covering the present and the past of philately and the mails make for an entertaining and informative digital publication.
The Lost Philatelic Past
Early stamp publications of the 19th century were not saved with any serious intent. One wonders how many newsletters and stamp journals are today completely unknown with copies either nonexistent or buried in collections perhaps rotting away. One bright spot is that paper in the early days was often made of rag and linen, which had a greater chance of surviving the years. Later papers, made with cheap pulp were easily destroyed by toxins in the air.
Digitizing philatelic literature makes those concerns literally a thing of the past.