By 1933 collecting covers and postal history was a sideline of stamp collecting that was well underway. Proof of this can be found in the New York Times article of Sept. 10th of that year. In it, the author profiles President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his stamp collecting activities. Stamp collecting was Roosevelt's thing, the way hunting was Teddy Roosevelt's, or playing the piano was Truman's.
But in the article great care is taken, every time the word cover is mentioned to add some context, to make sure that the reader knows what the heck those cover things are.
Perhaps one of the confusions is that a cover can take so many different forms while, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a stamp is a stamp is a stamp. It can be anything from a regular #6 envelope with its canceled stamps, to a package's 2' by 5' wrapping paper with postage still applied.
Covers In The World
Cover collecting is a more active pursuit -- not the simple matter of buying stamps and putting them in albums -- not that there is anything wrong with that. After all, without stamps we'd still be in the black and white world of stampless covers -- philatelically and historically fascinating, but pictorially unable to hold a candle to our current colorful stamps.
But lets get something out of the way: cover collecting is fun - and easily as fun as stamp collecting; actually sometimes more so - and if that isn't clear to you by now, it's surely not the covers fault but that my writing about them hasn't made the point properly. But a cover, like a picture, is often worth a thousand words.
Covers as History
One of the excitements of cover collecting is that while with a stamp you may hold a picture of history in your hand, with covers you may hold actual history - mail that was sent from a time and place of historical significance. You may have a stamp that shows a balloon at one of the Gordon Bennett Balloon races. Or, you may have a cover that was carried aloft in that very balloon. Signed by the pilot, with a special commemorative race cancel, the "you are there" aspect of such a cover is obvious.
One might ask "What are stamps' actual relationship to covers, once they have fulfilled their duties of getting the piece of mail from one place to another?" While stamps often take a secondary position on a good cover with interesting postmarks, cachets and markings, rest assured that there are stamps that lend themselves to appearing on unusual covers, especially those we collectors call event covers. The ballooning stamps of 1983, for example found their way onto many airshow and hot air balloon event covers, including flights. The Brooklyn Bridge commemorative stamps wound up on covers that received special cancels at both ends of the bridge, in NYC and Brooklyn.
Recently stamps like the Adopt a Shelter Pet and Choreographer had their first day of issue ceremony become even more of an event by being featured on TV, respectively the Ellen Show and So You Think You Can Dance.
In earlier days stamps were components of the leisure time and citizenship activities of people - this was one of the prime ways the general population were exposed to stamps. Whether buying the stamps that showed the national park that you visited on summer vacation, buying war savings stamps to support the WWII effort, or buying a booklet of airmail stamps to support the post office's new service, Americans were more keyed into stamps in their lives. Covers, whether flown in an airshow, or carried over a new train route or traveling across an ocean in a zeppelin, were attention grabbing bits of collectible history.
But what wasn't available in those days was television, the Internet and social media. When a set of stamps like 2012's Innovative Choreographers - featuring Bob Fosse and others - is promoted on a popular show like So You Think You Can Dance, it fosters recognition. Still that recognition may be at the cost of some enjoying stamps at an electronic distance. True stamp collectors know that looking at their collectibles on a computer or TV screen is like kissing a pretty girl through a pane of glass: one gets a sense of the experience, but it is nowhere near the real thing.