Stamps are not life, but a reflection of it. If you collect a stamp that shows a cake, you can't taste that cake. If your preference is for flower stamps, you can easily enjoy the beauty of flowers on your stamp, but you will never smell the flowers unless you close your album and go out and smell a real flower.
So why collect stamps? Are you avoiding real life, simply to appreciate it from afar, avoiding the messiness of the real thing to appreciate idealized images?
Or is it a question of nostalgia? It is no secret that many stamp collectors are members of Tom Brokaw's so-called greatest generation. There have been many stamps issued to commemorate the U.S.'s part in WWII. What a great way for these collectors who may have been a bit busy with other concerns (!) at the time to look back on the most character forming time of their lives through stamps and covers.
In the daily journey through life, most of us feel like corks tossed upon the waves of events. Who would deny the satisfaction of boiling those events down to small manageable pieces that we can add to our albums, where a perhaps truer picture of Everyman is gained through images of presidents and leaders cut down to size, humanizing them and giving the collector the sense that he is a player in the human drama as important as any other.
The pleasures of stamp collecting go beyond merely buying little pieces of paper with pictures on them. The order involved in stamp collecting can be as therapeutic as any rehab program. And as one puts order to the world found on stamps the real world can become more orderly for the collector as well.
Make Sense of the World with Stamps
Nothing today is just as it appears on the surface. Dig too deep into the stories of the fallen sports heroes from O.J. Simpson to Lance Armstrong; read about Charles Lindbergh's "other families" in Europe, who his daughter Reeve -- in a courageous and classy move -- met with to make peace with them; contemplate the political hot potato gun control has become; see the film where FDR has an extra-marital affair, clearly with little concern for Eleanor's situation, and one might despair at the state of things.
It is at such a point that one may turn to stamp collecting as a refuge. On stamps one can find Jackie Robinson who has broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball; Lindbergh is the airmail pilot who made a flight that no one else had at the time - for his effort he received two stamps from the U.S. directly referencing him, as well as countless issues from other countries and, even 75 years later, philatelic recognition in pictorial postmarks and covers commemorating stamp shows and aviation events; see stamps picturing guns carried by the likes of Davy Crockett, or the Green Mountain Boys, as well as on iconographic stamps like the U.S. infantry in Paris commemorative of 1945; see the philatelic representations of President Franklin Roosevelt, his image with his home in Hyde Park on his memorial stamps of 1945, and the Atlantic Charter stamp featuring FDR and Churchill agreeing to allied war aims, as well as an earlier Roosevelt stamp, finding him smiling and featuring his politically incorrect cigarette holder.
The philatelic presentation of life is the life we wish the world offered. Isn't it remarkable that that life exists anywhere at all? Stamp collectors can access that life at will. It is not a fantasy world that Dorothy Gale of Kansas (who appears on the Wizard of Oz stamp issued by the USPS in 1989) finds after her whirlwind trip on a cyclone. It is our real world, reflected through stamps, a quiet and orderly world where no laws are broken and tragedies are already in the past.
So when quizzical friends or loved ones ask the stamp collector what the appeal of the hobby is, he might truthfully answer "World domination, of course. But, please excuse me - I must go out to smell the roses."