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How Computers Changed Collecting

by Marjory Sente

Forty years ago, when I started collecting stamps, my basic tools were an album, tongs, the world catalog at my library, hinges, a perforation gauge, a magnifying glass and advice from the father of a friend. Collecting was definitely low tech. Today, computer technology has changed the face of the stamp hobby. One of the most obvious ways is how we communicate.

Today, e-mail has all but replaced the letter as a way to exchange information. Remember when you had to run out and get a photocopy of that new cover to send to a friend? Now, I just put the cover on the scanner and attach the image as a JPEG file or TIF file to my e-mail. I have been writing about first-day covers more than 20 years, and my first articles were laboriously typed and re-typed, then sent to the publisher. During my first stint as a columnist for Stamp Collector in the late 1980s, I created my column on a personal computer, but would print it out and send off a hard copy and the illustrations. Once received, the text was retyped, and the FDCs were photographed. After the column was published, the covers were returned by mail. Today, after writing the column on my PC, I e-mail the text and scans to the editor. The covers never leave my collection, and the column is delivered with-in minutes of my e-mailing.

Remember when the only time you saw FDCs to buy was when you attended a bourse, went to a stamp club or received a catalog or price list by mail? Now, material is at your fingertips 24 hours a day. In an earlier column, I only touched the tip of the iceberg on buying FDCs on the internet when I discussed my adventures on eBay. But eBay does not have a monopoly on online auctions. Yahoo!, for example, runs a similar auction. A quick check of the site in early March had listings for nearly 40,000 lots of philatelic material, including 4,000 FDCs. Another site is, where dealers and auction houses conduct online auctions. Many dealers have home pages, too, where they offer covers for sale. Jim McCusker runs one of the most sophisticated sites for one-stop FDC shopping. At, you will find online auctions offered every four weeks. Jim illustrates every cover in full color. Sometimes I will see something in his catalog (which is printed in black and white) and will look up the lot online to see if the cachet is a color variety. Jim also has more than 20,000 FDCs that you can buy online at fixed prices. These, too, are illustrated in color. According to McCusker, last year his site had 2 mil-lion hits by more than 90,000 different visitors. Jim also recently introduced his FDC online auction at It launched in late February with about 1,000 lots, and every day he adds 150 more.

Many dealers' ads now carry their web addresses, or you can search the net for sites. One of my favorite search engines today is A recent search on FDCs brought up more than 3,500 hits, with plenty of dealers among them. Like the dealers, many of the philatelic organizations have home pages. As an FDC collector, you should start by looking at two: the one for the American First Day Cover Society; and the one for the American Philatelic Society, which provides numerous links to other sites. Some collectors and organizations have even gone as far as to put exhibits or parts of their collection online. One of my favorites is the FDC exhibit devoted to the John Muir commemoratives, such as the one illustrated above in Figure 1. Go to and you will be able to view numerous FDCs produced for these issues, see a want list and learn quite a bit about the naturalist himself, as well.

If you exhibited before the blossoming of personal computers, you know how tedious it was to prepare exhibit pages. Your choices were hand lettering or typing the information onto the pages. Now, with the computer, you can prepare exhibit pages relatively quickly, with the flexibility of changing fonts and type sizes. Along with producing album pages and exhibits, keeping an inventory of your collection is much easier with computers. Many ready-made programs easily track general collections of U.S. stamps, but as an FDC specialist, I find keeping a list on a spreadsheet or database just as easy. As an FDC collector, you likely have produced a cachet or two for an issue special to your heart. In the pre-computer days, your options for making cachets were more limited than they are today. In 1982, I made a cachet for the 250th anniversary of George Washington's birth. Because I wanted to make a couple of hundred, my best option was to have them printed, so I found the elements that I wanted to include in the design: a portrait of Washington; an entry from the Washington family Bible; and my business logo. I sketched the layout, took everything to the printer and had my printed cachets ? in about two weeks.

Today, you can use the computer to make great cachets. If you can't find the graphic you want, you can scan an image and use it in the design, or you might want to play with the type to make a fun cachet. Figure 2 shows a cover I concocted on very short notice ? that is, overnight! I made it for the second-day ceremony for the 1995 Carousel Animals stamps. Such cachets are easy and inexpensive to make, and come in handy when a limited number of covers are needed or available. The Philatelic Computing Study Group, recently profiled in Stamp Collector (Feb. 28, page 32), is devoted to the use of computers in the stamp hobby. It can be found at At this site you can find information on software, as well as the many ways you can use your computer as a powerful tool to enhance your collecting efforts. Happy computing, and happy collecting. They make a great combination.