How many postage stamps have ever been made?

philately: Fascination with the small pictures

Did the saying ever have an aphrodisiac effect? "Would you like to come up with me? I'll show you my stamp collection", in any case, comes from a time when amorous advances had to be packed in a complicated and encrypted way and you couldn't just talk Tacheles on Facebook. When albums with neatly arranged postage stamps were actually waiting for admiring glances in the apartments of the young advertisers - and collecting the colorful pictures was a widespread leisure activity.

What about the stamp collector today? Anton Tettinek knows little about the origin of the saying, he never used it himself in his youth. But the collector enthusiastically talks about his passion for postage stamps. His father gave him his first postage stamps, and he was fascinated by the small, colorful pictures. Later on, aunts, uncles and all relatives had to hand over their envelopes for the growing collection. "I started collecting 60 years ago," says the now 70-year-old, who is the typical age of most active collectors.

"The age structure of the philatelists is bad, the average collector is between 60 and 80 years old and male," says Tettinek, who as President of the Association of Austrian Philatelic Associations also wants to counteract this. Schools are now trying to get children and young people interested in collecting. 130,000 members are currently organized in the associations of the Philatelic Association. There are around 200 associations nationwide, plus around 100 exchange offices that are particularly active in rural areas. However, the number of stamp collectors in the country cannot be precisely quantified, since collectors pursue their hobby privately and not within an association. "Many do not want the club dairy," says Tettinek.

Worldwide hobby

Not every collector is a philatelist: "A collector collects stamps, puts them in his album and is happy about it. A philatelist wants to make something out of them. He also collects letters and is interested in when and where they were posted." Philately has existed as long as the stamps themselves. Shortly after the world's first postage stamp, the "One Penny Black", was launched in Great Britain in 1840, large-scale collecting began.

"Friend of that which is free of taxes" is the cumbersome translation of the philatelist, which refers to the franked, canceled stamp via the Greek word "ateleia" for "exemption from taxes". The first collectors soon turned into a worldwide hobby, and in 1860 the first postage stamp albums appeared, in which the small pictures were first pasted. They were later placed in sleeves with tweezers. The first philatelist in the world is the Englishman John Edward Gray, who purposely did not buy postage stamps to send letters but with the intention of keeping them. In the 19th century, philatelists collected a wide variety of brands from all over the world, says Tettinek. Specialization soon became necessary, after all, 10,000 brands are released worldwide every year.

Tettinek himself collects brands from Austria and has also specialized in scout motifs. His most valuable scout stamp from South Africa once cost 10,000 shillings (around 700 euros), and many collectors even spend hundreds of thousands of euros on their hobby, says Tettinek. "I would have war with my wife." In addition, the attraction of collecting lies in dreaming about the pieces that you don't yet own: "Everything you have is locked up. What you don't have is much more interesting."

The most famous example among the coveted brands is the Blue Mauritius, even non-philatelists know it, even if it is not the most valuable or rarest brand in the world. After "Post Office" was printed on the first series and "Post Paid" on the second, the "Post Office" motifs developed into coveted collector's items.

In Austria, the so-called Merkur brands are among the most valuable, says Tettinek. Newspapers were sent with them, and the ribbons with the stamps were carelessly thrown away. "Today there are only a few, the price is relatively high. Recently, a Merkur was auctioned for 70,000 euros."

In Germany it was a motif with the smoking Audrey Hepburn, which was taken off the market after Hepburn's son objected. A few brands were already in circulation, however, and the result: high prices. Most collectors, however, are not interested in having the most valuable brands in the album. "At first you are interested in brands because they are beautiful, then you deal with the topic. A brand album is like a story book," says Tettinek. And so everyone collects according to their preferences, some the famous athletes, others flowers, railway bridges or musicians.