The Complete Illustrated Guide to Stamp CollectingMy boyfriend's grandfather left him literally thousands of postage stamps. I had collected stamps as a child, but never at this level! When the task of organizing and caring for these stamps fell to me, I immediately went out and bought this book to help me do the task properly.
The guide is definitely "pretty". It has many full color photos of lovely stamps, intending I imagine to lure one into the wide world of stamps. It talks about the history of stamps, how letters were mailed in the days of the Roman Empire, how for a long time postage systems were only intended for royalty and military. Even when civilians were finally allowed to send letters, it was typically sent cash-on-delivery. I.e. the recipient would pay when they got the letter.
You can imagine that this system led to a lot of lost money for the "postal people" :) Finally England decided there should be a better way, where every letter was pre-paid in an easy fashion. So in 1840 they created the Penny Black, postage for one penny. Other countries followed, and now we have millions of different kinds of stamps.
The guide then goes into the various parts of a stamp - how they are made, how they are gummed, so that you know what to look for when you collect them. It talks about how a stamp may look very similar but may be quite different based on how it was created.
On to the practical side. The book talks about how to soak stamps off of the letter they were sent on, how to flatten and dry them. It goes over the various types of stamp mounting books you can get - where you stick stamps to pages that help to describe and display them. While people used to actually "stick" tabs to the back of the stamps, in modern times they try to not stick anything at all to the stamp, as to not damage them at all. They have album pages with "pockets" in them so you put the entire stamp into that pocket without touching it.
There's all sorts of cool tidbits in here. For example, most postmarks have a series of seven "wavy lines" across the stamp to cancel it. Looking at history, that's because an old postmark in Boston in the late 1800s had an American flag on it, and the wavy lines were the stars and stripes stretching out.
The book talks about wartime mail, airmail, and other specific types of mail. It also talks about the issue of forgeries and how to be alert for them. It talks about how postal collecting organizations began and how they have changed over the years.
In general, the book, at just under 100 pages and full color, is a lovely "history of stamps". However, as a guide to stamp collecting, it tends to fall short. There are only a tiny few pages about the actual activity of stamp collecting. There are a few more pages of side benefit, with the details of a stamp's parts and information about forgeries. However, the rest of the book is a skim of stamping history which is far too brief to be a help. There are millions of pages on the web if you really want to know about the "stamps of Australia" or the "stamps of India". This book does little good if that's what you need. So you don't get nearly enough of the basics, the step by step how to get started and how to do a good job with it. Instead you get skims of advanced topics in those pages, which take up valuable pages and aren't complete enough to be helpful.
If they relabeled this book to be a "Brief History of Stamps and Stamp Collecting" I think it would be a quite fine mini-overview with photos. However, as a "complete" guide to stamp collecting, it is definitely not complete and there isn't enough about stamp collecting in here.