Inverted Jenny, a rare misprinted 1918 airmail stamp from the United States
This week, we collected the thoughts of WikiProject Philately, the project dedicated to postage stamps, revenue stamps and postal history around the world. WikiProject Philately began in November 2003 and grew to include nearly three thousand articles, lists, and categories with a daunting relative WikiWork score of 5.29. The project's single Featured Article and four Good Articles focus on elements of the postal services in Britain, Ireland, Canada, and the United States. The project's small but dedicated team works on a variety of different types of articles, including "country studies" for postage issuers past and present. We interviewed Rahman.safwan, Philafrenzy, ww2censor, BlackJack, and Ecphora.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Philately? Do you collect stamps? If so, how large is your collection?
Rahman.safwan: Yes. I collect stamps. As I am a philatelist, I came to wikipedia to inrich the article of wikipedia about philately. My collection is not large. I am a beginner collector.
Philafrenzy: The project is an obvious place for like-minded editors to collaborate and ask questions. Yes, I collect and have done since I was a child. My collection is larger than most but smaller than many, that is all I am prepared to say!
ww2censor: When I first discovered wikipedia, back in late 2005, I considered it a place to provide philatelic information not easily available elsewhere to the general stamp collector or philatelist. No, I don't consider myself a stamp collector because I only actively collect every a few and select issues of stamps of Ireland but I suppose I am a philatelist because I do study the postal rates and routes but my primary interest is in postal history; the why and the wherefore. Most of my collecting is covers that tell a story. Stamp collectors should remember that removing a common stamp from an envelope may mean throwing away considerable value.
BlackJack: I was involved in the philately project in its early days but I had greater interests elsewhere and sort of drifted away, though I have been trying to get involved again in recent weeks. I certainly do collect stamps and one of my aims has been to build an "all-world" collection. I've succeeded in this re current postal authorities and so my collection occupies a significant length of shelf space but there are a lot of gaps re former authorities. The great thing about philately (or about stamp collecting which is not actually the same thing) is that it is one of those hobbies that can never reach a termination point as there is always another field to be explored. As I said, all-world is one of my aims but my main interest in stamps is historical and so I pursue a number of specific subjects either by region or period or authority. An example is British postal agencies in Eastern Arabia and I recently introduced the article on that subject.
Do you focus on articles about stamps issued by a particular country? Are some countries better covered than others by Wikipedia?
Rahman.safwan: No. I don't focus on articles about any particular countries. But I am focusing to the rear countries whose information is hard to get in internet.
Philafrenzy: No. It is a general interest. Some do specialise, there are experts on Malta and Uruguay here, but I am happy to edit on any country. Some countries are better covered than others, compare Postage stamps and postal history of Nicaragua with Postage stamps and postal history of Uruguay for instance. This simply reflects whether an enthusiastic specialist has come along and taken the time to expand a country article. One success story is Postage stamps and postal history of South Sudan where the modern postal history of that country is being covered as it happens, including the help the Chinese have given to the South Sudan government by printing their first stamps for free. (Unfortunately, they also got it wrong and used the wrong coat of arms on one stamp.) There are also dimensions of philately that do not relate just to one country, for instance collecting by topic such as ships on stamps, or postal history or airmail collecting.
ww2censor: Indeed some countries have far better articles than others. I have the honour of bringing Postage stamps of Ireland to featured status; unfortunately it remains the project's only featured article. I would love to see more but they take a lot of work. Ireland, like some other countries have a few individual stamp articles but some countries only have a very short stub which ideally can be expanded significantly. The list of postage stamps has several individual stamp articles and could do with the redlinks bring written. Unfortunately there are too few knowledgeable philatelists who are prepared to get involved in wikipedia though the German and French wikis do seem to have decent activity. I edit articles on any country especially where I can add citations for questioned information because some articles are very sparse on sources. We could do much better but need access to good literature and even though I have a decent library I never have enough and the specialist books are quite expensive. On the other hand, I have started articles about some more general topics, such as Airmail stamp, Letter sheet and Official mail, some specialised subjects like, Pre-adhesive mail and Uniform Fourpenny Post, and related people articles like, David Feldman, Dorothy Wilding, Henry Bishop and William Russell Lane-Joynt.
BlackJack: You will find some surprising omissions in the WP coverage if you look through the list of countries and you will equally be surprised by the work that has gone into some entries you might expect to be obscure. As others have said, there have been a limited number of contributors and it depends on the specific interests of those involved. Personally, my main contribution was the global compendium series so I suppose I have worked on "all countries". However, I have worked on the Persian Gulf states articles too.
How is the notability of a stamp or series of stamps determined? Have there been difficulties finding sourcing for articles about new or historical stamps?
Rahman.safwan: I don't have much idea about it. I am concern in writing about postal authorities.
Philafrenzy: The notable items in a country are usually well known, like the Ferrer block or Penny Black. They are not always old, for instance the Chinese Golden Monkey stamp of 1980. Long running series are also often notable simply because they have been studied in great detail and a lot has been written about them. The British Machin stamps, which are the everyday stamps of the UK, have been basically unchanged since 1967, leading to 1000's of variations and endless hours of fun for collectors! It is a matter of using judgement and philatelic knowledge to decide what is notable and then finding the sources. There have been several recent deletion debates about modern U.S. stamps where the stamps received a lot of publicity because they featured subjects with strong popular appeal like sports or entertainment figures. The question then arises of whether the widespread reprinting or paraphrasing of a USPS press release in the media is enough to make the stamps notable. That is the exception, however, and notability is not usually in question. Experienced philatelists rarely have difficult finding sources as they tend to accumulate a shelf of reference works in their areas of interest, and most read one or more stamp magazines. There are also a large number of web sites about philately of varying quality. I was lucky enough to receive a small grant from Wikimedia UK to buy a DVD archive of the journal Gibbons Stamp Monthly which has been useful in finding sources for older material.
ww2censor: As Philafrenzy says notability is a matter of judgement. How has a stamp become well know, is it scarcity, or popularity, or has there been in-depth specialisation, with publications, over a long period of time? The US 1993 Elvis stamp was certainly popular with the public, 517 million were sold, but how notable is it in philatelic terms will take some time to determine. It is certainly not worth much because so many were bought by people as keepsakes. Other stamps, printed in small quantities, and possibly used for a short period of time, may be so scarce that is what makes them notable, such as the Treskilling Yellow or the Dag Hammarskjöld invert which was an error deliberately mass-produced in an attempt to avoid creating a rarity.
Ecphora: There exist a vast quantity of books and articles (in philatelic journals) on all aspects of stamps. For example, the American Philatelic Research Library in Bellefonte, PA, has a huge collection. Lack of reliable sources is not an issue.
BlackJack: This is a very good question and I suppose the project should try to baseline an agreed policy on philatelic notability but it will be difficult given the sheer volume of world stamps. In general terms, any stamp (or series) issued by a recognised postal issuing authority is notable providing it has been used for official postal services (i.e., sold to the public as confirmation of payment for the delivery of a letter or parcel). The proviso is to exclude stamps which are bogus in postal terms. In theory, therefore, any officially issued stamp whether it is the Penny Black or the most recent commemorative issue, could be the subject of a WP article. Unlike many other subjects which have WP projects, philately lacks a wide range of written sources and the major sources are the numerous stamp catalogues issued by the likes of Gibbons (UK) and Scott (USA). So, yes, there can be a difficulty in finding non-catalogue sources that provide detailed information about specific issues.
Have you contributed to the Philately Portal? What value do portals add to Wikipedia? How can they be better integrated into the browsing experience?
Rahman.safwan: No.I yet not contributed to portal. Don't have much idea about portal.
Philafrenzy: I am unclear how the portal is supposed to function. I don't use it but do use the project.
ww2censor: The portal could be a good jumping off point for readers but I have the impression the portal is not where wikipedia readers actually start looking up philatelic topics. Reviewing the portal traffic for the last 90 days: of the 1759 visits, the most on any day was 35 with a low of 0, though the average seems to be about 20. This is not good, considering that Stamp collecting had over 44,000 and the Penny Black more that 21,000 in the last 90 days, though for some reason 1726 visited it on May 16, 2013. Technically I look after the portal and when interesting articles are made known to me I try to add them to the rotation of articles in three areas; Selected biography, Selected picture and Selected article. I must admit to rather neglecting the portal due to other real life interruptions. We could do better and have more input but remember we are all volunteers here.
BlackJack: I think portals are a waste of space, quite frankly. I don't think I had anything to do with the philately one (may have done years ago) but I did try to develop the cricket one and decided that it is a poor substitute for both the project page and the main article. I'd scrap them.
With online forms of communication causing a decrease in traditional mail volume, do you worry about the future of philately? Have you already seen some effects of cost-cutting measures by postal services across the globe? What will future generations be missing?
Rahman.safwan: Future genarations will miss the enjoyment of philately. Now a days, its like business more than hobby. Stamp issuing authorities issuing high face valued stamps for their business though the postal rate is not high. Also market is full of illegal issues.
Philafrenzy: The demise of the postage stamp has been predicted for decades but people are always likely to need to send some communications by mail as they may need a document with a signature or because something has an inherent value that cannot be communicated electronically, so there will probably always be mails of some kind and therefore philately. Philately also encompasses the pre-stamp (pre 1840) era as a subject of historical enquiry, postal history, and revenue philately relating to the taxation of documents and the like, so we have plenty to be going on with.
ww2censor: Virtually instant online communications are cutting into postal services worldwide with prices increasing more than inflation while service are being cut. Many post offices are being closed and many no longer carry a selection of postage stamps several of which are self-adhesive (how I hate that term; who wants something that sticks to itself?) and are not even able to be removed without damage from their envelopes. Decreased mail volumes and the use of postal meters and nasty machine printed labels will mean the future collector will have a challenging time finding nice modern stamps, especially used copies. However, since the internet has become mainstream, I think there are actually more collectors though they may well be closet collectors buying online and don't participate in mainstream philately, such as stamp clubs (general or specialised), stamp show or philatelic exhibitions, etc. Postage authorities have been trying to milk the golden cow for many years by producing stamps for collectors that have little postal purpose but I don't see that changing significantly any time soon, so modern mint stamps will be available but for those who prefer a nice used stamp life will be harder, so much so that they may well start to collect older stamps as they realise the new stuff is not very interesting in my opinion. Stamps have been and remain a great tool for learning about geography, history, biology and many other topics both from your own country and other nations but kids nowadays have other interests. In future, the stimulation of having collected stamps as teenagers years ago, giving it up and returning to it years later may not be in the mind of those youngsters who never collected stamps. Just recently some of the philatelic societies I belong to have instigated online memberships, some reducing their annual subscription by doing away with mailing printed newsletters or bulletins.
Ecphora: Philately was extremely popular, world wide, from the late 19th century to the decade after World War II. Then, it began a serious decline. I believe that collectors today are more specialized than in the past, focusing on things like postal history, specific stamp issues of a country, plate varieties, etc. Many -- perhaps most -- of those interested in stamps today seem to be returning to a childhood interest. Its future is doubtful.
BlackJack: Stamps and postal services have immense social and historical value and, although a time may well come when stamps are no longer issued, there will always be people studying postal history. I can see it will evolve into a nostalgia interest one day among weary e-mail users who yearn for something different, just as now there are people who study steam-powered rail travel and others who enjoy big band swing music.
What are the project's most pressing needs? How can a new contributor help today?
Rahman.safwan: The project needs some good contributor. Now a days,here is lack of active and good contributor. The contribution of past contributor is still now. Lack of good contributor who can update the information. Everyone is busy in opening new article and show it at their user page. New contributor needs help. Experienced contributor must support him to write a good article. Everyone should work as a team.
Philafrenzy: The most pressing need is to improve the country articles to a reasonable standard, many of which have been little more than stubs for years. Anyone with access to a relevant stamp catalogue or website can help by starting to sketch in the history of philately in a country. We usually follow a simple system of pre-stamp postal history, then the first stamps, followed by sections on each later era or reign.
ww2censor: More knowledgeable project members are needed to improve all the country articles. It is a shame that in the last year only 23 editors have worked on project articles. Real progress would be a few more featured articles, expansion the many stubs and improvement of citations; some article have been tagged with problems for years without any attention.
BlackJack: As the others say, more contributors but the subject requires attention to detail so not just any old contributors but people with a genuine interest and knowledge. How to attract them? Letters to stamp magazines, perhaps, and maybe Signpost will raise our profile a bit. The project needs an article of reasonable standard (i.e., good quality class=start; not stubs) about all recognised stamp-issuing authorities. These are bound to primarily historical and geopolitical but they must include information about some of the stamps issued, especially the earliest ones, and what eventually became of that authority. There are so many that it's a huge ask.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Rahman.safwan: I would like to say at last that, all the member of a project need to be work as a team. Not only for showing own contribution. Discuss with each other for coming to a decision. Not take decisions alone.
Philafrenzy: I would like more of the millions of enthusiastic collectors out there to contribute here. If anyone has any ideas about that, please contact the philately project.
ww2censor: Get your philatelic literature off the shelf and get writing. When you do work on philatelic articles remember images add value for readers but many country's stamps are still in copyright so make sure to check the copyright status here and here before uploading as getting your images deleted can be a disappointment, or just ask us.
Ecphora: One possible way to recruit editors is through the many philatelic organizations that still exist and publish their journals, usually,in hardcopy. It's a lot easier and quicker to get something on Wikipedia than to write and publish an article in a journal.
BlackJack: There are so few people involved and they all have their particular interests within a vast field of study so the reality is that it will continue to be a project sparsely populated by keen individuals whose paths rarely cross. I have seen and been involved in real teamwork among contributors at the cricket project and I know it works well in the football one too, but philately is a different ball game. The subject is too big and the participation too small. Sorry to sound negative but that's the way it is. I would simply encourage each individual to take a break from their speciality once a week and try to fill a gap somewhere by introducing a stub and then adopting it to get it up to start class. It will take years but we should aim to eventually have one article per stamp issuing authority.