The composition of a stamp must be strong and original, and the design has other special requirements. A stamp image should be simple but eye-catching and stand out from the background. The design must reduce well, leave space for letters and numbers, and be difficult to counterfeit. Some stamps show works of art, but the designer does not merely copy the artwork. Rather, the designer uses graphic elements from the art to create a new design that works as a stamp.
Changes in technologies and available materials have affected the look of stamps—and will continue to do so. Today engraving is still used to produce some stamps, but sparingly because of its high cost. Other methods include photogravure, which “engraves” the metal plate using chemicals and light rather than tools. Offset lithography uses flexible rubber or aluminum plates, which are not engraved at all. These processes are easier and less expensive than engraving, and they produce more colorful images. The look of stamps will continue to evolve with technology.
Stamp collecting ranks among the world’s most popular hobbies. As many as 22 million people collect stamps in the United States alone. Stamp collectors represent all ages and walks of life. Some have very general collections; others focus on special topics. Most are intrigued by the diversity of people, places, and objects illustrated on stamps. They want to learn where and when stamp were issued, who designed them, how they were printed and used. To these collectors, stamps bring history to life. Most of all, people collect stamps because it is fun.
Who are today’s collectors? What is collected? And why do they collect? Collectors fit no specific social group, economic group, or personality type. Some enjoy their hobby in private; many join local and specialty clubs; others participate internationally through exhibitions, societies, and auctions.