What is THEMATIC PHILATELY?
Thematic philately is collecting stamps and other philatelic items that illustrate a theme: birds, soccer, history, art, way of life, trees, etc. The term "theme" has a dynamic meaning implying the personal elaboration by the collector, who develops a full story around it.
Once stamp collections consisted of stamps from one country or a group of countries. The stamps were usually displayed in date of issue order. Not any more! A thematic collection consists of the widest possible range of philatelic material, from the widest possible range of postal authorities, without any time constraint. Every item selected should be relevant to the theme and arranged in the most suitable order to tell a story.
The outline of the story is presented as a Plan, showing the steps of the development of the theme. The Plan is similar to the Contents page in a book and it is normally organised in chapters and sub-chapters, which make the logical flow of the story along a clear and consistent thread visible.
A thematic collection is fascinating because it allows for continuous improvement. The more you get familiar with the subject, the more you discover new details for supporting your story and acquire the relevant philatelic items. The more you know about the material from using philatelic literature, by browsing through auction catalogues and visiting the dealers, and by studying other collections on display at the philatelic shows, the more you can improve your development when including new items.
What is n o t THEMATIC PHILATELY?
Collections that do not develop a theme but simply accumulate philatelic items with a common subject are far from the essence of thematic philately, since they present no "story", little personal study of the theme. The arrangement of items depicting the chosen subject by country of issue or by year, as well as the choice of items issued by countries of a selected geographic area or in a certain time frame, may be just preliminary approaches to thematic philately. Anyway, they do not bring the true pleasure of thematic collecting.
What can I collect?
A thematic collection is built around an important concept, freely chosen by the collector. Normally this choice relates to a personal or professional interest: medicine or astronomy, gardening or fishing, chess or car races, computers or music... there is no limit to the choice of your theme! By selecting a familiar theme, you will have a lot of information at your fingertips and it will be very easy to draft the Plan of your collection.
A quick perusal of a catalogue from a recent world exhibition will give a very effective overview of the thematic myriad of options available to collectors for choosing a thematic collection. Some titles, chosen at random: World of Butterflies , Sailing ships, "From Abacus to Laptop, Tennis, Apiculture, Weather Story, Railways, Optics, French Painting in the 19th century, League of Nations, Motor Vehicles, Photography, Universal Postal Union, Republic of Weimar, Fire, Christian Vocations, Carnival, Bridges, History of printing, Wine, Roses, Radiomania, History of Tobacco, Ailments of Venus, Danube, Theatre, Dogs, Water, Music through the Ages, Mozart, European Integration, Struggles against Infection, Olympic Games, Christmas, "Nationalities 1914/18".
The wealth of philatelic material often allows collectors to interpret the same subject in different ways, thus generating very different collections. One can present a synthetic view of the whole subject or analyse a specific area of the same. For example, at the afore mentioned exhibition the following were also on display: Birds, Australian Bird Life, Homo‑avis Co‑existence, and How to Identify Birds; in yet another show we saw Eagle, Owls, Penguins, Swan, sand Bird as a Symbol.
What does "Appropriate Philatelic Material" mean?
In addition to stamps a thematic collection can use other items related to transmission of mail other postal communications, which contribute to the development of theme through their illustrations and/or captions. These items are considered appropriate as long they have been issued, intended for issue, or produced in the preparation for issue, used, or treated as valid for postage by governmental, local or private postal agencies, or by other duly commissioned or empowered authorities. The most relevant items are:
postal cards, envelopes and aerogrammes, that have an imprint of a stamp and, often with an illustration,
Postmarks and Cancellations:
postal markings applied when an item goes through the mail, sometimes with an advert or commemorative content,
the franking 'slug' from meters are used by many companies and organisations to frank their mail, often with an advertisement,
these may have illustrations on the cover(s) or on advertising panels inside,
these are picture postcards with a stamp on the picture side and a cancellation linking the subject on the card with the stamp.
Several other items, including revenue stamps may contribute to the development of the theme, whereas artists’ drawings, essays and proofs, do increase the philatelic interest of the collection, if appropriately selected.
Where do I find more information?
Several sources enable you to better understand the options and the possibilities of thematic collecting and provide ideas and detailed information for building a collection. A number of national Federations have a commission in charge of this class, aimed at giving guidance to thematic collectors. In several countries thematic collectors have founded a national association, that publish a specialised magazine; members are also organised in thematic groups, active on the most popular themes, which often provide bulletins and checklists of the material relevant to their theme.
Stamp exhibitions and fairs are important events for making contacts, looking at exhibits, visiting the dealers. Those organised with the support of thematic organisations are a good occasion for meeting other thematic collectors and exchanging both ideas and material.
The internet is a powerful source of information for identifying and making contacts with philatelic associations and dealers; the FIP site is a very useful starting point that includes links to other important philatelic sites. Furthermore search engines are available that allow you to find thematic and philatelic information on the fly.
1) The personal story:
The term "theme" has a dynamic meaning implying the personal elaboration by the collector, who develops a full story around it.
2) The postal relation:
The material used for a thematic collection must have a genuine postal relation. Examples: "philatelic material, from the widest possible range of postal authorities", "transmission of mail other postal communications", issued, intended for issue, or produced in the preparation for issue", "valid for postage", "postal markings applied" when an item "goes through the mail".
As can be seen the "functional" aspect of the stamp and related postal material is underlined. In other words: "there is no room for philatelic products".
This is my interpretation. You are welcome to agree or disagree with me.