Stamp collecting started in 1840 with the issue of the first proper stamp, the Penny Black, followed closely by the Twopenny Blue. Previous to this you had to rely on Hand stamps from each local area. What happened after was the biggest hobby in the world up until the 1990's, for all age groups, only to be surpassed by the computer age. Most unfortunately these days, the backbone of the collectors - the Children of the world - have in general lost interest in this very time consuming hobby. The main stay of stamp collecting is now a much older generation and the numbers are getting less.
There are of course advantages and disadvantages of this, to the good side, in general, the prices of stamps have come down a lot, up to 2/3rds. In some cases on the down side it is becoming harder and harder to acquire the rarest of the stamps, and of course they are going up in price, so there is a lot of difference between a normal collection, a good collection and a superb collection.
To put it in prospective you can now go to an online auction and get a mixed selection of stamps from Victorian times for a few pennies, and somebody's collection for a few hundred pounds, but finding the odd one that is rare is a completely different story.
I am very lucky as I have been collecting for over 50 years and my collection is quite reasonable especially the British, and from 1960 on I have all British issues.
The important things to remember when stamp collecting is to decide on what area you are interested in and then how complicated you want to make it. I would suggest that you start with a specific area i.e. Australasia, South Africa, GB, or if your more ambitious try the Commonwealth or Europe. The best advice I can give here is to start your collection in a simple manner, don't go looking for the special editions or errors, just concentrate on getting one of of each stamp, this will enable your finances to stretch further and help your collection grow faster. Then when you have got a reasonable amount for the area you are specializing in you can then decide on how complicated to make it. i.e. mint or used, singles or block, water marks, issue variations etc.
The other major consideration when starting to collect is where are you going to keep them and in what. The reason I say this is because a serious collection can take up a lot of space and be very heavy, in my case my collection consists of 3 large albums just for GB and another five for specialist countries, and a further seven for the rest of the commonwealth. I must say that there is a space for every stamp of the commonwealth weather or not I have them.
Unless you are quite well off I would suggest that you start your collection off with stock books, using the 32 or 64 leave varieties, then as your collection grows you can move them from leave to leave without having to use hinges or adding pages, making gaps, or other bits that will make it look untidy.
My last piece of advice is to get yourself a Stanley Gibbons stamp catalog of not more than 3 years old. You can not do it without one, luckily there is a individual catalog for most areas of the world and they are reasonable inexpensive to acquire.
Paul S Record