Stamp collecting is a popular hobby. Collecting is not the same as philately, which is defined as the study of stamps. It is not necessary to closely study stamps in order to enjoy collecting them. Many casual collectors enjoy accumulating stamps without worrying about the details. The creation of a valuable or comprehensive collection, however, may require some philatelic knowledge.
Stamp collectors are an important source of revenue for some small countries that create limited runs of elaborate stamps designed mainly to be bought by stamp collectors. The stamps produced by these countries may far exceed their postal needs. Hundreds of countries, each producing scores of different stamps each year, resulted in 400,000 different types of stamps in existence by the year 2000. Annual world output averages about 10,000 types.
Naive or new collectors are vulnerable to exploitation by countries and individuals who authorize the production of postage stamps intended primarily for collectors rather than for postal use. These stamps are often “canceled to order”, meaning they are postmarked without ever having passed through the postal system. Most national post offices produce stamps that would not be produced if there were no collectors, some to a far more prolific degree than others. It is up to individual collectors whether this concerns them; collecting such issues is as legitimate an endeavor as any other collection, but is unlikely to result in a collection of any value or to provide a monetary return on an investment (though may be found worthwhile in other ways such as teaching geography or collecting methods to a child, or sheer pleasure in the beauty of some of these issues). Others may argue that since these stamps are virtually worthless, they will be discarded in large numbers and eventually become less common and thus collectable in their own right, though this process would likely take many decades.
Sales of stamps to collectors who do not use them for mailing can result in large profits. Good examples of excessive issues have been the stamps produced by Nicholas F. Seebeck and stamps produced for the component states of the United Arab Emirates. Seebeck operated in the 1890s as an agent of Hamilton Bank Note Company. He approached Latin American countries with an offer to produce their entire postage stamp needs for free. In return he would have exclusive rights to market stamps to collectors. Each year a new issue would be produced, but would expire at the end of the year. This assured Seebeck of a continuing supply of remainders. In the 1960s, printers such as the Barody Stamp Company contracted to produce stamps for the separate Emirates and other countries. The sparse population of the desert states made it wholly unlikely that many of these stamps would ever be used for mailing purposes, and earned them the name of the «sand dune» countries. Another example of what might be considered by some to be excessive issues is that, at the time of the millennium, the United Kingdom issued 96 different stamps over about 24 months, all for pre-existing values with the same four rates for each set.
In the United States there is concern among some collectors that the United States Postal Service has become a promotional agent for the media and entertainment industry, as it has frequently issued entire sets of stamps featuring movie stars and cartoon characters like ‘Mickey’ Mouse’ and ‘Bart Simpson. Over the decades the annual average number of new postage stamp issued by the U.S.P.S. has significantly increased.