Stamp collecting has been a popular hobby for well over a century-and-a-half, and began as a result of Briton Sir Rowland Hill's proposal for postal reform in 1837. About 10 years after that day in English history, the United States issued its first postage stamps, and the American stamp collector was born.
Several decades ago, it was feasible to amass a nearly complete collection of stamps of the world or of a given country. However, government postal authorities had discovered that creating commemorative stamps for collectors was an effective way to increase their revenues. An explosion of postage stamps has resulted in the saturation of the collecting market. This has also been a financially wise move on the part of the USPS, since the recent expanded use of electronic, or e-mail and Internet-related services have reduced the need and desire to conventionally send letters and pay bills.
The exhaustive and still growing selection of contemporary stamps can be looked at two different ways. On the positive side, a tremendous range of postal topics are now available to collect...movie stars, sports "heroes", space-related issues, dinosaurs, and countless others. Building your attractive collection at face value can provide hours of enjoyment at little outgo. If your tastes change, simply write a lot of letters or Christmas cards and start over with a different topic.
On the other hand, this massive release of "collector" stamps catering to so many tastes has made historic, earlier issues less desirable to the topical collector. With government "cashing in" on generating new collectors, there are now, some fear, literally too many choices. The scarce and rare issues of the 1800s and early 1900s that reflect our true postal history are now out of favor...hopefully only temporarily so. It's sad to say that recent polls show the average age of serious stamp collectors is 67.
Nevertheless, the benefits of contemporary stamp collecting are still significant. Relaxation, assembling a collection, whetting the appetite for further historical study on various stamp topics, appreciating quality artistry...these are but a few reasons why the hobby still grows...and should continue to grow.