For most of us they are simply little bits of paper you lick the back of and attach to a letter or parcel you want to post.
But for the philatelist, postage stamps are the key that unlocks a door to a wonderful journey into the past.
For them stamps provide a fascinating record of the history of the world, an opportunity to capture major events for ever on fragile squares usually measuring no more than an inch.
Researching and collecting stamps marking landmark moments in time offers up an almost endless choice of subject matter – and is reputedly the world’s greatest hobby!
Whether it is charting the growth of empires and nations, tracing the time lines of Royalty, recording the outbreak of war and peace, recognising ground breaking achievements in the world of science, industry and commerce, paying tribute to church leaders, world leaders and philanthropists and celebrating sporting greats, postage stamps – literally – have it covered.
Falkirk and District Philatelic Society is an award-winning part of the Scottish philately scene and in recognition of its 50th anniversary been given the honour of hosting the 86th Annual Stamp Congress at the Dewar Centre in Perth on April 17 and 18.
Around 30 enthusiastic members attend its fortnightly meetings in Camelon Parish Church Hall to showcase their latest purchases and welcome fellow like-minded enthusiasts from other societies to display and talk about their collections painstakingly put together over the years.
They share their knowledge and knowhow, voice opinions about where their hobby is heading, and discuss how they can introduce stamp collecting to a wider – and younger – audience.
The society website www.falkirkstampclub.co.uk features a friendly information pack to get you started.
It explains: “A world of philatelic opportunity opens up to those who join and make use of the many benefits of membership, including opportunities to collect, exchange, buy and sell, study and display stamps.”
Alistair Moore is a 20-year veteran of the society and its enthusiastic press officer.
Like so many schoolboys of his generation, this 83-year-old retired mine surveyor had an interest in stamps as a youngster before his studies, his career with the National Coal Board and getting married and raising a family dominated his time.
After retiring in 1987, however, his interest in stamps was rekindled and now an entire room in his Bo’ness home is dedicated to the hobby and used to carefully catalogue and store his ever growing collection.
Faced with an almost endless choice of what to focus on, he specialises in PHQ’s, postcard size enlargements of British definitive stamps, a series produced for permanent use, and commemorative stamps from around the world celebrating his particular interest in mining, minerals and geology.
Alistair has a standing order with the Philatelic Bureau in Edinburgh to forward him the latest releases in his particular field.
And he is glad that from the staggering number of options a philatelist has available, he took the decision years ago to focus on one subject.
He admitted: “It has to be said philatelic bureaux worldwide churn out stamps like confetti at a wedding and the endless choice of high value stamps being produced is giving the collector pause for thought about how much they can afford to invest.
“Nowadays, no one can really afford to collect worldwide, they really have to specialise. The collector has to decide on say, two or three countries, themes, postmarks or first-day covers and from the whole range of possibilities that can be difficult.”
Alistair was introduced to philately during World War Two when as an eight-year-old he was evacuated from his home in Gilmarton outside Edinburgh to the village of Stow near Galashiels in 1940.
He explained: “The son of the couple I was living with was in the army and after his ship was sunk off the coast of Malta en route to North Africa he sent two – highly censored – postcards home to let them know he was safe and well.
“His father gave them to me and that gave me the impetus to start, but really it was only after I retired I really took stamp collecting up as a serious interest.
“Over the years there have been big changes and there is now so much to choose from that cost has become a factor. A set of six definitive stamps with the Queen’s head can cost £14 and a set of first class commemorative stamps over £6. Even a good quality stamp album costs upwards of £20 so it makes us think carefully!
“The Philatelic Bureau in Edinburgh produce a new issue of British stamps, both definitive and commemorative, almost every month. These are generally all high value stamps so if you are trying to maintain a certain collection it can easily become quite an expensive hobby.
“It has to be said though that while the expense is an issue it does not detract from the fascination of the hobby or the satisfaction we all get from completing a particular set of stamps as we build our collections.
“Stamps map history through generation after generation and remind you of the many important events which have taken place before or during your lifetime. They can also be used as an educational tool which is why FDPS maintains close links with Comely Park Primary School as a way to generate an interest in stamp collecting and encourage pupils to become members of our club.”