Thursday, December 2, 2010

Philately, not Fellatio

Philately, or stamp collecting, is still a thriving pastime, though the production of stamps has inevitably been affected by the decline of letter writing, thanks to the advent of the Internet and email. Numismatics is the study of currency, and coin collecting is only part of this area of expertise. Coins themselves, which at one point in history had intrinsic value, started to become anachronisms with the advent of paper currency in the Romantic era. The paper was only symbolic, the earthly form of something with more transcendent value, like the romantic words of a Coleridge or Wordsworth, which alluded to a fundamentally ineffable state—higher love, in the words of Steve Winwood. Today, in our world of emailing, credit cards and electronic money transfers, you are unlikely to put a stamp on an envelope and mail money to friends or relatives who are having hard times when in an instant the money can be wired from one account to another. Stamps and coins have become artifacts, and cataloguing them is similar to the activity of collecting ancient Greek vases. Money in its physical form is becoming an increasingly rarified item that some people, who use plastic, almost completely do without. The stamp is very much like the old vinyl record. There is a significant portion of the population that still pays their bills by snail mail and requires stamps, just as there is a minority, albeit smaller, that prefers records to mp3s, remaining convinced that digitization narrows the range of sound on many recordings. But an increasing majority pays their bills online and listens to a lifetime’s worth of music on their iPods, before checking their paperless bank statements on their laptops.

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