BRENTWOOD -- Once referred to as the "the hobby of kings and the king of hobbies," stamp collecting might not be as popular as it once was, but it isn't a lost art either.
Just ask the U.S. Postal Service, or better yet, 88-year-old Discovery Bay stamp collector Ralph Tatum who recently showed his collection in Brentwood. Reports indicate the art of stamp collecting has been on this rise since 1986, according to Tatum, who has been collecting stamps for more than 20 years.
The United States Postal Service estimates that 11 percent of the people in the United States collect stamps, making it by far the biggest collecting hobby and probably the most popular hobby in the country.
As common with most stamp collectors, Tatum began collecting stamps at age 7 and continued until he was 12. When he retired at 65, he began collecting again, and now at age 88, Tatum has collected almost 5,000 of the 7,000 United States made stamps.
"Everyone needs a hobby," Tatum said who encourages all he meets about the merits of stamp collecting.
"Stamp collecting improves our quality of life," he said pointing to his head. "They make you think."
Other merits, according to Tatum, include being a fun hobby, one that teaches history through the ages, is that it is affordable and reflects who we are. Stamps can also be valuable.
"Be cautious," Tatum warns. "Never collect stamps for money because you can put a lot of time into stamp collecting and you may never see the return on your investment."
To help encourage the younger generation into stamp collecting, Tatum enjoys speaking at local venues on the subject. Generally he will bring out several reproductions of his stamps and tell the story. In early November, Tatum brought his veterans stamps to a Brentwood Library presentation in honor of Veterans Day.
At the event Tatum handed out a booklet he made up that held packets of stamps to get children started collecting. Included were several stamps from different countries, even though Tatum only collects American stamps.
"These will give everyone a chance to get started," he said.
Even the casual stamp collector can find a hobby that will last a lifetime, Tatum told the audience. Stamp collecting is flexible, it can be appreciated by all ages. Stamp collecting can be done 12 months of the year even on rainy days and it doesn't require great skill or a great amount of money, he said.
Like Tatum one can start stamp collecting at any time, quit and pick it up again at long in the future.
"It is great for your quality of life," he said. "My wife can verify I have a very high quality of life and that is because of her and stamp collecting."