While stamp collecting certainly offers enough room for a lifetime of collecting, once you enter the fuzzily-defined world of postal history the possibilities for specialization are almost limitless. “classical” postal history tends to focus on postal rates and routes, but the collecting of postmarks – technically known as markophily – has been around for a long time as well. And I don’t even care if we’re talking about collecting postmarks on loose stamps or on complete items that went through the mail: the postmarks themselves are the subject of study.
I fell in with the postmark collecting crowd early on when I made the acquaintance of Peter Ashford. Peter wasn’t just a fine student of Transcaucasian stamps and Russian prestamp postal history, he also had a life-long interest in postmarks: specifically, Imperial Russian postmarks from the area now known as Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan – Transcaucasia for short. This is a perfect example of what I would call Area Collecting: you rope off one geographical area and collect the postmarks from a certain historical period. Since I believe in copying the best, I applied the same model to collecting postmarks myself, and concentrated on the postmarks of the Crimea up to about 1945.
An alternative would be to not limit the geographical area but to limit the period more severely. In that way you could collect, say, the first postmarks of the post-1857 period, the so-called Berlin types. You see that here you pretty quickly find yourself collecting a particular postmark type, like the Berlin types, or the dot-numerals. Perhaps a better example would be the “mute” postmarks of WW1, of which the use was limited to a few years.
Plan C is to concentrate on postmarks with a specific function, like railway TPO postmarks, or ship mail postmarks. I have a collection of the postmarks of Telegraph offices of the pre-WW2 period (about which I’ll tell you more someday). Here, limitations in terms of postmark types/function and limitations in terms of the period of use quickly start to overlap.
Plan D is to go for looks: collect postmarks of a particular appearance. For many years I collected the bilingual postmarks of the USSR, 1924-1940, and you can certainly spend a lifetime collecting those.
Of course you can also mix and match and collect, say the oval railway postmarks of Ukraine up to 1918, or the bilingual “Express Mail” postmarks of the USSR from Central Asia (and good luck with that latter choice!).
The point is…there’s really no limit to how you can define a postmark collection. Just pick something that you can have fun with and won’t break your budget.