By Kathryn Westcott
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has revealed that he likes to indulge in what has been called the hobby of kings - stamp collecting.
Stamp collector Nicolas Sarkozy is better known for energetic hobbies
Apparently he has been a stamp collector since he was a young boy and his collection is growing into one of the most impressive in the world. He now has the help of international leaders in filling his albums.
It's not the first time that a head of state has revealed a passion for philately. American president Franklin D Roosevelt was a stamp buff, as were a host of royals - England's King George V, King Farouk of Egypt, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, and King Carol II of Romania.
And there have been a few celebrities, too - John Lennon and Freddie Mercury. Not a very rock 'n roll pastime, but it appears that for them it was a childhood hobby.
It is interesting that Mr Sarkozy has chosen to reveal this insight into his character, because stamp collecting is not a hobby that people generally readily own up to, says Geoff Anandappa, investment portfolio manager at philatelic auctioneers Stanley Gibbons.
Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova, for one, regretted letting on that she enjoyed poring over albums.
In reply to a question by a journalist: "You're a stamp collector then?" she laughed and said "Oh God, stop. Everyone's calling me a dork now."
But Mr Sarkozy and his wife obviously feel comfortable with the revelation. Carla Bruni reportedly told friends that she was glad her husband was enjoying a more sedate hobby. He was known to have previously enjoyed karaoke.
Maria Sharapova regretted letting on she was a collector
But then in France, as in Germany and Scandinavia, philately is a well-respected hobby, says Mr Anandappa.
And in India, he says, it is something to be proud of - an indication that you are studious, and that you are a middle-class professional.
In the UK, however, people generally associate stamp collecting with school children, says Mr Anandappa.
"We're used to people saying that it must be a boring hobby. I meet many company chairmen who would not let on to their staff that they collect stamps," he says.
He estimates that there are at least 50 million stamp collectors around the world, around a third of whom are in China.
Generally, there are two types of stamp collector, those who simply collect for pleasure and those who are investors. According to Stanley Gibbons, there are only a few hundred serious stamp investors in the world.
The French president probably falls into the former camp, judging by a letter he wrote to the French Federation of Philately Associations (FFAP).
In it Mr Sarkozy pays homage
to the "world of artists, engravers, page designers... because it shows real talent to illustrate sometimes abstract topics, to create an original work of art for each stamp, covering such a small area."
The rare Hungarian Krone Green that was issued in error in Red
His hobby may also show a financially astute side. According to Stanley Gibbons, stamps are an extremely stable investment.
In 2008, the value of the GB 30 rare stamp index rose by almost 40 per cent.
Should Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy be looking for the ultimate gift to indulge her husband's passion, she might want to keep her eye out for one particular rarity.
The French president, whose ancestors came for Hungary, apparently has a particular interest in stamps from that country. In 2006, London auctioneer Spink sold one of the most valuable Hungarian stamps - an 1867 three Krone Green, which had been issued in red by mistake. The stamp was expected to sell for £30-40,000 but eventually realised £90,000.
According to Mr Sarkozy, stamp collecting is a good way to learn about other nations and their cultures. Franklin Roosevelt also used his collection to gain knowledge of the world during World War II.
Mr Adandapp draws parallels between Mr Sarkozy and former US president FDR.
"It may be unintentional that Mr Sarkozy is promoting stamp collecting during the economic downturn," he says, "but FDR helped making stamp collecting popular during the Great Depression. It's a good hobby for such times as it doesn't need to cost much."
Queen Elizabeth has one of the best collections in the world
The UK's King George V was one of the greatest collectors, according to Michael Pitt-Payne, of the Royal Philatelic Society in London.
"The King asked for stamps wherever he went. Because of that interest, the Queen is now presented with every new stamp that is issued throughout the Commonwealth".
The Queen now has one of the world's biggest collections, having inherited her grandfather's. But her interest is unlikely to match that of Mr Sarkozy's, as unlike the French president, she employs someone to manage her stamp collection for her, says Mr Pitt-Payne.
He says that the notion that stamp collecting is a boring hobby is far from the truth.
"Basically one can spend many a happy evening going through one's collection. It is absorbing and it engages the mind - it can be extremely satisfying, writing entries explaining your new additions," He says.
When collectors gather at the society, the last thing they want to talk about is stamps, says Mr Pitt-Payne.
"They talk about all aspects of their life - stamp collecting is just one of them."
And if Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy is looking for something to do when she puts down her guitar, she may be interested in the fact that according to Stanley Gibbons, philately is extremely popular with women.
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I am 82 years old and have been collecting stamps for 70 years. I have many rare items, which I have not seen my fellow collectors with.
Shabahat Ali Khan, Frankfkurt(Germany)
I remember when you could buy big, beautifully displayed cellophane-wrapped packets of stamps from almost every magazine stand in Europe. Pure magic -- with hours and hours spent going through the packet to discover all the treasures hidden there.
And what boy didn't take special pride in the stamps he'd collected from HIS country over and above all the others?
Curt Carpenter, Dallas, Texas USA
I enjoy stamp collecting because it is my moment of Zen. I forget all around me and immerse myself in the great variety of themes to which the stamps are dedicated. It relaxes me and gives me a glimpse of other countries & cultures. Mechelen in Belgium is the town where historically all Belgian stamps are printed.
I started collecting stamps as a young boy more than half a century ago and I have acquired considerable knowledge from this hobby. This is especially true when "dead" countries are reborn. During the conflict in the Balkans a few years ago I was one of the few people around here who had ever heard of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also recently when my niece went on a trip to the Maldives I was one of the few people who actually knew where it was situated on the map. My respect for President Sarkozy has just inceased in ten-fold.
Maurice Herman, Hazorea, israel
While I am not a philatelist (I am a numismatist - coin collector), I have to admire Mr. Sarkozy for acknowledging his hobby. There is no shame or embarassment on what one collects. Collectors come from all backgrounds, from world leaders like Mr. Sarkozy to everyday people like us. And as far as the "hobby of kings", that is how numismatics is described.
Michael D., Greenup, Illinois, USA
So it's not true that philately gets you nowhere.
Sue de Nym, Reading, UK
I enjoy stamp collecting. I started the hobby in 1973 when I was in elementary school. I have never looked at it as an investment. But if it can be a form of investment I would gladly sell some of my stamps now. Its just a better way way to learn about other countries and mine too.
John Volk, Lusaka, Zambia
I used to collect stamps when when I was between 7 and 9 years old, to be honest when I think back I feel embarrassed.
nash , Dublin
You see - there are other people as sad as me ;-)
The birth of the Internet is reviving the world's greatest hobby, philately. You can find stamps and covers from whatever country and on whatever topic you like and create a unique collection. A non profit webservice like MyPhilately.com supports you. The greatest danger to the hobby today is the great flood of new stamps i.e. speculation by postal services in collectors' money. Postal needs sadly no longer have priority. Having started in 1959 I am still passionate about the hobby. I am fascinated by the added contribution to collecting of postal history which may lead you to "dead contries" like Northern Borneo, British Central Africa and the Danish West Indies just to name a few. At present I build a collection around "the village of Chatou 20 km west of Paris". Adding genuinely used postcards helps in displaying the story. By the way. I am Danish, but at present living Malaysia.
Svend Waever, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I am a philatelist and even my own family call me an anorak and tease me. As a peaceful, interesting and educative hobby, you can't lick it!
I'm glad to hear that so many interesting and crowned heads are interested in stampcollecting and don't see it as something silly. A pity that with the coming in of e-mail not so many letters are send anymore by post and it is difficult now to get stamps from letters from around the world unless you buy them. The fun was to collect them from letters and it was always exciting when you got a letter from abroad with a lovely stamp on. Stampcollecting is very educational for what's on the stamp is usually something that is topical or a celebration or anniverary of something which teaches you about it.
JeanineBishopp, Crynant, Neath, Wales
Woah, it's nice to know there are others like us out there.
Being Egyptian I collect Egyptian stamps and have more than 5,000 now. It's a very exciting hobby and it really moves you when you organise them etc. The best part is getting to relax and go through the album. It's a real education and a nice thing to show other people. I do admit I do feel a little dorky about it all though.
Matthew, Sydney, Australia
Stamp collecting is how I learnt geography, which I cannot imagine being ignorant of. What was Magyar Posta, and Helvetia, and why did that country at the bottom of Africa have some stamps printed with Suid Afrika and others with South Africa. Where was Latvia? And what was Trucial States?
Terence Baker, Brooklyn, USA
I have been a stamp collector since my childhood and have inherited a reasonable large-rare one from my father,who has been in the British Residency Serice and died in 1927. I imagine that I have some items, which I have not seen with any other collector.Sarkozy's interest has awakened my sleeping interet.However, I am proud to be connected to the "Hobby of Kings."
Shabahat Ali Khan , Frankfkurt
I am 28 years old and have now been collecting stamps for over 20 years. Although i do not yell from the trees I am a philathelist, I take no shame or embarassement in admitting to it.
Ramon, Oxford, UK
It's an interesting hobby, the world and its history is reflected in these small pieces of paper. Usually those who are critical of this hobby, have never left their home town, sit in front of TV all day and slowly become vegetables never taking any interest or knowledge regarding the world around them.
Peter, Troy, US
Yep, I collect stamps. I admit it. Coincidentally Hungarian stamps, typically pre-1950s but also the surrounding countries simply as a consequence of how I have bought them in the past as "boxes" and albums from old collectors through auctions and the like. Sadly, I will never be either rich or professional as a philatelist, but is does give a relaxing pleasure and also fulfills a very male desire to collect things. The main problems are actually finding the time and space to continue with the hobby. Modern society and work means these are both very precious commodities in themselves, and for now my stamps have taken a back seat and live in a cupboard waiting for me. But that's the great thing really - unless you store them poorly, they will be there in years and decades to come.
Peter Galbavy, London, UK
There is nothing to be ashamed of being a stamp collector. I started 60 years ago, and still enjoy this hobby. I had to teach myself to read Russian so I could read what is on the stamps,and my sons have learned a great deal of geography from our stamp collections.
Ralph Phillips, Rishon Le Zion, Israel.
I think philately is called the "King of Hobbies" and not the "Hobby of Kings" which is probably reserved for numismatics.
Gopal, Kuala Lumpur
Hello! I am 24 and have been collecting Indian stamps since my school days. Very happy to read this article. The hobby has given me a chance to interact with so many people from various countries to whom otherwise I would have never communicated and thats the magic of this hobby.
Deepak Modi, Jalna, INDIA
I was a member of "stamp club" at school, but we were encouraged to fill albums that had spaces for specific stamps - we were just "collecting the set". I soon lost interest.
Philately is definitely the hobby for kings. I am a king, not a conventional one, and have kept stamps since I was a kid. I intend to pass my passion on to my kid. Stamps may not be as attractive as mobile phones but they sure tell you stuff that a mobile phone will not.
Bob MajiriOghene, Lagos, Nigeria
Recently I decided to buy "pretty" first class stamps, to make my post more distinctive. It wasn't long before I'd started keeping spares of my favourites in an album... but now it's for pleasure and I just keep those I enjoy looking at. It's surprisingly enjoyable and quite relaxing!
Flash Bristow, London UK
I have been collecting stamps on a very modest scale for over ten years. It is a terrific way to introduce yourself to places, people and topics you know nothing about. It is rewarding in many ways not least of all financial.
James McNeill, Glasgow Scotland
I started collecting stamps with my dad and brothers in the late 50's. A few years ago, mainly because of eBay, I started collecting my home country the Netherlands again and I now have a very valuable collection! I don't know anyone else that still collects stamps but I have made nice friends on eBay!
Daniel Kalmann, New York City, USA
My Father collects stamps and when he was younger sold some of his collections, however now he regrets this move and is now restocking his collection.
I love looking at his collection and hope to continue it with him, yes i'm an anorak, plus a sci-fi geek but who cares i enjoy what i enjoy
Lisa , Wales
YES, I agree with author's/reporter's views. Philately is indeed very thought-provoking, intelegent hobby. I started way back in 1959, as a small elementary school student.A sizable collection was already in our house(handed over from father to son), I simply started acquiring from various sources. Slowly the number of albums grew, & now I have asked my son to take over this fascinating hobby.A word of caution for all collectors: gaurd them like precious metals or cash; since some crooks can snatch them away.
Dinesh Deoras, Youngsville, USA.
I collect coins not stamps and I do not understand why it is supposed to be boring. Take almost any coin, say 1771 Russian five kopeks. Try to imagine who used this piece before it quietly settled down in your collection. What about an ancient coin? Or German 1934 two marks? Should be the same with stamps.
Yuriy, Ottawa, Ontario Canada
AS a child of 8 I heard the CBC Stamp Club on the radio back in the early 1950s. I sent away for the little "Introductory Kit" with the button and the "How to Collect Stamps" and have collected ever since. I believe I owe so much of my knowledge of geography, history, and culture of the world to my lifelong interest in stamps. I do not collect mint stamps as a rule. I enjoy the thought that someone sent a letter with a stamp I have, and I read all the postmarks as well.
MGibbs, Burlington, VT, USA
"How do you know that?" people ask me sometimes when a question about geography pops up. The answer is simple: "I have been collecting stamps!"
Gunnar Hovde, Faaborg, Denmark
i have been collecting stamps since chilhood... i am highly appreciate to know some of most popular people in the world are also philatelists.
mubarak al ghassani, Dubai -UAE