Friday, August 03, 2012

Topical vs Thematic: choose your side

I am a member of the ATA, the American Topical Association.  As such I receive, every two months, the very good publication “Topical Time” that I always read with a lot of pleasure.  In the last May-June issue there is a big debate about Topical Philately vs Thematic Philately.

As first glance I thought it was a rather rhetoric debate. The main reason is that in French we don’t really make a difference between Topical and Thematic: we use the same word “Thématique”.  But reading further the articles and letters to the editor I realized that there is a real difference that I wanted to share with you.

A topical philatelist (well I would prefer to say a topical stamp collector if you don’t mind), so a topical stamp collector is interested in a TOPIC and collects all stamps that picture his/her TOPIC.

A thematic stamp collector is also interested in a TOPIC but he/her will choose a thematic approach for this topic and will collect all stamps that help him/her to illustrate the theme.

For instance: I am a topical stamp collector, because I do collect all stamps picturing frogs.

But I could have chosen a thematic approach such as “frogs in their natural environment” and I would have added to my collection stamps picturing water-lilies (where you often find frogs) or dragonflies (that are part of the diet of frogs).

Also in this case I would not search for each and every stamp picturing frogs, but just enough stamps to illustrate the story I would like to tell.
Another example of a thematic approach would be to tell about frogs in fairy tales and my collection could include stamps picturing famous authors of those tales.

As you can see, both ways of collecting are not really in opposition. They are more complementary. And in fact the thematic collection is more a collection built for exhibition. I never saw a philatelist exhibiting his/her topical collection by showing all the stamps he/she had gathered on the topic. But each time they choose a “story to tell” and they use stamps to illustrate it as in the thematic approach.

The reading was really interesting. And now I know that I’m a topical collector and not a thematic one ;-)

What about you? 

1 comment:

Ralph_collection said...


Nice article!

I'm both topical and thematic, basically a worldwide stamps collector.