For thousands around the world, stamp collection is a passionate hobby with no commercial motives involved but for many others it is a lucrative investment.
Since old and rare stamps are in great demand in the national and international market, there are people who invest money in stamps which they can sell for a handsome margin when the right offer comes.
"It is a business involving much less risk and more profitable than mutual funds or similar investment plans," a veteran stamp collector from Kerala in southern India said.
"Philately is a dignified hobby world over.
But many do that without being aware they can combine personal pleasure with business.
Most stamp buffs simply take out used stamps from letters to enrich their collection," Stephen Verghese, Director Gandhi Philatelic and Numismatic Study Centre, said.
Bank-interests and mutual fund rates can fluctuate due to market pressure, but value of rare stamps cannot collapse, Verghese, who is in the field for the last 30 years, told PTI.
He said one can open an account in a philately bureau with Rs 200 as fee and invest an amount as per one's capacity, which can fetch handsome returns in due course.
"Or take a membership in the name of your new-born daughter and invest a sum in her name.
You may be fortunate to get the amount to meet her wedding expenses by the time she attains eligible age," he said People joining philately bureaus and stamp clubs closely follow national and international stamp catalogues and await stamp auctions around the world to make the right investments, he said.
Philatelists usually collect stamps as mint stamps (unused ones), used stamps, first-day covers and stamp sheets.
Details of new releases from around the world are now available on the Internet and rare and precious stamps can be selected with the help of experts.
"We can collect stamps as single or as sheets.
If we buy a commemorative stamp sheet of 40 or 50 at Rs 5 for each, they can be sold for Rs 10 or more in two years as per the market trend," Verghese said.
However this does not mean one can blindly choose any stamp that one comes across and be sure of reaping a handsome profit in future.
"You have to be as shrewd as any market game and keep a close tab on prevailing trends.
Stamps are commemorative as well as definite.
As the first set is published only once,their demand will be huge.
But definite stamps are published in particular intervals.
If anyone desires to invest in stamp collection, make sure you select rare and commemorative stamps," he said.
For instance, a rare stamp of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi released in 1991 soon after his assassination was priced just Rs one.
"Now the same costs Rs 50 in the market.
The first day cover on Mahatma Gandhi brought out in 1948 was priced Rs 10 but it is priced at Rs 75,000 in England.
" In Kerala, the business side of stamp collection has begun to catch up with active support of philatelic bureaux and clubs in cities like Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Thrissur and Kozhikode.
They conduct auctions for collector to sell items for good profits, whose prices depend on antiquity and exclusivity.
Private biddings by local dealers and auctions on sidelines of stamp exhibitions are also common, he said.
A recent exhibition saw a person get Rs 23,000 for a stamp depicting a Madhubani Mithila painting, whose release price was just Rs three, Verghese said.
Those participating in national level auctions in Kolkata and Mumbai sometimes display collections on the Internet in advance so that buyers get an idea of items they can bid for.
Catalogues issued by Kolkata-based 'Philai India' every two or three years are considered Bible of Indian collectors as it has details of trends, market value, renewed price of each stamp and information on releases.
There are international catalogues like London-based Stanley Gibbons for serious players.
When 'Guru Granth Sahib' stamps released in 2005 were withdrawn due to protests from Sikhs, they sold like hot cakes.
A stamp on music legend Begum Akthar brought out in 1994 was withdrawn on a complaint that it was not upto standards.
But those who got it by chance will get a handsome profit now, he said.
Balamohan T, who collects and sells stamps, says some lobbies are making huge profits on releases by making them non-available to bureaus and clubs.
For instance, collectors in Kerala did not get the recently released 'Silent Valley' stamp issued to mark the silver jubilee of its declaration as a national park.
He said he went to other states to get some commemorative stamps.
The state, he complained, often received a raw deal in stamp release of eminent personalities compared to other areas While some gather stamps on thematic basis focusing on personalities like Mahatma Gandhi or Indian art, universities or wildlife, others search for antique and vintage stamps.
The Rs 10 stamp depicting Gandhi issued in 1948 is one of India's most famous and costliest stamps now.
A set of 200 were overprinted with the word "service" exclusively for official use of Governor General of India.
It was sold for 38,000 Euros in the David Feldman's auction in 2007, he said.
"It is valued at Rs 25 lakh in international market.
Bapu has a large number of stamps with his pictures followed by Queen Elizabeth.
Besides India, around 80 countries have released Gandhi stamps over the years.