DO YOU think stamp collecting is about trotting down to your local post office counter every few weeks to pick up a couple of quid’s worth?

You’re right.

Or perhaps you think it’s about buying three rare stamps a year at hair-whitening prices from obscure dealers or frantic auction houses?

Right again.

Or is it about researching the postal history of some forgotten 19th century province with a zeal usually found only among Phd students and their supervisors?

You guessed it: right again.

You’d still be right no matter what answer you gave, unless it was a really silly answer such as “Potato”, “Snail” or “Fish”.

Come to think of it, though, you’d almost certainly be right even if you came up with an answer like that. Switzerland, for example, issued a special stamp to commemorate the Year of the Potato in 2008, while as recently as last year Britain added to an impressive global list of snail stamps with a cute 62p effort showing one of the molluscs being ridden by a pixie.

And fish? There are so many thousands of stamps with fish on them that they form an entire branch of collecting on their own.

On Saturday stamp and postcard enthusiasts from throughout the country, and perhaps a few other countries, will be at St Joseph’s Catholic College in Ocotal Way for SWINPEX, one of the biggest collectors’ fairs outside London and easily the biggest in the South West.

SWINPEX has been around since 1989, but is a mere stripling compared to the body that organises it.

The Swindon Philatelic Society was founded in 1943, and collectors at early meetings in the old Town Hall in Regent Street sometimes had to dive under tables with their albums when air raid sirens sounded.

The Society member in charge of publicising SWINPEX is David Gibbon, a 66-year-old retired Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer who lives in Wroughton. And no, he’s no relation to Edward Stanley Gibbons, the late founder of a vast philatelic business empire.

“Last year we must have had six or seven hundred people at SWINPEX,” David said. “It was a bumper year.

“You can never tell how many people are going to come – there’s the weather and this year there’s the World Cup!

“There are fairs in London with 100 or 120 dealers. We have 48, but our fair is the biggest and without doubt the best in the South West, and we have other attractions.”

Those attractions include talks and exhibitions by the Royal Philatelic Society and more than a dozen other groups representing just about every imaginable approach to the hobby. There will be competitions, offers, sales and ample opportunity to sit down with a cup of tea and decide what to see next.

The issue of why people collect anying in the first place is one of those ‘how long’s a piece of string?’ debates, but perhaps it’s something to do with a fondness for conquest, hunting, competition and challenges.

But why stamps in particular? According to David, it’s probably because of the sheer variety to be found within a single hobby.

He said: “It’s geography, it’s history. It’s truly an international hobby with thousands of collectors in every country.

“Collectors are both young and old. Their interests vary from filling spaces with the cheapest stamps that they can afford to the serious philatelists who spend thousands of pounds building up valuable collections.”

There are even specialist investment advisers who assemble portfolios of rare stamps. Prices of such examples have risen for the last four years.

When I asked David how long he’d been collecting, he simply held his hand about three feet above the ground. A childhood interest in British Commonwealth collecting has paved the way some years later to the philatelic passion that has gripped him ever since: Mauritius.

He caught the bug when a well-travelled uncle gave him some stamps from the Indian Ocean island republic that was ruled over by the Dutch, French and British before gaining independence.

And the stamp he would keep if collectors were allowed just one?

“That would be a Mauritius Revenue 50 rupee stamp from 1927,” he replied simply. “It’s attractive and quite valuable.”

SWINPEX runs from 10am to 4.30pm, and further information about the fair and Swindon Philatelic Society can be found at