Within philately, there is a tendency for collecting areas to attain greater specificity and refinement as their markets develop. For decades, German collectors were considered the most "advanced" within the philatelic community, and as with other advanced markets, collecting of Germany and Area (its colonies, offices, occupation stamps, etc.) includes the collecting of varieties, cancels, covers, and many other niches, as well as a sophisticated awareness of condition grading, and detection of fakes and forgeries. As a philatelic market develops for stamps of a particular country, the collecting of the better items from that country is no longer the simple "fun" that a child might have in accumulating pretty little pieces of paper. The "fun" becomes more complex - the stamp is not merely an object of beauty or even of historical, cultural, or geographical interest; its presence in the album brings the collection closer to completion, and it is has value because collectors value it. To some extent, the buying and selling stamps may be considered a hobby or obsession as much as a business, because the intensity of absorption and level of knowledge and understanding required to do it successfully blurs such distinctions. At the most advanced levels, the stamp investor comes to realize that he is not merely investing money, but a part of himself. The hobby takes on aspects of a community, a world unto itself.
Until the beginning of the Industrial Age about 200 years ago, only the wealthiest members of society had the means and leisure time to pursue any form of intellectual enrichment, including collecting. Until then, there was no "middle class" of any consequence, nor did most people survive until middle age. Most people were illiterate or semi-literate, spent most of their time working and providing for the survival of their families, and lived in hovels. The "Renaissance Man" or "man of the world" was usually an aristocrat or successful merchant who might form a collection of art or other objects with which he could impress his wealthy friends.
In effect, high culture is no longer monopolized by the wealthy, nor is "popular culture" considered vulgar or plebeian. There has been an intermixing and commodification of the two realms, and the artifacts of culture are now assigned monetary value by the invisible hand of the market. The effects of this new orientation go far beyond a transformation in perspective of those who consider themselves collectors. As most humans now belong to a competitive, predominantly capitalist global society, even those who do not actively participate in the collectibles market are influenced, and persuaded to take account of the value of these commodities when opportunities arise. Objects which were once collected purely for pleasure -out of a sense of wonder, or based on feelings of nostalgia- are now viewed as valuable and important representations of the world's culture. Even those who are not inclined to collect anything may be drawn into the web for purely economic reasons. We are all becoming Renaissance Men and Women: worldly, pragmatic, and open to appreciating the value of things once deemed trivial, exotic or obscure. And at the very top of this new Tower of Babel that is the collectibles market resides a priesthood of oracles and astrologers, predicting and profiting from the vagaries of economic and demographic trends affecting the future values of these objects which the world has come to treasure.