Topical Class

Topical Class

The topical class is an Australian Philatelic Federation (APF) experimental class which may be included at Australian national philatelic exhibitions.  The aim of this class is to give collectors an opportunity to exhibit a variety of philatelic items that illustrate a specific topic or subject.  The APFs rules can be found

Typically stamp collectors save stamps, covers and other philatelic items from one country, or they collect items from topic or a theme they like.  Only a few people collect both.  The mode of collecting can usually be seen when a collector becomes an exhibitor.  Those who collect philatelic material from one country usually become Traditional, Postal History or Postal Stationery exhibitors.  Those who collect all material relating to a theme usually become Thematic or Topical exhibitors.  They sometimes expand their collection and exhibit to include ephemera and end up as Open exhibitors.

The differences between classes can be confusing.  This is especially true for the Thematic and Topical classes, notably because the philatelic material is similar.  The most important distinction between a thematic and a topical exhibit is that a thematic exhibit must tell a story while a topical exhibit must describe a topic.  For example, if the focus of your exhibit is a bird or bird group a topical exhibit will describe the scientific classification and show as many philatelic items as possible depicting the image of particular bird or bird group while a thematic exhibit will have a storyline that covers the origin, anatomy, physiology, reproduction, habitat, food sources, predatory nature, life, environmental impacts of the bird or bird group.  Hopefully, the differences will become clear by the end of this article.

Philatelic Material allowed for Topical

All items used in the exhibit must be philatelic and non-philatelic items such as artefacts and ephemera that might be used in Open class or Postal History 2b are not permitted.  This includes picture postcards unless they are Maximum cards or prepaid cards that were issued by a postal authority.   A simple way of understanding if an item is allowed is to check that it is acceptable in another approved class (excluding open, postcards or cinderellas).  All items should clearly show the topic and no complete stamp sets should be shown unless all depict the topic.

While the acceptable material is broad there are other guidelines that will help you get better marks for your exhibit if followed.  Traditional, postal history and postal stationery material should dominate.  You should have a variety of types of philatelic items, not just stamps.  Your exhibit should include items such as booklets, meter cancels, illustrated postmarks and postal stationery.  The material should come from a wide time period, so from pre-philately right up to current day philately.

Judging of Topical Exhibits

The marks for a topical exhibit are like other classes.

  • Treatment (including Title, Plan and Development)       35
  • Knowledge, Personal Study and Research                     30
  • Philatelic knowledge                           15
  • Subject Knowledge                             15
  • Condition and Rarity                           30
  • Condition                                             10
  • Rarity                                                   20
  • Presentation                                        5

Topical Treatment

Common subject areas for collectors include animals, birds, hats, trains, bridges, famous people, space, events such as Olympics or Word Cup and organisations such as the Red Cross or Scouts.  The subject of a topical exhibit can be almost anything but must be tight enough to make the exhibit suitable for the number of pages available.  So, for example, an exhibit entitled “Birds of the World” is just too broad to be exhibited.  The exhibit would need to be reduced to a subset of the topic so that it could be balanced over the five frames.  Perhaps “Flightless Birds” or on “The Pheasant Family”.

The title page shows the title, purpose, scope, and any exclusions of the exhibit.  It must have a plan that details the chapters and sub-chapters of the following pages.  It must cite the major references used and state how rarity is highlighted (see figure 1 for a typical topical title page).

Topical title page

Fig 1.

Care must be taken to make sure that the title is concise and specific.  Since the topical exhibit does not follow a story it needs the plan as the organizational structure and backbone from which the exhibit will develop.  The plan drives the purpose and scope of the exhibit and must be consistent with the title and have all the major aspects of the topic.  Since there is no story to be told “linkages” are important so the exhibit does not appear disjointed, rather having a sense of cohesion.  It must be organised in a logical sequence of chapters and sub-chapters using a classification that should help the reader understand the topic.  There should be no superfluous or missing areas.  The most common ways for a topical plan to be developed are:

  • Scientific / Taxonomic (see figure 2 -image gallery below)
  • Organisational (see figure 3  – image gallery below)
  • Event-related (see figure 4 – image gallery below)
  •  Form or Style (see figure 5 – image gallery below)

FIGURES – click on the images to view full size.

Part of topical treatment rests on the choice of classification, how logical it is and how finely it is detailed.  There should be a consistency between the title, the plan, and the development on the pages.  The chapters and sub-chapters should be balanced to their importance, significance, or relevance to the subject.  Overdoing one favoured subject or the section with the most philatelic material can result in obvious imbalance.

The amount of text used in the exhibit also needs to be considered as part of treatment.  It is usually best to use relatively little text in favour of letting the elements speak for themselves.  However, each page needs something to explain what the page is about.

Topical Knowledge, Personal Study and Research

Knowledge, like most classes, is divided into philatelic and subject.

Philatelic knowledge is shown by the selection of material and the variety of philatelic elements chosen.  There needs to be a broad representation of topic and material from all facets of philately as well as the widest possible range of countries and periods.  In topical exhibits redundancy (multiple examples of the topic on a single page) is expected since the exhibitor is purposely trying to show how the topical subject image is repeatedly depicted in various philatelic elements.

Items that are not obvious to the judge need to be explained with text under the item (rates, errors, types, etc.).  Philatelic studies add to knowledge if relevant and have important philatelic material.  Rarity statements (“One of X recorded”) plus source show knowledge.  As with other classes statements like “Scarce” or “Very rare” must be avoided.  See figures 6 and 7 for examples of topical pages showing philatelic knowledge.

Subject Knowledge can be demonstrated by the chapters and sub-chapters in the plan and the choice of material that best represents the topic.  The descriptive text should be correct, appropriate, and concise.

The exhibitor is rewarded for any research or new philatelic discoveries.  The appropriate use of existing literature needs to be shown.

Topical Condition and Rarity

Condition and rarity of material are assessed in the same way equally in all classes including topical exhibits.

Items should be in the best possible condition.  Rare material not in fine condition can be shown but common items must be faultless.  Cancellations should be clear and complete and must not cover or detract from the image of the topical subject.

Rarity Directly is related to scarcity and difficulty of acquisition, not the value.  Good topical exhibits would be expected to have some rare material, but rare items with insufficient relationship to the topic should not be included.  The title page should have information on how rare material is to be identified.

Topical Presentation

Presentation does not count for very much, but it has a large impact on the viewer’s impression and can affect how a judge looks at treatment and other aspects of the exhibit.  The presentation should be attractive, free of distractions and readily legible using large enough fonts for easy reading of the text.  Overcrowding is a tendency in topical exhibits.

The items should be balanced in the frames and individual pages.  The philatelic and topical write-up should be clear and concise.  The mounting of items should be careful and neat with no sideways or angle mounting.  Photocopies must be 25% different from the original.  Brightly coloured inks and pages must be avoided.


Finally, a table showing the elements of Topical, Thematic and Open Classes that aims to emphasise the differences and the similarities between these classes.

Understanding Differences between Topical, Thematic and Open Exhibits

Treatment - Title page, scope, plan referencesEssentialEssentialEssential
Treatment - PlanClassificationStory Story
Treatment - BalanceSub-classifications and elementsStoryline & chaptersStoryline & chapters
Philatelic Material
Valid in another class, all material to depict the topicValid in another class, material depicts story textAny material but Philatelic material is dominant.
Non-Philatelic Material
NoneNoneAny artefact and ephemera, picture postcards and borderline philatelic material such as illustrations on covers
Philatelic KnowledgeItem choice, philatelic descriptions, range of item types, countries and time periodsItem choice, philatelic descriptions, range of item types, countries and time periodsItem choice, philatelic and non-philatelic descriptions, range of material appropriate to elements used
Subject KnowledgeTopic knowledge, classification & element choice, topic textStory knowledge, thematic textStory, balance of philatelic and non-philatelic, story text
ConditionBest possible, damaged or altered items noted, legibility of cancelsBest possible, damaged or altered items noted, legibility of cancelsBest possible, damaged or altered items noted, legibility of cancels
RarityAppropriate to scope, clearly identified, quantified, difficult to duplicateAppropriate to scope, clearly identified, quantified, difficult to duplicateAppropriate to scope, clearly identified, quantified, difficult to duplicate
PresentationAesthetic appeal, write-up clear, concise & relevant, no overcrowdingAesthetic appeal, write-up clear, concise & relevant, no overcrowdingAesthetic appeal, write-up clear, concise & relevant, no overcrowding


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