The Penny Red was used in the UK for many years (1841–1879), and comes in hundreds of variations which are subject to detailed study by philatelists.
Zeppelin mail from Gibraltar to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil via Berlin on the Christmas flight (12th South American flight) of 1934

Philately (/fɪˈlætəli/; fih-LAT-ə-lee) is the study of postage stamps and postal history. It also refers to the collection and appreciation of stamps and other philatelic products.[1] While closely associated with stamp collecting and the study of postage, it is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps.[2] For instance, the stamps being studied may be very rare or reside only in museums.


The word "philately" is the English transliteration of the French "philatélie", coined by Georges Herpin in 1864.[3] Herpin stated that stamps had been collected and studied for the previous six or seven years and a better name was required for the new hobby than timbromanie (roughly "stamp mania"), which was disliked.[4] The alternative terms "timbromania", "timbrophily", and "timbrology" gradually fell out of use as philately gained acceptance during the 1860s.[4] Herpin took the Greek root word φιλ(ο)- phil(o)-, meaning "an attraction or affinity for something", and ἀτέλεια ateleia, meaning "exempt from duties and taxes", to form the neologism "philatélie".[5]


Nineteenth century

As a collection field, philately appeared after the introduction of the postage stamps in 1840,[6][7] but did not gain large attraction until the mid-1850s. In the U.S., early collectors of stamps were known as "stamp gatherers". The United States Postal Service re-issued stamps in 1875 due to public demand for 'old stamps', including those from before the American Civil War.[8] Some authors[7] believe that the first philatelist appeared on the day of the release of the world's first postage stamp, dated to 6 May 1840, when the Liverson, Denby and Lavie London law office sent a letter to Scotland franked with ten uncut Penny Blacks, stamped with the postmark "LS.6MY6. 1840." In 1992 at an auction in Zürich, this envelope was sold for 690,000 francs.[9]

Already in 1846, cases of collecting stamps in large numbers were known in England. However, without reason for collection, stamps at this time were used for pasting wallpaper. The first philatelist is considered to be a postmaster going by the name Mansen, who lived in Paris, and in 1855 had sold his collection, which contained almost all the postage stamps issued by that time. The stamp merchant and second-hand book dealer Edard de Laplante bought it, recognizing the definitive collector's worth of the postage stamp.[10] Due to the boom in popularity and news of this transaction, stamp merchants like Laplante began to emerge.

Towards the end of the 19th century, stamp collecting reached hundreds of thousands of people of all classes. Some countries had collections of postage stamps – for example, England, Germany, France, Bavaria, and Bulgaria. In countries which held national collections, museums dedicated to the nation's history with philately were founded, and the first such appeared in Germany, France, and Bulgaria. Allegedly, the first of these museums housed the collection of the British Museum, curated by MP Thomas Tapling and bequeathed to the Museum in 1891. The Museum für Kommunikation Berlin also had an extensive collection of stamps. The largest private collection of the time belonged to Philipp von Ferrary in Paris.[7]

As the number of postage stamp issues increased every year, collection became progressively difficult. Therefore, from the early 1880s, "collector experts" appeared, specializing their collection to only one part of the world, a group of nations, or even only one.[11]

Twentieth century

1960 Soviet stamp marking Collectors' Day: "Philately serves the friendship of peoples."

Philately as one of the most popular types of collecting continued to develop in the 20th century. Along with the "Scott", "Stanley Gibbons", and "Yvert et Tellier" catalogs, the "Zumstein" (first published in Switzerland, 1909), and the "Michel" (first published in Germany, 1910) catalogs began publication.

In 1934, the idea to celebrate an annual Postage Stamp Day was suggested by Hans von Rudolphi, a German philatelist.[12] The idea was adopted rapidly in Germany, and gained later adoption in other countries. Stamp Day is a memorial day established by the postal administration of a country and annually celebrated, which is designed to attract public attention to, popularize the use of, and expand the reach of postal correspondence, and contribute to the development of philately.[7] In 1968, Cuba dedicated a postage stamp for Stamp Day with an image of G. Sciltian's "El filatelista".[13]

In 1926, the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie (FIP) was founded, where international philatelic exhibitions have been regularly organized since 1929.[7] The first World Philatelic Exhibition in Prague was held between August and September 1962;[14] in 1976, the FIP brought together national societies from 57 countries, which held over 100 exhibitions, and in 1987, over 60 countries entered the FIP.[7]

Since the middle of the 20th century, philately has become the most widespread field of amateur collecting, which was facilitated by:[11]

Philately magazines, at this time, were published as far east as Poland, and as far west as North America. In Canada, Canadian Stamp News was established in 1976 as an off-shoot to Canadian Coin News, which was launched about a decade earlier.

Philately was largely advanced by the USSR and nations within its sphere of influence, and the United States, France, the UK, and Austria. The British Library Philatelic Collections and the postal museums in Stockholm, Paris, and Bern had unique national philately collections at that time, and among the famous private collections are those of the Royal Philatelic Collection, F. Ferrari (Austria),[7] M. Burrus (Switzerland), A. Lichtenstein, A. Hind, J. Boker (U.S.), and H. Kanai (Japan).

In the mid-1970s, national philately organizations and associations existed in most countries, and 150–200 million people were involved in philately during meetings established.[16][6]

Twenty-first century

From 28 August to 1 September 2004, the World Stamp Championship was held for the first time in the history of world philately in Singapore.[17]


Traditional philately is the study of the technical aspects of stamp production and stamp identification, including:[11]


Expanding range of activity:[18]


Philately uses several tools, including stamp tongs (a specialized form of tweezers) to safely handle the stamps, a strong magnifying glass and a perforation gauge (odontometer) to measure the perforation gauge of the stamp.

The identification of watermarks is equally important and may be done with the naked eye by turning the stamp over or holding it up to the light. If this fails then watermark fluid may be used, which "wets" the stamp to reveal the mark.

Other common tools include stamp catalogs, stamp stock books and stamp hinges.


A large stamp show (philatelic exhibition) at which collectors and dealers meet

Philatelic organizations sprang up soon after people started collecting and studying stamps. They include local, national and international clubs and societies where collectors come together to share the various aspects of their hobby.

The world's oldest philatelic society is the Royal Philatelic Society London, which was founded on 10 April 1869, as the Philatelic Society. In North America, the major national societies include the American Philatelic Society; the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada; and the Mexico-Elmhurst Philatelic Society, International.

Local clubs and societies have been established in many cities of the world. The International Philatelic Federation was formed in 1926 which is originally based in Zürich, Switzerland but is now known to be the world federation for philately.[21]

See also


  1. ^ "Philately". Cambridge Dictionary. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 10 July 2023.
  2. ^ Carlton, R. Scott. The International Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Philately, Iola WI: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 196. ISBN 0-87341-448-9.
  3. ^ Herpin, Georges. "Baptême" in Le Collectionneur de Timbres-Postes, Vol. I, 15 November 1864, p. 20.
  4. ^ a b Williams, L.N. & M. Fundamentals of Philately. State College: The American Philatelic Society, 1971, p. 20.
  5. ^ Sutton, R.J. & K.W. Anthony. The Stamp Collector's Encyclopaedia. 6th edition. London: Stanley Paul, 1966, p. 232.
  6. ^ a b Vladinets, N. I. (1988). Great Philatelic Dictionary (in Russian). Radio and communications. p. 280. ISBN 5-256-00175-2. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Ilyushin, A.S. (1988). Encyclopedia of Cyril and Methodius (in Russian). Moscow: The company "Cyril and Methodius". Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  8. ^ A Sharp Eye on collecting US Classics (Sharp Photography Publications, 2021) ASIN B091MBTGJ7 (read online)
  9. ^ Novosylov V. А. (3 November 2008). "The birth of a postage stamp". Acquaintance with philately:The world of philately. Smolensk: The world of st@mps; Union of philatelists of Russia. Archived from the original on 9 January 2012. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  10. ^ Philatelic calendar for 1973. — М: Connection, 1972. — 16—22 July.
  11. ^ a b c "Philately | hobby". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  12. ^ Biography Hans von Rudolphi «Tag der».(in German) "Archived". Archived from the original on 25 September 2008. Retrieved 14 April 2008.
  13. ^ "G. Sciltian "El filatelista"". Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  14. ^ Bernhard K. Forum of philatelists of the globe // Soviet collector. — М: Connection publisher, 1963. — P. 42—48.
  15. ^ Williams, Leon Norman; Williams, Maurice (1958). Fundamentals of Philately. American Philatelic Society.
  16. ^ Sundararaj, John (15 August 2015). Philately: The Art of Stamp Collection. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1-5170-1465-0.
  17. ^ Strygin A. [1] Pictures from the exhibition. The first world stamp championship] // Independent newspaper. — 2004. — № 206 (3319). — 24 September.
  18. ^ Brennan, Sheila (15 June 2018). Stamping American Memory: Collectors, Citizens, and the Post. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-13086-3.
  19. ^ Dambrogio, Jana; Ghassaei, Amanda; Staraza Smith, Daniel; Jackson, Holly; Demaine, Martin L. (2 March 2021). "Unlocking history through automated virtual unfolding of sealed documents imaged by X-ray microtomography". Nature Communications. 12 (1): 1184. Bibcode:2021NatCo..12.1184D. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-21326-w. PMC 7925573. PMID 33654094.
  20. ^ Castellanos, Sara (2 March 2021). "A Letter Sealed for Centuries Has Been Read—Without Even Opening It". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  21. ^ "Philately: hobby". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 3 November 2020.

Further reading