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Who Collected Stamps?

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Kings, queens, lords, czars, and American politicians put a public face on philately in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century periodicals, but most American collectors were not famous or worthy of headlines. They worked in a variety of occupations and lived both in rural and urban areas. Rogers’ American Philatelic Blue Book of 1893 indicated that late-nineteenth-century stamp collecting was truly a pursuit of young adults who worked in a variety of occupations. The Blue Book listed more farmers than doctors and more clerks than bankers, and showed that skilled workers such as electricians, carpenters, blacksmiths, quarrymen, patternmakers, and coal miners publicly identified themselves as stamp collectors.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Breakdown of Stamp Collectors' Ages, Rogers Philatelic Blue Book of 1893Breakdown of Stamp Collectors’ Ages, Rogers Philatelic Blue Book of 1893

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 More than half of the 2000 respondents did not belong to a philatelic association, but they must have occasionally read a philatelic paper to know about Rogers’s free listings in this directory.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Occupations of stamp collectors, Rogers Philatelic Blue Book, 1893Occupations of stamp collectors, Rogers Philatelic Blue Book, 1893

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Directories, like Rogers’s Blue Book and others printed by prominent philatelic publisher, Mekeel’s, showed that collectors lived in big cities and small towns across the U.S. Most collectors listed themselves by their last name and first initials, making gender speculation difficult, but the occupations listed indicate that most were male. Rogers compiled his directory to grow membership in the American Philatelic Association, of which he was a member.1

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Circulating lists of collectors with their addresses also gave people the opportunity to facilitate communities across geographical boundaries via the mail system by writing to others seeking to trade or buy stamps. By the 1890s, stamp collecting was an established pastime shared by many men working in white and blue collar occupations across the country who had a few extra dollars and hours to spend on a hobby, and some of them joined newly-forming philatelic clubs.

Women Collectors

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 For a hobby that men appeared to dominate, at least publicly, it is intriguing that women played a formative role in shaping the mythology of early philately. One philatelic writer claimed that the first gatherings of stamp collectors in Paris in the 1860s were hosted and attended by women who exchanged their duplicate stamps on Sunday afternoons in the Tuilleries Gardens. When the postage system was still new in Britain, women collected stamps featuring the profile of reigning monarch Queen Victoria. In the 1880s, women’s magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book and Ladies’ Home Journal proposed that stamp collecting was an appropriate activity for women. Because it was an indoor amusement, “restful” and “quieting after the mind has been busily occupied with duties,” it was viewed as a proper way for middle-class women to spend their leisure time. Women were well suited to the pastime because it involved creativity—when arranging a collection—that capitalized on their “natural artistic tastes.” Godey’s instructed women how to decorate tables with stamps, and Ladies’ Home Journal taught women how to throw a “fad party” that included a stamp collecting hunt.2 This style of collecting and using stamps by women was seen by some club philatelists, as noted by one in 1919, as lacking “the great principles of philately.”3 Those principles emerged with the establishment of a network of philatelic clubs in the 1870s, ‘80s, and ‘90s that guided members to organize and analyze stamps in particular ways.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Club philatelists, for example, never advocated decorating with stamps, but rather urged collectors to protect and save stamps carefully in albums. Since collecting and presenting stamps in those ways were not valued by philatelists, most material evidence of those pieces was not saved. Nonetheless, articles in women’s magazines exposed women to the hobby even when they were not accepted into many philatelic clubs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Non-Club Collectors Influenced by Popular Press

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The popular press also exposed the diverse American public to information about stamp collecting and increased interest that may have led to broader adoption of the hobby. Whether extolling the values of collecting, perpetuating the idea that anyone could find a rare stamp in a box of old letters, or by framing stamp collecting as a “mania,” stamp collecting was in the news. The presence of stamp collecting articles in U.S. newspapers and magazines was not overwhelming, but the numbers of articles increased greatly from the 1870s to the 1930s, marking a sharp growth in exposure never shared by similar hobbies, including coin collecting.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 By searching the contents of the Proquest Historical Newspapers database, the Proquest American Periodical Series, and the Readex databases of African American Newspapers and African American Periodicals, it is possible to see an overall increase in numbers of articles referring to philately and stamp collecting in the 1890s, and then again in the 1920s and 1930s.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Search results from ProQuest Historical Newspaper database.Search results from ProQuest Historical Newspaper database

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Articles first appearing in larger market papers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post were often reprinted in smaller markets papers, as found in the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America newspaper project representing regional and local newspapers, and in the African American newspapers.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Search results from the Library of Congress's Chronicling America.Search results from the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Results from the American Periodicals Series OnlineResults from the American Periodicals Series Online

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 The fewest total articles appeared in the African American press, meaning there was less casual exposure to philately than to readers of the major dailies.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Results from African American Periodicals, 1825-1995 collection, ReadexResults from African American Periodicals, 1825-1995 collection, Readex

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Results from African American Newspapers, 1827-1998, ReadexResults from African American Newspapers, 1827-1998, Readex

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 As early as the 1870s, youth magazines promoted stamp collecting as an appropriate and educational activity for young people. St. Nicholas was among the first non-philatelic publications to devote valuable copy space to promoting stamp collecting. It published numerous articles on stamp collecting that offered primers to teach child readers about stamps from different nations and the practices of collecting. St. Nicholas began a trend that many other periodicals would soon follow. In 1910, the Christian Science Monitor began publishing regular articles on stamps for young readers and The Youth’s Companion started their stamp collecting column in 1919.4

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 This trend spread to the dailies as well. In the late 1920s, the Los Angeles Times printed a regular hobby column that often included articles on stamps; the Chicago Daily Tribune began a Sunday stamp column in 1932; and the Washington Post added the “Stamp Album” to their Junior Post section for young readers in 1934. The New York Sun even bought ads in the Chicago Tribune inviting its readers to subscribe to the Sun’s Saturday paper specifically to read their special stamp collecting section. In 1936, the Philatelic Almanac listed 150 papers supporting stamp departments that generated regular articles or columns.5

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 With all of this philatelic news circulating through the popular press, it is difficult to assess the exact number of collectors at a given time, although we can see how it trended in attention. The pinnacle of stamp collecting is often thought to be from the 1930s through the 1950s, but we can see that many people collected in the decades prior to the Great Depression who did not belong to a club. Readers of different ages learned about collecting in periodicals and collected without the requirements of clubs because they were interested in the content or the cataloging of stamps.


  1. 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0
  2. Albert R Rogers, Roger’s American Philatelic Blue Book, Containing a List of Over Two Thousand Stamp Collectors and Dealers, Philatelic Papers and Societies, with Valuable Information Concerning Them, and Seven Hundred Advertisements of Collectors and Dealers. (New York, Albert R. Rogers, 1893). Rogers’ Blue Book provided some excellent information about collectors not found in other directories of collectors (such as Mekeel’s), particularly age, occupation, and affiliations. Out of the 2000 collectors listed, only 1718 were American collectors, and only 54 identified themselves solely as dealers. Every person did not answer every question. Roger’s did not ask about race or gender of collectors, so I have no way of knowing those critical pieces to this puzzle. Most listed themselves with initials only so it is too difficult to speculate on gender. He placed ads in various stamp publications and sent notices to stamp clubs in the U.S. and Canada to gather the names in this directory. See my transcription of some of these totals: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AswRKpQyX0l4dDNCbHJ2V2RXQzV3NGN4RThKbWpwRFE&usp=sharing Mekeel, Mekeel’s Stamp Collectors’ and Dealers’ Address Book, 138. A handful of individuals listed a business or school address so you can see some occupations of these collectors. It is unclear to me whether some of those listed under colleges are students, staff, or professors. Mekeel required payment of $1.00 to be listed in his directory, but all of those listed also received free space for an exchange notice where they described what type of stamp varieties they collected. 

  3. 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 “Work Department,” Godey’s Lady’s Book 101, no. 605 (1880): 477. Reported by London Tit-Bits but reprinted in “Costume of Postage Stamp,” Eagle County Blade, 1905. MacClung Strickler, “To Make a Postage Stamp Collection,” Ladies’ Home Journal 18, no. 4 (1901): 6. In the fad party, stamps were hidden around the house and participants had to find as many stamps as possible until a bell sounded to end the hunt. Bertha A. Law, “A Novel Fad Party,” Ladies’ Home Journal 21, no. 12 (1904): 57. 

  4. 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 “The Beginning of Philately,” American Philatelist 33, no. 5 (1919): 161. Other stories referenced included how one woman placed an advertisement in the London Times in 1841 seeking canceled stamps to decorate her dressing room. And in 1842, Punch poked fun at female collectors who anxiously sought out the Queen’s head by collecting images of Victoria postage stamps. 

  5. 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Crawford Capen, “Stamp-Collecting: How and What We Learn From It,” St. Nicholas, An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, January 1894; “Stamps to Stick,” Youth’s Companion, March 20, 1919; Russell J. Reed, “Junior Philatelist,” Christian Science Monitor, August 13, 1910;  

  6. 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 “The Growing Interest in Phliatley,” Collectors Club Philatelist 11, no. 2 (April 19, 1932): 133; H.M. Harvey, “Philatelic Departments,” Mekeel’s Weekly Stamp News 46, no. 46 (November 14, 1932): 564; “Announcing a New Department on Stamps and Stamp Collecting,” display ad, Chicago Daily Tribune, September 4, 1932; J.C. Salak, “Philately,” Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1928, sec. L; “The Stamp Album,” Washington Post, July 23, 1933; “For Stamp Collectors,” display ad, Chicago Daily Tribune, May 2, 1934; and Frank L. Wilson, The Philatelic Almanac: The Stamp Collector’s Handbook (New York: H.L. Lindquist, 1936), 107-09.  

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/2014version/building-philatelic-communities/who-collected-stamps/