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Early Stamp Collecting

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 People began collecting stamps in Great Britain and France soon after the postage revolution in the 1840s, and the practice spread to the U.S. The first dealers in the U.S., George Hussey, James Brennan, J.M. Chute, John W. Kline, and Ferdinand Marie Trifet were found in New York and Boston in the late 1850s and early 1860s. To promote a serious aspect of studying and collecting stamps, Georges Herpin coined the term “philately” in 1864, drawing on the Greek root “philos,” meaning fond of, and “atelia,” meaning exemption from tax or tax receipt. Early collectors in Great Britain focused on the colors and subjects of stamps. In contrast, French collectors began examining the elements of stamp production including the variation of shade, paper, watermarks, and perforations with less concern for the subjects. As a handful of international businessmen joined casual enthusiasts in analyzing stamps for their subjects and their production qualities, stamp collectors slowly became “philatelists.”1

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The earliest stamp collectors earned reputations as “cranks” who were afflicted with a disease, often referred to as the “collecting mania;” a perception that continued for decades after the hobby emerged in the 1870s and 1880s. Many collectors felt the need to justify why collecting stamps was not “a queer business” and battled accusations that they were engaged in a childish folly by insisting it was a worthy pursuit.2 Wealthy Americans and nouveau riche industrial capitalists collected fine art yet their behavior rarely was equated with a mania.3 Economically stable Americans of more modest means also learned to collect things in the nineteenth century, and stamps became one of the most popularly collected items. Collecting stamps appealed to many different audiences, and grew in popularity in part because of the ways that this budding hobby community organized in the U.S. during the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Philatelists began to connect with other collectors in the U.S. and by the 1880s, the first American stamp association had been established. Predating technical hobby clubs created after World War II, philatelic societies formed a national network of clubs in the nineteenth century to help legitimize their activities, to explain their hobby to a broader audience, and to increase the popularity of the practice.4

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 By the early twentieth century, a stamp collecting culture emerged as collectors established communities by forming membership clubs, published and circulated hundreds of philatelic papers, and encouraged others to collect. These communities sought to define themselves by a set of practices and behaviors that distinguished members as “philatelists” and constructed philately as a type of scientific pursuit. Comprised predominantly of white male members of financial means, members wanted to attract new collectors to philatelic clubs, but they also constructed barriers and rules that reinforced exclusivity of the privileged represented by their paying members.5

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Other collectors never joined clubs but participated in the philatelic culture through the circulation of stamp literature and exposure through mainstream media collecting columns and stories about new commemorative releases. These institutional structures helped to shape how philatelists and collectors viewed themselves and how they practiced their hobby. This community became influential as the hobby grew in popularity and in the ways that philatelists shaped stamp production in the U.S. through the early twentieth century.


  1. 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0
  2. Stanley M. Bierman, The World’s Greatest Stamp Collectors (New York: Frederick Fell Publishers, 1981); and “Good as Chest Protectors,” New York Times, January 23, 1893. Some European collectors preferred the term “timbrology” to refer to stamp collecting. “Timbre” is the French word for stamp. Mauritz Hallgren, All About Stamps: Their History and the Art of Collecting Them (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940), 177-185; and Mary H. Lawson, “Philately,” Arago: People, Postage and the Post (Washington, D.C.: National Postal Museum, May 16, 2006), http://www.arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=1&cmd=1&mode=1&tid=2027477

  3. 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “The Collecting Mania,” Washington Post (originally published in New York Tribune), March 17, 1889, 12; E. D. Koontz, “‘Collectin’ Stamps,” The Philatelic West and Collectors World 77, no. 1 (September 1920): 29. 

  4. 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Gabriel P. Weisberg et al., Collecting in the Gilded Age : Art Patronage in Pittsburgh, 1890-1910 (Pittsburgh, Pa. Hanover: Frick Art & Historical Center ; Distributed by University Press of New England, 1997).; and “Collecting Past and Present,” The Nation 109, no. 2841 (December 13, 1919): 736-77. 

  5. 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Kristen Haring, Ham Radio’s Technical Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007). 

  6. 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The Book-of-the-Month Club is an example of that tension. Janice A Radway and NetLibrary, Inc, A Feeling for Books the Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire (Chapel Hill, N.C: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).  

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/revisions/building-philatelic-communities/early-stamp-collecting/