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Organizing into Clubs

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Philatelic clubs and associations defined the practices of philately and helped to legitimize stamp collecting as a leisure-time activity. The formation of philatelic associations mirrored some of the processes undertaken by newly-forming professional associations that demanded its members uphold certain standards and practices. These societies, as almost exclusively all white, all male, and all admitted through sponsorship, demonstrated the exclusivity common to late nineteenth-century clubs. These collectors were part of a “consuming brotherhood” that emerged in the late nineteenth century. Spending money on dues and stamps was similar to how members of fraternal orders and elite dinner clubs consumed: purchasing costumes, paraphernalia, or cigars.1 Stamp societies created standards for normative collecting behaviors that lent legitimacy to their practice so outside observers would see purchasing stamps and collecting paraphernalia as non-frivolous and worthy expenditures.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Together with these new organizations, stamp collectors internationally distinguished themselves from other collectors by constructing their hobby as a scientific and rational pursuit. In contrast with those afflicted with a collecting mania, philatelists claimed to practice a rational leisure time activity they broadly defined as a “science” because their collecting work involved researching through observation, classification, and arrangement. The language of science permeated many aspects of everyday in the late nineteenth century. Definitions of science and who qualified to be called scientists was also highly contested. As Progressive-era social scientists worked to create a science of the socio-historical world, philatelists tried to utilize scientific practices by studying the world of stamps with support of their newly-created associations.2

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The idea that philately could be scientific may also have been rooted in nineteenth-century European philosophical ideas about writing history. This type of historical inquiry was promoted by the newly-formed American Historical Association and was taught in graduate programs training professional historians. Collecting documents for careful study and comparison helped historians draw conclusions about historical “facts” that led to supposedly objective histories.3 Although not seeking to answer historical questions, philatelists studied stamps as primary documents. Such research equated to scientific study in the minds of some. One British publication asserted, “If minute observation, research, dexterity, taste, judgment, and patience are sufficient to lift a pursuit from a hobby to a science then assuredly Philately is a science.”4

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Philatelic associations and individual philatelists perpetuated the idea that the collection and study of stamps was a scientific practice, even if they did not explicitly explain why. In one British book on philately, Arthur Palethorpe simply declared that “philately now ranks as a science,” equating the practices of philately with that of a serious discipline. A philatelist classified a stamp by country of origin, year issued, denomination, paper type, paper perforations, printing process, and subject. Careful observation of the ink or perforations of a stamp might lead a collector to find differences or perhaps a mistake. Because stamps were mass-produced, any differences within a sheet or printing were considered to have more value than the monetary amount assigned to that stamp.5 Stamp journals printed by philatelic associations described and defined philately as scientific. The editors of the American Journal of Philately commented that their readers enjoyed debating “in the field of our sciences,” while the Northwestern Philatelist billed itself as “a monthly magazine devoted to the sciences of philately.”6 Whether thinking about philately as scientific history or using the term “science” to gesture to individuals engaging in research and study of stamp design and production, incorporating this rhetoric was prevalent in stamp literature.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Collectors found support in the new philatelic associations and societies, as some hid their collecting habits from the hobby’s critics. Eva Earl, a contributor to Pennsylvania Philatelist, acknowledged that in 1894 it was “customary to laugh at the devotees to stamp collecting—all the world laughs.”7 Vindication of this push to recognize philately as a disciplined pursuit came in 1907 when British King Edward VII declared stamp collectors to be “scientists” and philately to be a “science,” as he elevated the London Philatelic Society to status of “Royal” by officially incorporating the Society with a royal charter. Most likely influenced by his son who amassed a large collection of stamps, the King observed the Prince researching and attending to his collection. Prior to the King’s proclamation, philatelists in the U.S. delighted in the establishment of a Section of Philately in the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences devoted to the study and promotion of stamp collecting in 1898. The Institute hosted lectures and meetings where collectors could bring their stamps for “study and comparison” for the purpose of making meetings “profitable and interesting.” More than a quarter century later, the Maryland Academy of Sciences elevated philately from a subsection of its history department to become its own department, placing philately, once again, “among the sciences.”8

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Defining their hobby as a science also offered philatelists an opportunity to achieve an expertise in the small bits of paper they collected, traded, or bought through stamp clubs and associations. Club founders and members were stamp dealers, who bought and sold stamps for a living, and casual collectors, who bought, traded, or sold their stamps during their free time. Informal meetings of collectors were not new, but when those collectors formed associations, they organized in a more systematic way. The first permanent organization in the world was the London Philatelic Group in 1869, now known as the Royal Philatelic Society. The American Philatelic Association (APA) formed in 1886 and its founders encouraged local affiliates to gather wherever “six philatelists can be brought together.” As a national society, the APA would connect smaller groups meeting across the country in the pursuit of philatelic knowledge.9


  1. 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0
  2. Mark A Swiencicki, “Consuming Brotherhood: Men’s Culture, Style and Recreation as Consumer Culture, 1880-1930,” Journal of Social History 31, no. 4 (Summer 1998): 773–808; Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (New York: Mentor, 1899); Charles McGovern, Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Daniel Horowitz, The Morality of Spending: Attitudes Toward the Consumer Society in America, 1875-1940 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985); McGovern, Sold American

  3. 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Paul Lucier, “The Professional and the Scientist in Nineteenth-Century America.” Isis 100, no. 4 (December 1, 2009): 699–732; Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). 

  4. 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Joyce Oldham Appleby, Telling the Truth About History (New York: Norton, 1994).). 

  5. 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 “Recent Sales of Postage Stamps,” Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art 6 (May 4, 1889): 287–88. 

  6. 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Arthur J. Palethorpe, The Study of Philately (Bury S. Edmund’s, England: Nunn, Christie & Co, 1886), 6; John M. Luff, What Philately Teaches: A Lecture Delivered before the Section on Philately of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, February 24, 1899 (New York, NY: n.p., 1915), http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15713/15713-h/15713-h.htm

  7. 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 American Journal of Philately, 2nd ser., 1 (1888): i; Northwestern Philatelist: A Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Science of Philately (Elk Point, South Dakota: J.C. Richard, R.J. Ellis, 1899-1900); American Philatelic Association, Catalogue of the American Philatelic Association’s Loan Exhibit of Postage Stamps to the United States Post Office Department at the World’s Columbian Exposition Chicago, 1893 (Birmingham, CT: D.H. Bacon and Company, 1893), 10; and Steven J. Diner, A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era (New York: Hill and Wang, 1998), 176-78. 

  8. 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Gelber, “Free Market Metaphor,” 755; Eva Earl, “A Girl’s Philatelic Reminiscence,” The Pennsylvania Philatelist 5, no. 3 (February 1894): 207–8. 

  9. 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 H.A. Talbot, “Communications Report,” American Philatelist and Yearbook of the American Philatelic Association<e,? 12 (1898): 27; “Collectors of Stamps Are Now Scientists,” The Pensacola Journal, February 3, 1907, sec. 2, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87062268/1907-02-03/ed-1/seq-9/#date1=1906&index=3&date2=1910&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&lccn=&words=collecting+postage+stamp&proxdistance=5&state=&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=postage&phrasetext=%22stamp%2Bcollecting%22&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1. H. Toelke, “Section of Philately, Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences—an occasional correspondent,” Weekly Philatelic Era, 14, no. 2 (October 30, 1899): 20; and “Second Exhibition of Postage Stamps by the Section of Philately of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences,” Weekly Philatelic Era 14, no. 14 (December 30, 1899): 118. Even the correspondent from the Brooklyn Institute signed off his contributions to stamp papers with “Yours in Science.” “Stamp Collecting Raised to Science,” Washington Post, June 19, 1925. 

  10. 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Halgren, 185-6. “Our Letter Bag,” Oliver Optic’s Magazine, Our Boys and Girls 12, no. 233 (1872): 827;Theo. F. Cuno, S.B. Bradt, and W.G. Whilden, Jr. to The Philatelists of the United States, June 25, 1886, in Official Circular Number 1, American Philatelic Association, (November 1886): i. 

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/revisions/building-philatelic-communities/organizing-into-clubs/