Definitions

philately

philately

[fi-lat-l-ee]
philately, collection and study of postage stamps and of materials relating to their history and use. Collecting stamps began soon after the first postage stamp was issued in 1840; the first printed catalog was issued in 1861, the first album in 1862. Scholarly study of the history of stamp issues and of details including watermarks, perforations, gum, and cancellations dates from the 1860s. Like coins, stamps provide evidence relating to portraiture, the impact of political events, and changing attitudes toward the past. Collectors usually concentrate on issues of definite areas (e.g., the Scandinavian countries) or on such specialties as airmail or commemorative stamps, stamps depicting subjects such as bridges, trades, or animals, or covers with special markings. The value of stamps depends on demand, rarity, and condition. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain owns the most valuable private collection in Europe, and some of the most important public collections are at the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

See annual catalogs issued by the Scott Publishing Company. See Scott's New Handbook for Philatelists (1967); R. J. Sutton, ed., The Stamp Collector's Encyclopedia (6th ed. 1966).

Inverted airplane airmail stamp, U.S., 1918

Collection and study of postage stamps. The first postage stamps were issued in England in 1840, and in the U.S. in 1842. Stamp collectors usually specialize, collecting stamps of one country, one period of time, or one subject (e.g., birds, flowers, art). Value depends on rarity and condition. An issue of stamps that includes a printer's error may have increased value.

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Philately is the study and collecting of revenue and postage stamps. This includes the design, production and uses of stamps after they are authorized for issue, usually by government officials such as postal authorities. Philately is the distinct activity of studying stamps, which may or may not include stamp collecting. For instance, some philatelists will study extremely rare stamps without expecting to own copies of them, whether because of cost, or because the sole survivors are in museums. Conversely, stamp collecting itself is the acquisition of stamps, at times without regard for origin or usage.

Etymology

The coining of the word "philately" in its French form has been thus far been historically attributed to Georges Herpin in the publication Le Collectionneur de timbres-postes, Vol. 1, November 15, 1864. It is formed from the Greek words philos (φίλος meaning "friend"), and ateleia (ἀτέλεια meaning "exempt from duties and taxes) as postage stamp(s) indicate that no service charge is to be collected from the recipient as they constitute franking and thus confirm the pre-payment of postal fees by the sender or another. The alternative terms "timbrophily" and "timbrology" are far less commonly used.

The origin of philately is in the observation that in a pile of stamps all appearing to be the same type, closer examination may reveal different kinds of paper, different watermarks embedded in the paper, variations in color shades, different perforations, and other kinds of differences. Comparison with records of postal authorities may or may not show that the variations were intentional, which leads to further inquiry as to how the changes could have happened, and why. To make things more interesting, thousands of forgeries have been produced over the years, some of them very good, and only a thorough knowledge of philately gives any hope of detecting the fakes.

One explanation for all the variation is that stamp printing was among the early attempts at large-scale mass production activity by postal authorities. Even in the 19th century, stamps were being issued by the billions, more than any other kind of manufactured object at the time.

Areas of philately

Basic or technical philately, then, is the study of the technical aspects of stamp production and stamp identification. It includes the study of

Topical, also known as Thematic, philately is the study of what is depicted on the stamps. There are hundreds of popular subjects, such as birds, insects, sports, maps, and so forth. Interesting aspects of topical philately include design mistakes (such as use of the wrong picture on a US stamp honoring Bill Pickett), design alterations (for instance, the recent editing out of cigarettes from the pictures used for US stamps), and the stories of how particular images came to be used (one US stamp from the 1920s shows a Viking ship apparently flying an American flag, but this was not a mistake; the stamp depicted a modern replica).

Postal history concentrates on the use of stamps on mail. It includes the study of postmarks, post offices, postal authorities and the process by which letters are moved from sender to recipient, including routes and choice of conveyance. A classic example is the Pony Express, which was the fastest way to send letters across the United States during the few months that it operated. Covers that can be proved to have been sent by the Pony Express are highly prized by collectors.

Cinderella philately is the study of objects that look like stamps but aren't stamps. Examples include Easter & Christmas Seals, propaganda labels, and so forth.

The results of philatelic study have been extensively documented by the philatelic literature, which includes many books and nearly 15,000 different periodical titles.

Philately is basically an activity of reading and study, but the human senses typically need augmentation. The stamps themselves are handled with stamp tongs or tweezers so as to preserve them from large, clumsy, and possibly greasy fingers. A strong magnifier reveals details of paper and printing, while the odontometer or perforation gauge helps distinguish a "perf 12" from a "perf 13".

While many watermarks can be detected merely by turning the stamp over, or holding it up to the light, others require the services of watermark fluid, such as benzine (not to be confused with benzene, which is toxic), carbon tetrachloride or trichloro-trifluoro-ethane that "wets" the stamp without dissolving gum or ink. Other techniques, such as using coloured light filters have been attempted in an effort to avoid the use of toxic substances.

Experts evaluating the authenticity of the rarest stamps use additional equipment such as fluoroscopes. Some stamps are printed with ink which fluoresces when exposed to ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light sources are also used to examine stamps and postal history for signs of repairs or various types of faults.

Organizations

General

Country focused

Topical

Postal museums

See also

References

  • Leon Norman Williams, Fundamentals of Philately (American Philatelic Society, 1990) ISBN 0-933580-13-4
  • Richard McP. Cabeen, Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting (Harper & Row, 1979)

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