What is philately?

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02 October 2018
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Philately is the study of postage stamps, postal history, and the history of the postal system. Find out more in our introduction to philately.

Philately is often used as another name for stamp collecting, but is subtly different, referring to the research and study of stamps, rather than simply the act of collecting stamps.

What do philatelists do?

Philatelists research, study and exhibit the production, use and collecting stamps. Examples of areas of study include:

  • How the postage stamp was designed
  • The printing process used (such as line-engraved, lithography, gravure)
  • The make-up of the stamp, such as the paper type, gum, and perforations
  • The varieties of a stamp, such as shade differences and ink markings
  • Errors on stamps, whether spelling mistakes or printing errors
  • The study of fake or forged stamps and the forgers who created them

What philatelic organisations are there?

There are many philatelic organisations around the world dedicated to the study of stamps, including:

  • Royal Philatelic Society London (RPSL)
  • Fédération Internationale de Philatélie (FIP)
  • The Association of British Philatelic Societies Ltd (ABPS)

What different types of philately are there?

There are a number of different 'classes' of philately, which are used to distinguish subjects when philatelists exhibit their stamps or postal history at official exhibitions. According to the ABPS, the classes are as follows:

  • Aerophilately
  • Astro-philately 
  • Literature
  • Maximaphily
  • Modern Philately
  • One Frame
  • Open Philately
  • Postal History
  • Postal Stationery
  • Revenue Philately
  • Thematic Philately (or Thematics)
  • Traditional Philately
  • Youth Philately
  • Open Philately
  • Picture Postcards

For definitions of these any many other philatelic terms, see the stamp collecting glossary.

Where does the term 'philately' come from?

'Philately' derives from the Greek words 'phillo', meaning an attraction to something, and 'ateleia', meaning exempt from tax (the introduction of the postage stamp meant letter no wlonger had to be paid for at the point of delivery). It is thought the word was created by French philatelist Georges Herpin who coined the term 'philatelie', of which the English version is 'philately'.