philately (fĬlăt´əlē), 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).