Stamp Collecting 101

Philately: The Art of Stamp Collecting


Stamp collecting is nearly as old as the postage stamp itself (that’s 1840!).  Stamp collecting – or “philately” – has evolved in many ways.  The hobby has something to offer anyone, regardless of age, experience, knowledge, or financial wherewithal.  Traditionally viewed as a solitary or even antisocial activity, it is true that stamp collecting can be done alone.  Philately can also be a socially intense hobby, with collectors meeting regularly in stamp clubs, congregating at stamp shows, corresponding with one another or meeting in online stamp forums.  It’s a hobby for intellectually curious people:  we like to think of stamp collecting as the “liberal arts college of hobbies.”

Philately is a such a big tent that there really is only one rule:  have fun!  If you feel like you need a second rule, a good one might be to take good care of your stamps to avoid damage.  Everything else is up to you and your interests.  

Many collectors enjoy the structure of a collecting hobby – the act of bringing order out of chaos is a common and important psychological underpinning of many collecting hobbies.  For many stamp collectors carefully arranging stamps into their proper places in an album satisfies that desire for organization. Other collectors enjoy the process of gaining and sharing knowledge by creating stamp exhibits or writing articles and books.  Still others enjoy the thrill of the hunt – whether it’s the missing stamp to complete a page in an album, a new item for an advanced collection, or a previously unrecognized rarity.  There are as many different paths in stamp collecting as there are stamp collectors.

That said, this course is designed to 

  • explain the material encountered by collectors
  • teach some stamp basics
  • offer some suggestions about common paths and methods of collecting
  • identify the typical tools of the trade used by collectors, and 
  •  point out some areas for further pursuit.  

The sessions listed here are short bursts of information (with some additional resources for further exploration) to help guide you along the highways and byways of philately, to share the pleasures of a hobby enjoyed by millions around the world, and to provide some guidance on what can be a lifetime of learning.  Feel free to use the glossary of philatelic terms to help your understanding of our lessons.

Stamp Collecting Fun: A Beginner’s Guide
As you peruse the lessons on this page, you may find some helpful pictures in this presentation that add to your understanding.

Course Outline

Lesson 1 

Lesson 2: More Stamps – A Slightly Deeper Dive Into Postal Services and Rates

Lesson 3: Anatomy of a Stamp

Lesson 4: Covers and Postal History

Lesson 5: What to Collect?

Lesson 6: Acquiring Material for Your Collection

Lesson 7: Assessing Condition

Lesson 8: Mounting, Storing and Displaying Your Collection

Lesson 9: Philatelic Tools and Accessories

Lesson 10: Philatelic Catalogs and Publications

Lesson 11: Stamps and the Internet

Lesson 12: Value

A printed reference for new collectors is found in the INTRODUCTION section of the Scott Catalogs published by Amos Media, often available through your local library.