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Philately is the study of stamps and postal history and other related items. Philately involves more than just stamp collecting which does not necessarily involve the study of stamps. It is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps.[1] For instance, the stamps being studied may be very rare or exist only in museums.



The word "philately" is the English version of the French word "philatélie", coined by Georges Herpin in 1864.[2]

Herpin stated that stamps had been collected and studied for the last six or seven years and a better name was required for the new hobby than timbromanie which was disliked.[3] He took the Greek root word phil or philo, meaning an attraction or affinity for something, and ateleia, meaning "exempt from duties and taxes" to form "philatelie".[4] The introduction of postage stamps meant that the receipt of letters was now free of charge, whereas before stamps it was normal for postal charges to be paid by the recipient of a letter.

The alternative terms "timbromania", "timbrophily" and "timbrology" gradually fell out of use as philately gained acceptance during the 1860s.[3]


The origins of philately lie in the observation that in a number of apparently similar stamps, closer examination may reveal differences in the printed design, paper, watermark, colour, perforations and other areas of the stamp. Comparison with the 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.


Traditional philately is the study of the technical aspects of stamp production and stamp identification, including:

  • The initial stamp design process.
  • The paper used (wove, laid, etc, and including watermarks).
  • The method of printing (engraving, typography, etc).
  • The gum.
  • The method of separation (perforation, rouletting).
  • Any overprints on the stamp.
  • Any security markings, underprints or perforated initials 'perfins'.
  • The study of philatelic fakes and forgeries.

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