Philatelic literature
Philatelic literature is written material relating to philately
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...

, primarily information about postage stamp
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

s and postal history
Postal history
Postal history is the study of postal systems and how they operate and, or, the study of postage stamps and covers and associated material illustrating historical episodes of postal systems...

Background to philatelic literature

Consider a letter found pressed between the pages of an old book, sent from a relative working in a remote part of the world. How did the letter get from there to here? Was there a company mail boat that carried it, or was there a remote town with its own post office? Was the sender in an independent country, or a colony too small to issue its own stamps? Why did the recipient's country accept the expense of carrying the letter the rest of the way, and if it didn't, how did it arrange to get paid for delivering the letter? Come to think of it, how did the letter cross the border? Philatelic and postal history research answer these sorts of questions, and the results are then published in a variety of books and journals.

Main types of philatelic literature

Philatelic literature is generally divided into the following categories:
  • Stamp catalogues
    • Single country catalogues
    • Worldwide catalogues
    • Geographic area catalogues (e.g. Africa)
    • Time period catalogues (e.g. Reign of King George V)
    • Specialized catalogues (e.g. postmarks, plate blocks, perfins, etc.)
  • Periodicals
    • Journals
    • Society newsletters
  • Auction catalogues
  • Books
  • Bibliographies of philatelic literature
  • Background material - Non philatelic material useful to stamp collectors. For example, currency exchange rates, maps, newspapers etc.

The stamp catalogue

Perhaps the most basic sort of literature is the stamp catalog
Stamp catalog
A stamp catalog is a catalog of postage stamp types with descriptions and prices.The stamp catalog is an essential tool of philately and stamp collecting...

ue. This is basically a list of types of postage stamps along with their market values.

The first stamp catalogue was published in France by Oscar Berger-Levrault
Oscar Berger-Levrault
Oscar François George Berger-Levrault was a French philatelist. The invention of the stamp catalogue is attributed to him and to the Englishman, John Edward Gray.-Life:...

 on 17 September 1861 and the first illustrated catalogue by Alfred Potiquet
Alfred Potiquet
Alfred Potiquet was a French official who was responsible for the first illustrated stamp catalogue in the world.Alfred Potiquet developed his catalogue on the basis of the postage stamp and postal stationery register of the Strasbourg bookseller, Oscar Berger-Levrault...

 in December 1861 (based on the earlier work).

The first catalogues in Great Britain were published in 1862 by Frederick Booty
Frederick Booty
Frederick William Booty was an artist, living in Brighton, England, who was also the author of the first postage stamp catalogue in English, and the first illustrated stamp catalogue anywhere.- Education :...

, Mount Brown
Mount Brown (philatelist)
Mount Brown was an early British philatelist and the compiler of only the second published stamp catalogue in the English language...

, and Dr. John Edward Gray
John Edward Gray
John Edward Gray, FRS was a British zoologist. He was the elder brother of George Robert Gray and son of the pharmacologist and botanist Samuel Frederick Gray ....

. The first in the United States was The Stamp Collector's Manual by A.C. Kline (a pseudonym for John William Kline), also 1862.

Some catalogues, like the Michel catalog
Michel catalog
The Michel catalog is the largest and best-known stamp catalog in the German-speaking world. First published in 1910, it has become an important reference work for philately, with information not available in the English-language Scott catalog.The catalog started out as a price list for the dealer...

ue and various one-country catalogues, offer a great deal of information going beyond the basic properties of each stamp type.

The single country book

Another common sort of book is the comprehensive "Stamps and Postal History" of a single country. These go beyond the basic date, denomination
Denomination (postage stamp)
:This article deals with the price of a postage stamp. For other meanings of the word 'denomination' see Denomination .In philately, the denomination is the "inscribed value of a stamp"...

, and market price seen in the catalogues, explaining why particular stamps were issued, where and how they used, and more generally how the country's postal system worked in various periods.

The specialised study

The next level of specialization is remarkable both for the level of minutiae and the number of works that have been published. Specialists write monographs summarizing everything that is known about a single type of stamp - the history of its design, the printing process, when and where the stamp was sold to the public, and all the ways it was used on mail. If the stamps is particularly rare (the Inverted Jenny
Inverted Jenny
The Inverted Jenny is a United States postage stamp first issued on May 10, 1918 in which the image of the Curtiss JN-4 airplane in the center of the design was accidentally printed upside-down; it is probably the most famous error in American philately...

 or the missionary stamps of Hawaii
Hawaiian Missionaries
The Hawaiian Missionaries are the first postage stamps of the Kingdom of Hawaii, issued in 1851. They came to be known as the "Missionaries" because they were primarily found on the correspondence of missionaries working in the Hawaiian Islands...

), the book may actually include a census
A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common...

 of every single copy known to exist. As might be expected, the audience is small, and the print runs of these books are small too. Classic works out of print
Out of print
Out of print refers to an item, typically a book , but can include any print or visual media or sound recording, that is in the state of no longer being published....

 may be much-sought-after, sometimes even more than the stamps they are describing!

Other kinds of specialized work include comprehensive studies of postal usage in limited areas and times, perhaps mail in Montana Territory before it became a state, or mail from missionaries in Uganda before it became a British colony.

The philatelic journal

In addition to books, there are a great number of philatelic journals. The first stamp magazine was the Monthly Intelligencer from Birmingham, England, followed shortly by many others. The journals and newsletters of clubs and societies also have an important role in philatelic literature. Many journals only run for a few numbers and then cease but they often contain information found nowhere else and therefore are valuable sources for philatelists.

Some popular philatelic periodicals are:
  • The American Philatelist
    The American Philatelist
    The American Philatelist, published by the American Philatelic Society, is one of the world's oldest philatelic magazine still in operation; its first issue dates from January 10, 1887....

     - worldwide topics with a focus on USA
  • Canadian Stamp News - worldwide topics with a focus on Canada
  • Deutsche Briefmarken Zeitung (Germany)
  • Gibbons Stamp Monthly
    Gibbons Stamp Monthly
    Gibbons Stamp Monthly is a leading British philatelic magazine which can trace its roots back to 1890. GSM is published by the famous stamps and collectables firm of Stanley Gibbons and each issue includes updates to their various catalogues....

     (UK) - worldwide topics with a focus on Great Britain and the British Commonwealth
  • Linn's Stamp News
    Linn's Stamp News
    Linn's Stamp News an American publication, is the largest weekly newspaper for stamp collectors, with a paid circulation of just over 46,000 Circulation peaked at almost 92,000 in 1978 and has declined ever since because fewer new collectors are subscribing to replace those who subscribed in the...

     (USA) - worldwide topics with a focus on USA

Philatelic bibliography

The scale and complexity of philatelic literature is such that it has its own journal, the Philatelic Literature Review, published quarterly by the American Philatelic Research Library
American Philatelic Research Library
The American Philatelic Research Library , based in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, is the largest public philatelic library in the United States....


There are also a number of libraries devoted solely to philatelic literature. (see link below)

Further reading

  • Birch, Brian. The Philatelic Bibliophile's Companion, 3rd edition, Standish, Wigan, 2007.
  • Negus, James. Philatelic Literature. Compilation Techniques and Reference Sources, James Bendon, Limassol, Cyprus, 1991. ISBN 9963762433
  • Pearson, Patrick. Advanced Philatelic Research, Arthur Barker, London, 1971. ISBN 0213003260
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