Things you should know about philately

Philately is the hobby of collecting and sorting stamps, envelopes and other postal documents, as well as studying postal history. Stamps represent part of the national or regional history of the countries through figures of illustrious characters, monuments, paintings, flora, fauna, postal history, etc., matters of interest to collectors (philatelists) and people involved in this matter. In philately there are catalogues in which collectors can follow the value of their collections over time. Normally the continent with the highest value in stamps is the European, then the American and finally the Asian (The prices of the stamps of the other continents are very varied and have high amplitude in their value)


Historians agree that in Egypt, in the 6th century BC, there was already an official mail transport service. Egyptian manuscripts, written on papyrus, were mainly transported by special boats that sailed the Nile River.

China, in the 3rd century BC, was the first country to have an organized postal service and was also the first to use paper in its correspondence.

In pre-Columbian America there was also a relay system to carry messages and reports to the tlatoani (ruler) of the Mexicas from the confines of their territory, by means of corridors called painani, just as the chasqui fulfilled the same function for the Inca of the Quechuas.

The Persians, during the reign of Cyrus the Great (555 BC) established a post service. All these services were only for the transfer of official correspondence, the general public did not have access to them.

In the last years of the 17th century almost all countries had official post offices and also private post offices organized by merchants for the transfer of their correspondence.

In 1625, during the time of Cardinal Richelieu, France was the first State to take direct charge of the organization and operation of the postal services.

The first postage stamps

Sir Rowland Hill was the creator of the prepaid postal system. Prior to his system, the postal service was paid at destination, which led to countless inconveniences, such as the recipient refusing to pay for the service or not having the funds to do so, and frauds ranging from keeping the service money, to using the system to simply warn a person that he was okay or that he had to do something when he received the notice, without having to pay for it.

On September 14, 1839, the British Treasury launched a competition to submit proposals for a postage stamp. 2,700 projects were submitted and the Rowland Hill project was finally selected. The stamps were issued on May 6, 1840, and the “Black Penny” was the first postage stamp to circulate in the world. 68,158,080 copies were issued.

After the “Black Penny”, the Swiss canton of Zurich was the second to issue stamps: on 21 March 1843 it issued the famous 4 and 6 Rappen. This was followed by Brazil, which on 1 July 1843 issued a series of stamps called “bull’s eyes”, because of their resemblance to the metal frames of ship windows, in values of 30, 60 and 90 reis. Spain issued them on 1 January 1850.

All the countries were successively implementing the modality. In 1843 they began to be used in Switzerland, and the first American nation to use them was Brazil in the same year. The United States of America followed in 1847, and then Chile in 1853; Mexico and Uruguay in 1856; Peru a year later; Argentina in 1858; Colombia and Venezuela in 1859; Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 1862; in 1865 three countries launched their first postage stamps: the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Ecuador; Bolivia issued them in 1866; El Salvador in 1867; Paraguay in 1870; and a year later Guatemala; Panama launched its first stamp in 1903, and Cuba, already an independent nation, in 1905.

The first stamps, which already came in sheets, were cut with scissors, so they had straight edges. Later (1854) a series of lines with perforations was added, that allowed to separate them cleanly, without auxiliary tools, and the jagged one appeared.

The first press advertisement dedicated to philately appeared in 1841 in the London Times and is by a young collector “eager to paper her dressing table with used stamps”. Soon collecting spread, and the first catalogues or lists of stamps, with agreed value, appeared in 1860 (Berger-Levrault) in Strasbourg and Poliquet in Paris). The first album with holes or boxes to place the stamps, was published by Lallier in Paris, in 1862, and the first philatelic magazine was The Monthly Intelligencer of Liverpool (England). The hobby continued to spread: philatelists were formed in all nations, many of them distinguished by their studies, their superb collections or by the commercial companies they founded related to the stamp. Important associations dedicated to philatelic exchange also arose in the cities, and public sales and auctions began, in which high prices were reached.

Manufacture, characteristics of postage stamps and their philatelic interest

In the manufacture of the stamps all the graphical procedures are used (typography, lithography, engraving of sweet cut, rotogravure and photography); but the most beautiful, without a doubt, is the engraving to burin on metallic plate with the impression by means of the press called tórculo, denominated intaglio. This procedure is also the most difficult to forge. First the engraving is made with a burin, then the paper is wetted and then passed to a press, where -still wet- it is printed sheet by sheet in intaglio machines or in an automatic press. The sheets are then passed on to the proofreaders who examine the sheets and separate those that are found to be defective. Once the print is dry, the sheets go to the numbering machine -if they are numbered-, then to the gumming machine, and when they are dry, to the one that does the creeping or perforating, which is the last operation. This system, of very beautiful impressions, is slow; that is why, for large numbers, rotary rotogravure and photolithography are used, very fast procedures, in which the drawing is made on paper and the image is transported to the metal by photomechanical procedures.

In addition to the colour and thickness of the paper, the watermark or special watermark must be taken into account, which can be distinguished by the light or by means of the watermark, which consists of a small tray with a flat black background, on which the seal is placed face down; it is moistened with a drop of benzine and the watermark sign or letters are immediately visible. Depending on the watermark, the seal may belong to one or another issue. Filigrees are very varied and some are very curious.

The perforation or climbing is another distinctive element, since there are different types of teeth (comb, line), and are classified according to the number of teeth of the seal per 2 cm. The old ones were not perforated, although the same is true of some modern issues.

Centenary of the Declaration of Independence of Mexico.
The form of the stamps is very varied; there are square, rectangular, triangular, hexagonal, rhomboidal, etc., and within these forms the dimensions are very varied, from the gigantic North American stamp for franking of newspapers of 1866, of 99 by 55 millimeters, until the tiny one of the British colony of Victoria. As for the colors, there is a very extensive range. One way to collect is to gather varieties of color. Up to 400 different shades have been distinguished.

The face value is the one expressed by the stamp of the currency of the country to which it belongs, which ranges from insignificant values (like the Spanish stamp of a quarter of a peseta) to very high values (like the Kenyan stamp of 100 pounds). The print run of each issue also varies greatly: there have been a few dozen issues and others of many millions.

It is wonderful to see the inventiveness, talent and artistry of the artists who designed the cartoons; you can find curious details in the borders or inscriptions, harmonious and balanced compositions, conceptual displays, and colourful touches. Many are true works of art because of the theme, the delicate impression, the harmony of colour and the beautiful drawings.

There is the type seal and the varieties. The first one is the projected one, with characteristics, price, etc., well determined; but let’s suppose that once the emission has started the climbing machine is not used and another one has to be used, the result will be to have stamps with different teeth, which will constitute a variety. As you will understand, the varieties of each type may be many or few. Another modification that alters the stamps of an issue in whole or in part is overloading and clearance, which consists of those overprints that are printed after the general printing. They can be used to alter their face value -overload-, to modify the use for which they were intended -qualification-, or to indicate a change of regime in the nation to which they belong, such as those that carried the HPN qualification or “Habilitados por la nación” in Spain, after the reign of Isabel II.

Seals with errors or defects are usually of great value because of their small number. Colour errors can occur, if they appear in the wrong colour. Other times a part of the stamp appears printed in reverse, like the famous American air stamp with the plane upside down. A tête-bêche is a pair of stamps in which one is completely inverted. If the plate deteriorates due to unforeseen accidents, some defective stamps come out, and when the plates are repaired and the print run continues, the so-called tête-bêche appears. Other errors are those of origin, by mistake of the artist, like the stamp in which Columbus appears using an eyeglass that was invented 200 years after his death.

The rarities and curiosities of the world of stamps are infinite; we will limit ourselves to refer to some of them. The penny stamp of British Guyana (“Magenta 1 cent”), from 1856, owes its high value to a neglect of the British administration, which forgot to send the sheets of stamps to that colony. The governor was then forced to make a modest print run, in which he stamped his signature on the stamps to avoid forgery. In Russia, an issue bearing the effigy of the tsar was withdrawn, as it was considered disrespectful that the imperial figure was trampled on by the postmark. Another much sought-after stamp is the Brazilian one commemorating the visit of King Charles I of Portugal.

As for the themes, they are infinite. There are cartographic stamps, with maps, such as some from Ireland (Eire) and the 1922 Turkish issue. Others show mountains, like the Ecuadorian stamps, in which the Chimborazo appears. The rivers are very reproduced, like in the Canadian stamps of 1928 like the San Lorenzo. Lake Amatitlán appears on several Guatemalan stamps. Among the waterfalls we will mention the Argentine issue of the Iguazú. The animals are recurrent themes: the giraffe of Nyassa, the camel in those of Touva, and the orangutan in those of Borneo, are good examples.

Print runs of the high values are limited, ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 specimens. There are countries that are very fond of broadcasting, such as Turkey. Philatelic values can be huge. The aforementioned English Guiana stamp has been sold at auction for $9.5 million.

Philately groups stamps according to the type of service they are intended for. Thus we have those for airmail, ordinary mail, urgent correspondence, charity (to provide donations for humanitarian works), war (patriotic and military occupations), tax (to supply insufficient postage), telegraphs, official correspondence, etc.

Finally, there are other stamps that are less collected: for printed matter, certificates, postal packages and parcels, telephones, exemption from official bodies and tax or fiscal stamps.

As the importance of philately has increased, more false stamps have appeared, ingenious imitations for which large sums have been paid.

In addition to the loose stamp, the pair is also used, which can be vertical or horizontal. If there are three, it is called a strip or band. A set of four or more stamps, with at least two in a band, is called a block; the most common are four and nine. The sheets, which consist of several different stamps in the centre of a sheet of paper, with allusive inscriptions in the margin, are issued today to fans. Until the first years of our century, killed stamps were preferred, that is, stamps trampled on by the postmark; today there are many collectors who prefer new stamps, claiming that the appearance of the stamp is more attractive. However, there are cases where the postmark increases the value of the stamp because it is more difficult to find it in circulation than in new.



The Count of Villayer introduced the sale of uniform envelopes for correspondence in Paris in 1653 – which were offered at two salaries – but failed in his endeavour. It was not until the 19th century, in 1839, that the idea resurfaced, rescued by an English school teacher, Rowland Hill, a progressive and enterprising man. He proposed to the government a plan to pay in advance for postal transport by means of stamps or attached stamps, which was accepted, and was put into operation on May 6, 1840. A year later there is already news of the first collector: a certain Dr. Gray, whose hobby provoked the mockery of his contemporaries.

Collecting and its influence

The educational influence of philately is great, since every collector increases his knowledge considerably, without the need for long and arduous hours of study. The knowledge of history and geography is being accumulated and the desire to know more and more about countries, people and landscapes, which we can see through the little windows of the world that are the stamps, is growing. Already in the early days of philately its pedagogical capacity was intuited and it was officially introduced in British schools in a regulation of 1855, as a sport and culture. The stamp tends, in general, to increase in value as the number of copies of each issue decreases due to loss and deterioration; this increase in value is sometimes astonishing, reaching a thousand or two thousand times its initial value. If the selection of the copies is made correctly, it always constitutes an investment and an economic guarantee for tomorrow. The exercise of philately develops qualities of order and care, of neatness and care. It develops the spirit of analysis and observation.

Philatelist activities

Major philatelic exhibitions have been held, such as the one in Berlin in 1930, the one in Buenos Aires in 1950 and the one in New York in 1956. In the big cities, philatelic bags are gathered in the open air, where philatelists talk, exchange, buy and sell. The Buenos Aires bag in Rivadavia Park and the Barcelona bag in Plaza Real are famous. There are also philatelic clubs, with numerous members, that exchange friendly correspondence, stamps, postcards, magazines, etc., and many publish interesting publications.

Many advanced philatelists specialize in commemorative, air, Spanish American, British colonial stamps, etc., due to the impossibility of covering all the enormous quantity of stamps issued today.

Ways to collect

The stamps used to be attached to the album with a fixed seal, also called hinges (from the French charnière), gummed and transparent paper that was used folded as a small hinge. However, this is a practice in total disuse – at least for the new stamps (not used or postmarked) – since it causes the loss (greater or lesser depending on the stamp) of part of the value of the pieces because when the stamp is removed it always leaves a mark on the rubber. In the catalogues there are usually three price lists: one for new stamps without a hinge stamp; another one, with always lower quotations, for pieces -new- with a hinge stamp; and the third one for stamps that are postmarked or circulated (usually called “used”), whose quotation is generally lower, although there are cases in which it is much higher than either of the two types of uncirculated stamps.

It is preferable to use the phylum cases, which allow the stamps to be put on and taken off the album for examination and which, unlike the fixed stamps, do not cause them any aggression.

Useful instruments for the philatelist are the filigraphy instrument to which we have already referred; the odontometer, which is a cardboard or plastic sheet with straight rows of points of different thickness and separation, which tells us how many teeth of the perforation of a seal enter in two centimetres. We adjust the margin of the seal on these rows until we find the one that coincides with the perforation of our copy. We will say that a seal has 12 teeth, if 12 teeth enter in a space of 2 centimeters. The tweezers, used to take the seal, prevent it from bending or staining, and the magnifying glass can allow us to appreciate distinctive details impossible to observe with the naked eye.

The Philatelic Catalogues, carefully prepared works in which all the stamps of the world appear in order of appearance and issue, are indispensable for the collector. They serve as a basis for ordering collections, dictate criteria on which specimens should or should not be considered to have philatelic value, and fix a monetary value on each stamp, which applies not only to purchase and sale operations, but also to transactions or exchanges. The catalogues appear annually and the most famous and universally sold are the Ivert-Tellier catalogue, in French, the Gibbons catalogue, in English, and the Scott catalogue, in North America.

The best albums for stamps are those that allow you to insert loose sheets in which the last copies are fixed at the end of each country. In the trade there are albums of sheets suitable for beginners as well as for important collectors.

Among the most prominent collectors is George VI, whose collection was started by Edward VII and has many rarities. Another distinguished collector was Franklin D. Roosevelt. King Victor Emmanuel of Italy and Tsar Nicholas of Russia were also philatelists. The most famous collection was that of Philipp von Ferrary, started in 1865 and sold at auction in Paris in 1923 for two million dollars. Other notable collections have been that of Castle, of European stamps; that of Durin; that of Baron Rothschild; and that of Hind, who possesses the only copy of the famous British Guyana stamp. A notable collector has been Doring Beckton, president of the British Royal Philatelic Society, who on his death left 154,021 different stamps.

Commemorative stamps issued to celebrate some notable event or important date deserve special mention. They have historical value and are very well accepted by the fans. Their pictorial and artistic value is usually exceptional, and they are the most beautiful examples of any collection. Among the most notable are the numerous American commemorative series; the Spanish ones by Goya and Monserrat; those dedicated to the Universal Postal Union and the Olympics.


More than quantity, it is the rarity of the specimens that gives value to a collection. Some stamps, particularly those with printing errors, which are rare but well-known, acquire a very high commercial value and are difficult to obtain.

Stamps, called timbres and estampillas in several countries of Spanish-speaking America, have given rise to one of the most widespread collecting activities in the world and among all social classes. This hobby has given rise to important industries and shops, has specialized magazines and even constitutes a source of income for some states.

Philatelic instruments
Modes of collecting

The term philately encompasses various disciplines and forms of collecting:Technical philately. It consists of the study and documentation of the process of design, creation and printing of the stamp.

Postal history. Use of the stamp on a piece, periods of use, cancellations and complementary marks.

History of the mail. Decrees, provisions and documents related to the organization and operation of the mail.

Pre-philately. Mail and marks used before the appearance of the stamp.

Thematic philately. Oriented to the collection of the motive represented in the stamp.

Countries. Collecting specialized in the issues of a certain country or territory.

Specialized catalogues


They are publications to identify and classify postage stamps, as well as to know their value in the market. They reproduce each of the stamps issued and are used as the main tool by collectors. The main world catalogues are:

There are also specialized catalogues from some countries:

Philatelic curiosities

Why organize a stamp collection?

There are many ways to organize our stamp collection. This article is intended for beginner collectors, that is, for all those who, without a basic knowledge of the philately world, wish to start a collection or order the stamps they already have.

Many of us started collecting stamps because we inherited a collection from our father or grandfather, started trading as children, bought big bags of parcels or had fun cutting the stamps out of letters.

However, if we haven’t had the opportunity to have someone to guide us, our stamp collection may look more like a jumble of papers than a collection itself. Having a mountain of stamps in shoe boxes or plastic bags is not collecting, it is accumulating.

The term “collecting” refers to the ability to organize, classify and arrange a series of objects, which are interrelated. This organization not only helps us to have a more colourful and beautiful collection, but it also helps us to identify the pieces we have and those we want to get. In addition, by organizing it we usually improve its conservation over time.

The way of collecting stamps is defined by each person according to their tastes and interests, but here we give you some keys.

How to separate the “bad” stamps from the “good” ones?

The oldest stamp in the world was born in 1840, 176 years ago. That’s why it’s perfectly normal to have stamps that look older and others that look more modern. Having an old looking stamp does not mean that it is a bad stamp, in fact it can be more valuable (economically speaking) than others, as long as it is well preserved.

When we refer to separating the “bad” from the “good” it means that you should remove any seal that is visibly broken, bent, with large yellow/brown dots or small black holes on the back (rust or fungus). If you’ve kept it in boxes, bags or damp places, it’s normal for more than one to be damaged.

When we refer to separating the “bad guys” from the “good guys” it means that you should remove any seal that is visibly broken, bent, with large yellow/brown dots or small black holes on the back (rust or fungus). If you’ve kept it in boxes, bags or damp places, it’s normal for more than one to be damaged.

Keeping those seals with the right ones would be like keeping a broken table full of termites in a room. Not only does it detract from the rest of the furniture, but it can also damage it (you can “catch” what has affected the seal).

Start organizing your stamps by country

Stamps are a small piece of history of each country. In them we can observe relevant events both at a historical, social, economic and cultural level of the country that have been issued.

Collecting our stamps by country is a very good first step to organize our collection. Simply look at the stamp you want to organize. On most of them you will see the name of the country written on it and on others the theme will help you to identify it (for example the image of a relevant place or character). If you can’t identify one, don’t despair, put it aside and we’ll look into it later.

Putting up the stamps for years

In the past, until the beginning of the 20th century, there were many collectors who made worldwide collections. That is, they acquired absolutely all the stamps that were issued every year in the world and ordered them chronologically. This form of collecting no longer exists as such, since the large number of stamps issued each year would add up to thousands and thousands of euros.

However, organizing the stamps by year is a great way to divide and classify the stamps of a given country. Typically, they will be sorted from the oldest to the most modern. In many cases this is reflected in the “foot” of the stamp. But this is not always the case, to help you you can use a stamp catalogue of the corresponding country, which will also indicate the approximate philatelic value. If you have many countries to classify, start with the one with the most stamps. If you do not know very well how to use the catalogues, we recommend you read the post “Stamp catalogues: How to use them”.

Differentiating between new and used stamps

Regardless of the country and the year, you will also find “clean” stamps where you can see the drawing of the stamp perfectly and others where you will notice traces of ink. The first ones are called “new stamps” because they have never been used to send a letter and the others are called “postmarked” or “used” stamps. The latter are sometimes affixed to the little piece of paper of the letter to which they belonged.

The ink mark you see on top of the used ones shows that they were used to transport a package or letter from one place to another. When they passed by the post office they marked them, making them unusable to prevent them from being used again. We must not forget that a stamp is a proof of a postal payment, that is, a payment in advance for the use of the post office.

Both used and new stamps are “good” but normally we will separate new stamps from those that have been used.

What to give to a stamp collector?

Christmas, Valentine’s Day, a birthday or maybe that special day of a person you love and you want to give them something that they value, that will make them remember us and that will bring them a little bit of happiness, sympathy or tenderness.

If you are lucky enough to have that person as a collector, you have come to the right place to find their ideal gift. Below, we propose a series of ideas to have a detail with that friend, partner, companion or child, that reaches and appreciates him.

We collectors are people who greatly value each and every one of the pieces in our collection. The care, affection and effort that we dedicate, makes our collection unique and full of emotion. Giving a gift to a collector can be a risky option, but it is undoubtedly the most appreciated, because it shows that we know the person and/or value his interests.

Although this article is mainly oriented to know what to give to a stamp collector, you also have several ideas that may please those who do not know about stamp collecting and that are applicable to collectors of coins, cards, books, figurines, star wars, dolls…etc. Any person likes to be given something original, different and unique that touches their heartstrings or helps them to develop a certain task.

If you want to give yourself a treat, you will also find several ingenious ideas to comment on when someone asks you the dreaded question of what you want for Christmas, your saint’s day or your birthday.

Original gifts with a specific theme

If you are fortunate enough to be passionate about a particular subject, you will find a wide variety of ideas for gifts. It is important not to fall into the monotony, for example, if you like the Harley Davidson, not to flood it with millions of motorbike figures or if you like writing, not to give it half a stationery store.

Think about what he has lived or what he already has and try to take one more leap, take a look at what he likes about that subject. Has he done the Way of Saint James or the Route of El Cid? Is he passionate about the history of the civil war or a lover of the works of Goya or El Greco? Try to give him something related to his theme, but in a different format, such as an original book or a stamp that deals with his passion.

You can also consider giving him a personalized gift yourself. In the case of stamps, for example, there are smooth sheets and phylum cases for those who wish to make special personalized assemblies of a certain theme.

Retro gifts that remember a special date.

Everyone is touched by knowing or remembering all the events surrounding a crucial moment in their life. The most obvious is one’s own year of birth, or that of a child or grandchild. But it can also be the year of your wedding or the beginning of any other life stage (such as moving to another country or starting an exciting job).

Philately in this case becomes a precious resource, in fact, it is considered an auxiliary science of history because of the large amount of data it provides. Each and every stamp issued by a country is marked by an event, the thought of the time, and what was “in”. The stamps reflect the culture, history and the social and economic thought that was in place at a given time.

Whether you have to give a philatelist a gift or not, he or she will surely appreciate it if you give him or her all the stamps of the year that has marked his or her life. Contrary to what is believed, not always the “old” stamps are the most expensive ones, in fact, there are years in the 60’s and 70’s whose price is around 5 Here we leave you a list with all the complete years of stamps from Spain in case you want to take a look at them. If you want them to come with that valuable history of each issue, try to give them some sheets to keep the stamps with the history of each issue.

Useful gifts that you will use

We don’t all have the same idea of what a gift should be. If you want the purpose of your gift to be its use, read on. In this case, it may be wise to ask the person concerned directly what they need or what would make a particular task easier. If you have someone close to you who knows him or her, do not hesitate to talk to them to clarify.

If you do not want to confess your intentions in the case of collecting, it is essential that you look at what they already have. We collectors like to have a certain line in our collection and if we already use, for example, a certain album or sheets and we collect stamp sheets with album and give you something that breaks this line, your gift can become a headache. In the case of the sheets for the stamps or the binders, for example, it is fundamental to pay attention to the number of holes/rings that it has, because if it has another number, it will not be able to couple it with the rest of the collection. If you have the opportunity, take a photo of the material/support that you use for your collection, any expert in the sector will know how to tell you and guide you about the model and brand that it is.

To avoid all these risks, give him something he doesn’t have or that is better than what he already has. For example, a precision magnifying glass, some gloves to handle the collection or some tweezers to organize the stamps. Perhaps she might like a quartz lamp or a microscope.