June 2020

The first stamp collectors

Stamp collecting is one of the world’s oldest living hobbies.

Its beginnings can be found even before the world's first stamp was born when collectors saved adhesive labels that were used to collect taxes, also known as revenue stamps. 

The first postage stamp collection started on the very day that the Penny Black was first issued and by the 1860s, stamp collecting spread throughout Europe, the United States and other countries around the world. 

Today, the number of stamp collectors globally is estimated at 60 million. 

Here we look to "the century of stamp collecting" to name a few notable collectors and their iconic collections.

John Bourke

John Bourke, receiver-general of stamp dues in Ireland, is widely considered the world's first collector.

Over 65 years before the Penny Black was introduced to the world, Bourke assembled a book of the existing embossed revenue stamps at the time. 

The collection included denominations from half a penny to six pounds and also included the hand-stamped charge marks that were often used with them. 




His exemplary book is preserved at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

John Edward Gray

John Edward Gray was a British zoologist who claimed he had “began to collect postage stamps shortly after the system was established and before it had become a rage.” 

Gray was the keeper of the zoology department at the British Museum in London for 50 years during which he wrote nearly 500 papers, including the descriptions of many new species. 

JE Gray.jpg

He became the first official collector of postage stamps when he deliberately purchased a block of four Penny Black stamps on the first day of its sale with the sole intent to preserve them.

Georges Herpin

French philatelist Georges Herpin was responsible for the hobby's first rebrand. The fledgeling hobby of timbromania, timbrophily or timbrology was struggling to entice new collectors and Herpin attributed its lack of success to its various off-putting names. 

G Herpin.jpgJoining the Greek word "phil(o)," meaning an attraction or affinity for something, with "ateleia," meaning exempt from duties and taxes, Georges Herpin coined "philatelie." 

His personal collection was sold to Frederick Philbrick, one of the founders of the Royal Philatelic Society, London.

Count Philipp la Renotiere von Ferrary

Philipp von Ferrary was known for assembling "probably the most complete worldwide collection that ever existed, or is likely to exist" and is considered to be the greatest stamp collector of all time.
Ferrary was the son of the Duke and Duchess of Galliera, descendants of nobility and royalty. While his interest in stamps began when he was young, his inheritance of 120,000,000 French francs (₤5 million) was dedicated to the purchase of rare stamps and coins. 

Stanley Gibbons estimated his average expenditure with them from £3,000 to £4,000 a year.

von Ferrary.jpg

Amongst his extremely rare stamps were the unique Treskilling Yellow of Sweden, a Swedish postage stamp of which only one example is known to exist today, and the 1856 one-cent "Black on Magenta" of British Guiana, regarded to be one of the world's most famous rare stamp. 

Ferrary also owned the only known cover featuring both values of the first Mauritius "Post Office" stamps, which has been called "the greatest item in all philately". 

When Count Ferrary died in 1917, his collection sold in 14 auctions amounting to $2,275,975.

To this day, ex-Ferrary items attract a high-level of desirability and interest.

Thomas Keay Tapling

Tapling was an English businessman, politician and first-class cricketer. He joined the London Philatelic Society (now known as the Royal Philatelic Society, London) and became one of the earliest philatelic students.

Among Tapling's holdings were many world-famous rarities, including both values of the "Post Office" Mauritius and three examples of the Inverted Head Four Annas of India. It is the only intact private collection formed during the 19th-century, with examples of practically every stamp issued worldwide up to 1889.

TTapling.jpgAfter his death, the enormous collection he accumulated went to the British Museum with the condition that it would remain intact. Its 4,500 valuable sheets are now thought to be worth at least £10 million.
View an item available in Tapling's collection.

Alfred H. Caspary

Caspary was an American stock exchange broker and philanthropist. He was known for assembling one of the finest collections of United States postage stamps, establishing the Philatelic Foundation and advising the Committee of the Royal Philatelic Society, London.

His collection included an 1854 four-anna red and blue, which portrays the inverted head of Queen Victoria; an enviable selection of early German state stamps, and an excellent collection of Jamaican issues.

AH Caspry.jpg

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