Stamp collecting is one of the world's most popular hobbies, enjoyed by millions of people around the world. The hobby has been around since the first postage stamp was produced in 1840 and is supported by many websites, shows, catalogs, albums and reference books.
The study of stamps and postal materials is called philately, which comes from the Greek words "philos," meaning friend, and "ateleia," meaning deliverance. Stamp collectors are called philatelists.
Stamp collecting came about shortly after the world's first stamp, the Penny Black, was issued by Great Britain in 1840. Young people began collecting stamps in the middle 1800s and adults gradually began collecting as well, as more stamps came on the market and more countries began issuing stamps.
There are two primary groups of stamp collectors: those who collect used stamps and those who collect unused stamps. Within those two groups are themetic philatelists, who limit their collections to a single country or theme.
By the Numbers
More than 200 countries currently produce postage stamps. The American Philatelic Society has more than 44,000 members in 100 countries. Estimates as to the total number of stamp collectors worldwide vary widely, but according to the Cyberstamps website there are 20 million collectors in the United States alone.
Rarest and Most Valuable Stamps
According to the American Philatelic Society, the world's three rarest and most valuable stamps, based on history, scarcity and recent auction or sales prices, are the Sweden 3 skilling 1857 Banco Yellow, valued at approximately $2,000,000; Post Office Mauritus 1d and 2d 1847, with the 1d and 2d valued at $500,000 used and the 1d at $1,100,000 unused; and the Hawaiian Islands 1851 2-cent Missionary, worth $660,000 unused and $200,000 used.
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