Philately: A Career Option?

Posted on February 17, 2010 in Alternative Careers

Manali Misra:

Philately is considered to be the “king of hobbies”. Better known as “stamp collecting” – a mania in the 1940s, today it has grown into one of the world’s most popular hobbies and even as a business activity today.

But not many of us know that philately is practised as a profession also. There are philatelic societies too. The most famous one is — American Philatelic Society (APS). It is the largest non-profit stamp collecting and organisation of philately in the world. It has around 44,000 members in 110 countries (as per the data of 2007). It’s membership is worldwide.

To be a professional philatelist one should know what to collect. As after a certain time, one needs to be specific about a target which one wants to collect — Thematic collecting. Themes can be birds, animals, Red Cross, railways etc. Both mint (unused) and used stamps can be collected.

There are many kinds of philately-

Traditional Philately- study of technical aspects of stamp identification and production like the initial design process, method of printing, study of philatelic fakes and forgeries etc.

Aerophilately- study of airmail.

Postal stationery- study of stationery items like envelopes, aerograms etc.

Postal history- study of postmarks, post offices, postal authorities etc.

Cinderella philately- study of stamps that look like stamps but aren’t stamps.

Revenue philately- study of stamps used to collect taxes, fees.

Philatelic literature- documents the results of philatelic study and includes thousands of books and periodicals

Maximaphily- the study of Maximum Cards. They can be defined as a Picture Post Card with Postage stamp on same theme and a cancellation with a maximum concordance between all the three.

Moreover , a philatelist should be ready to sit for long hours and study the stamps. He should know how to asses his stamps as few stamps are very rare and hence valuable. Stamp Catalogues can be helpful as they enlist stamps with their prices. One can also buy and sell stamps through

How can one collect stamps? There is no type of work that can be done successfully without necessary tools and equipments. The philatelist also requires some tools- A pair of philatelic tweezers as touching stamps with hands can leave marks on them. The second tool is a magnifying glass. Since the stamps are old, the text written on them is not clearly visible. A stock box is used before stamps are mounted on an album. A stamp album is indispensable.

When people are not aware of any profession or if they have not heard much about it, they start doubting it. Same is the case with the philatelists. When people come to know that a person has so many stamps and is engaged in the buying and selling of them, they think it is illegal or forgery.

Professional philatelists are more common in other countries than in India. Though many have done a remarkable job in this field in India too- A two-time Limca book record holder, Prof Arvind Jain of Bhilwara has now achieved a unique feat in the world of philately. Earlier, Limca Book of Records had certified his efforts by including this collection in its 2008 and 2009 editions as the largest collection of stamps issued in honour of a person. He also got his name entered in the 2007 edition of the Limca book for the largest collection of stamps issued worldwide on the theme of Cricket.

It is tough to earn one’s living as a professional philatelist but not impossible. One needs to have a knack for it as philately can not be taught to anyone. It is a passion, if anyone has, he can excel in this field and earn well.

The world of philately will continue to grow and change reflecting mankind’s interests and desires. As long as there are stamps, there will be philatelists who will collect and enjoy them.

So are you a philatelist?

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Speaking from 42 years of experience as a professional philatelist, I would never recommend professional philately as a career track as the hobby is moribund in the US and Europe (although it’s currently quite vigorous in China), which is the reason I have retired from it completely in order to pursue coin and bullion trading, which, by virtue of having a far longer history than philately has, and far greater appeal to young people, offer far more opportunities for a more lucrative, lifelong profession.


Nice write up. Manali will you permit us to publish this article on our blog. This blog is a journal of Indian philately.

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