Famous Philatelists Throughout History and Today

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, philately is “the study or collection of postage stamps.” Stamp collecting is a hobby that has been enjoyed for centuries. Throughout history, there have been a number of well-known public figures who have enjoyed this hobby.

Famous Stamp Collector - King George V 

The hobby of stamp collecting is greatly enjoyed by those in the United States, with an estimated 22 million people enjoying the hobby. In particular, the hobby is one that has often appealed to royals, world leaders and celebrities across the world.

World Leaders Enjoy Philately

One of the most famous stamp collectors, King George V of England, may have had one of the largest stamp collections in the world. It is believed that his uncle, Prince Albert, passed along to him the love of philately before George reached adulthood. In fact, George was elected to serve as the President of the London Philatelic Society in 1896.

Before George was King and was the Prince of Wales, one of his secretaries read a news story discussing how a fool paid an enormous amount of money for a Mauritius two pence blue. When the secretary told George about the news story, he remarked that he was the “fool” who bought the stamp.

Queen Elizabeth II, who was a philatelist before she became Queen, inherited King George’s extensive stamp collection upon his death. There are hundreds of albums that are kept in a room dedicated to their storage, and this single asset is considered the Queen’s largest. The collection is known as the “Royal Philatelic Collection” and is currently stored at St. James Palace. There is no actual estimate to the collection, which is being continually added to and is considered renowned because it is very complete. It also includes rare editions that were introduced when Britain first started using stamps.

In the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of the most famous philatelists and started his collection when he was just a child. His stamp collection traveled everywhere with him, from prep school to Harvard and later to the White House. After contracting polio following his participation at Boy Scout camp in 1921, Roosevelt relied on his stamp-collecting hobby to fill his time since his polio made it so he was no longer able to walk.

Once he became President, Roosevelt was very involved in making suggestions for the stamps issued while he was in office, such as the “Toward United Nations” commemorative stamp. Roosevelt was inducted into the American Philatelic Society Hall of Fame in 1945, and has fulfilled the philatelist’s dream of being featured on stamps across the world.

Another American leader and philatelist is New Jersey Congressman Ernest R. Ackerman, who was a stamp collector by trade before he entered politics. He started a mail order business as a stamp dealer after becoming interested in stamps. That interest was piqued when he noticed the stamps that were on the letters his father, a patent attorney, had received from the Patent Office. Ackerman was a member of the New Jersey legislature before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1919. He died in 1931 while he was in office and left much of his large stamp collection to the Library of Congress.

In addition to being a famous philatelist, Prince Rainier III of Monaco is also a promoter of philately. He founded The Museum of Stamps and Currencies where his personal collection is stored. He also helped create the Club of Monte-Carlo of the Philatelic Elite, which boasts members who are directors of major philatelic museums. Included in his collection is one of the most valuable postage stamps from the Principality of Monaco.

A current famous philatelist is Nicolas Sarkozy, the 23rd President of France, who started collecting stamps when he was a child. Queen Elizabeth II presented Sarkozy with an album of stamps that commemorated his 2004 visit to Windsor Castle. And when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California, he also gave Sarkozy a stamp album. The Philatélique Club de l’Élysée is sponsored by Sarkozy.

Philately in the Rock Star World

Celebrity philatelist John Lennon started collecting stamps in the 1950s. His cousin, Stanley Parkes, was the person who introduced Lennon to stamp collecting and provided him with his first album. Lennon was able to amass a large number of stamps from across the world when he attended boarding school with boys from foreign nations, and they gave him their stamps. Lennon drew characterizations on the stamps, often adding beards or mustaches.

The Smithsonian National Postal Museum purchased Lennon’s stamp collection, with over 550 stamps, for $53,000 in 2005. This collection is now on display there and can also be viewed on the museum’s website.

 Famous Stamp Collector - John Lennon

The list of celebrity stamp collectors also includes Freddy Mercury, AKA Farrokh Bulsara, lead singer of Queen. Mercury inherited the love of stamp collecting from his father. He often worked on his stamp collection at his home in India when he was just a young child. Mercury’s father, Bomi Bulsara, sold Mercury’s stamp album in 1993, just two years after Mercury’s death in 1991 from AIDS.

Mercury’s collection was purchased by the Royal Mail for the collections of the British National Postal Museum and Archive. Bulsara donated the money from the sale to the AIDS charity known as The Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity that was established by former members of Queen.

Ronnie Wood, another rock star and guitarist who has made the famous stamp collectors list, has been a stamp collector for years in addition to his work with The Rolling Stones. Wood started collecting stamps after completing alcohol rehabilitation. He uses rare stamps, which he collects as subjects of his paintings.

Philately in the Intellectual World

Novelist Ayn Rand was among the list of famous people who collect stamps. The former Alissa Rosenbaum was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States in 1926 when she was just 21. Rand collected stamps when she was a child and resumed again when she was middle-aged.

In an article that appeared in the Minkus Stamp Journal in 1971, Rand wrote that spending time with her stamp collection at the end of a day writing was the perfect relief for her mental fatigue. Her motives for stamp collecting, she observed, were similar to other stamp collectors. She saw that they needed rest from their single motivation, and that involved stamp collecting. And there is very little interference with the private hobby of stamp collecting, a joy that is shared by all stamp collectors.

Famous Stamp Collector - Ayn Rand

Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov was a World Chess champion during the 1990s. Born in Russia in 1951, he became a stamp collector when he was a child and dreamed of becoming an officer with the Red Army. Karpov’s first stamp was issued by the U.S.S.R. in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Red Army. And though he started this hobby when he was young, Karpov continues to collect stamps to this day.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw was born in Ireland in 1856 and wrote approximately 60 plays as well as novels and short stories. In addition to being the co-founder of the London School of Economics, Shaw was an advocate for women’s rights and the rights of the working class in addition to his support of socialism. Stamp collecting was one of his hobbies, and he was eventually featured on an Irish stamp in 1980.

In the 1930s, well-known philatelist Harry Weiss edited the Weekly Philatelic Gossip and wrote a column on collecting stamps. He helped organize the Midwest Philatelic Laboratory in 1946. This laboratory assisted with the authentication and appraisal of stamps.

Philately and Actors

Charlie Chaplin was a well-known actor and stamp collector in the early twentieth century. Born in 1889 in England, Chaplin worked with a vaudevillian group before going to Hollywood to achieve success as the main character in “The Tramp.”Chaplin appeared in over 240 movies during his career.

Actors Gary Burghoff, James Earl Jones and Patrick Dempsey have also said publicly that they are philatelists. Patrick Dempsey and tennis player Maria Sharapova are getting involved in helping promote the love of stamp collecting. The American Stamp Dealers Association (ASDA), with the hope of drawing in younger, more novice stamp collectors, has received the support of both Dempsey and Sharapova to promote the hobby of stamp collecting. The ASDA is also hoping to promote stamp collecting as a family activity in a time when family activities seem to be on the decline due to competing schedules.

Philately in the Business World

Famed wealthy businessman Warren Buffett has been very open about his stats as a stamp collector and has been collecting classic stamps from the United States. Buffett is considered one of the most prominent investors in the world, so it comes as no surprise that his philosophy in investing transfers over to his philosophy in stamp collecting.

Therefore, focusing on what one is familiar with is also his philosophy when collecting stamps. For example, Buffett often invests in British stamps. British stamps rank among the top 250 stamps showing a pretty consistent investment growth of 13.6% over the last decade.

Buffett also suggests holding on to the rare items. He knows that over time, those items will become increasingly valuable to those who will eventually want to purchase them. Timing is also key. Sometimes when there are many looking to join the bandwagon of collecting a certain item, whether it is stock or a stamp, it is not the best time to invest. Looking towards the future and deciding what investment might yield the best return in the long run will likely be the best investment. The strategy and the key to doing this makes the most successful investor.

Famous Stamp Collector - Warren Buffett

Another investor in philately is the founder of investment firm, PIMCO, William Gross. Gross has raised funds for the National Postal Museum to support its expansion. The museum was able to build a 14,000-square-foot gallery named for him after he sold two of his collections to support the expansion. The gallery boasts that it is the world’s largest gallery for philately and has over 20,000 exhibits. One such exhibit includes a letter that was mailed aboard the fated Titanic voyage.  

Additionally, Gross has sold other collections to support social concerns such as Doctors Without Borders and the Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute. The sale of his Scandinavia and British Empire collections in 2008 helped support those social institutions.

In the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, Cyril Harmer was the director of Harmers Auction House. He amassed one of the best collections of Newfoundland airmail stamps, which sold for 803,000 British pounds in 2002.

Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal is not only a man who found Nazi war criminals, but he is also a philatelist. He found it was a relaxing way for him to unwind after spending so much time focusing on tracking down the elusive criminals. Wiesenthal was able to track down one of the most elusive criminals, Adolf Eichmann, after visiting with another philatelist. That philatelist read from a letter he received from someone he knew in Argentina who indicated they had seen Eichmann in Buenos Aires. Eichmann was then abducted in 1960 by the Mossad and tried and executed in Israel.

Philately and Aviation

Born in Switzerland in 1892, John Heinmuller was a former president of the American Airmail Society and the Longines Wittnauer Watch Co., Inc. He was one of the officials for Lindbergh’s historic flight in 1927.

He partially financed his first trip to the United States with the sale of stamps to a dealer in Danzig. Heinmuller was very obsessed with zeppelin flights and chronicled the international flights of all zeppelins. He was eventually introduced to Ferdinand von Zeppelin and was often present at the zeppelin landings in New Jersey.

Continuing the connection between aviators and philatelists is Amelia Earhart. Born in 1897, Earhart was the first woman to achieve the honor of flying solo across the Atlantic in 1932. The sale of stamps depicting her flying adventures helped to finance her expeditions. After collecting samples of her mail, she exhibited them in an international exhibition in 1936. She also was a speaker at the exhibition and gave out awards. It was 1937 when she disappeared in her infamous attempt to fly around the world. Part of her cargo in that flight included over 5,000 that which collectors had paid $5 apiece for prior to her flight. Unfortunately, the covers never made it to their various destinations as the plane disappeared on July 2 somewhere over the Pacific Ocean when it ran out of fuel. In 1968, Earhart’s collection of flown mail and a flight suite were donated to the U.S. National Museum’s Division of Philatelic and Postal History.

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If you’re interested in learning more about philately and famous philatelists, you want to shop for quality stamps or you have questions about your own collection, contact Apfelbuam, Inc. today. We’ve been buying and selling stamps since 1910, and we have a wide variety of stamps for sale. As a world leader in the philatelic community, we want to help you build your perfect collection. Trust our reputation of great customer service, experience & expertise for the advice and sale of your stamp collection.