Tools of the Hobby

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Boutwell presentation album, 1862-1874

Most collectors view their album as a significant part of their world, or perhaps more aptly, as their Atlas. Like Atlas, who was forced to hold the world on his shoulders for all time, the collector’s album houses his or her prize possessions. It is one of the most important tools of the philatelic hobby.

The first commercial stamp album was printed and distributed in 1862 by Justine Lallier and was available in England and France. Countless publishers have adopted and perfected Lallier's simple creation.

Custom-made albums have been produced over the years. Notable examples are albums produced for the collections of the English monarchy. The red leather albums created for the collection of George V, King of England consist of 328 volumes. Originally housed in the Stamp Room in Buckingham Palace, they are now housed in St. James Palace. The Royal Philatelic Collection begun with the material amassed by George V from the late nineteenth century until his death in 1936 has been expanded by his royal successors, Edward VIII, George VI, and Elizabeth II. Differently colored leather albums distinguish the collection of each.

Beginning with George V, a philatelic secretary, known as the 'Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection', has been employed by the royal family to curate the collection. Of course, theirs is no ordinary collection. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, though a president of the United States, was a more typical collector. With a mother who was a collector, Franklin had collected stamps since childhood and pursued his passion through his four terms in the White House. He maintained his own albums, refusing assistance in mounting stamps because “working on the stamps myself provides all the fun of the hobby, so why should I let anyone enjoy it for me?”

The stamp album is a very personal object. Whether it costs hundreds of dollars or just a few, is a specialized album or a first 'junior' album, almost every collector at every level of expertise has an album of some kind. Without the stamp album as philately’s Atlas, the world of stamp collecting would have no foundation.

Alexander T. Haimann, National Postal Museum