Philatelic collections

The British Library has pre-eminent world holdings of stamps, revenue stamps, postal history and related materials.

About the collection

The British Library Philatelic Collections are the National Philatelic Collections of the United Kingdom. The collections were established in 1891 with the bequest of the Tapling Collection, and now about 50 important collections or archives are held, all of which have been acquired by bequest, or transfer from Government departments.

The total holdings consist of over eight million items, representing almost all countries and periods, and include:

  • postage stamps
  • revenue stamps
  • metal dies and plates
  • essays and artwork
  • die proofs, plate proofs, and colour trials
  • specimens
  • postal history (some pre-adhesive mail and later materials including entires, envelopes, and other covers)
  • airmails
  • booklets
  • railway letter stamps
  • postal stationery
  • telegraph stamps
  • meter stamps
  • local and private posts
  • 'cinderella' material including poster stamps
  • philatelic literature

Our Guide to Philatelic Collections (PDF format) provides a list of the principle collections and countries held.

Such a diverse range of material, together with photographs, general reference material, maps, newspapers and official publications elsewhere in the Library, make the British Library one of the world's most important centers for philatelic research.

Please note: Because of the range and scope of the Philatelic Collections and the historical way in which they have been organized, items are not catalogued with conventional shelf-marks. For further information please contact the curators of Philatelic Collections. 

What is available online?

The Crawford Library of Philatelic Literature has been digitized, and many of its titles are now available online, (see the Global Philatelic Library website).

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

How to guides

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 170 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass.

How to handle prints, drawings and photographs

Watch our video to see how you should handle these vulnerable items.

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services