During the course of our event here at the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) celebrating the 50th anniversary of the library’s incorporation in 1968, I was reintroduced to a historic yet no less significant resource which I first came across in my earliest days here at the APRL as a Reference Assistant. In learning all about the APRL and philatelic libraries and their collections in those first moments in my new position back then, I decided to perform a simple search of the online Philatelic Union Catalog using such general terms as “library”, “resources” and “research” supplemented by the terms “philately” and “philatelic.” One of the resources that my search retrieved struck me immediately as one that I should pursue further, particularly given its author.
There amongst the references in our holdings that the search returned was a work by one of the most important figures in all of philately and the first president of the then American Philatelic Association, John Kerr Tiffany. Privately printed in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri in 1874 The Philatelical Library: A Catalogue of Stamp Publications is considered the first, and for its time, the most comprehensive and influential work regarding the subject of what constitutes a proper and informed library of philatelic literature.
As stated in its introduction “this endeavor has been to catalogue alphabetically, by the names of the authors or publishers and by the countries and languages in which they were published all works designed, in whole or in part, for stamp collectors.” For its time, and even by today’s standards, the resultant work is extraordinary. Divided into three parts, numbered and then subdivided by country, the work lists references to philatelic works with explanatory notes detailing stamp catalogues, books, journals, journal articles, price lists, circulars, government documents, and supplements.
Included in each of the listings is bibliographic information including author(s), title, subtitle, publisher, date of publication, place of publication, volume/issue number, pages and item size. There are listings included for American, British, Danish, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish publications. Also included in Part III of Tiffany’s work are references specifically titled “articles on postage stamps”, “history of postage stamps”, “history of postal reform”, “history of the post-office”, “postal periodicals”, “postage stamp games”, “postage stamp music” and “postage stamp photographs.”
Many of the works cited therein came from Tiffany’s own private philatelic literature collection as well queries he made of the Boston Public Library. Even as The Philatelical Library gives us an incredible glimpse into the collection of one of the most preeminent and noteworthy 19th century philatelists and the works that he considered of greatest value at that time for any collection or researcher, this invaluable resource is still considered a foundational work in identifying and assembling a collection of philatelic literature.
Although the work is housed in the Rare Books section of the APRL and as such cannot be borrowed but only viewed in the library, it is also available online for viewing at https://archive.org/details/philatelicallibr00tiff/page/n1. Although published in the late 1800’s the work is still a monumental reference work detailing the scope and depth of Tiffany’s view of the complete and inclusive philatelic library and as such became an necessary and welcome starting point for a new Reference Assistant in the nation’s largest philatelic library.