Even before the outbreak of the Civil War, the hobby of stamp collecting was in its infancy. It quickly became a hobby of so many people that stamp dealers sprang up to meet the demand. This was followed by the publication of price lists and rudimentary catalogs that listed stamps of the different nations of the world.
The Civil War in America was still raging when two catalogs listing Confederates were published. In Philadelphia, A. C. Kline published The Stamp Collector’s Manual and in England Dr. John Edward Gray published A Hand Catalogue of Postage Stamps for the Use of Collectors and Mount Brown Catalogue of British, Colonial, and Foreign Postage Stamps. These catalogs included listings of several postmasters’ provisionals and general issues of the Confederacy. Dr. Gray’s listing of Confederates ended with the curious note: “The army of the Confederate States are said to issue stamps as they occupy the towns.” This was probably a reference to the postmasters’ provisionals that were issued by the postmasters of some towns.
Also in 1862, Samuel Curtis Upham of Philadelphia began to print the first known Confederate fakes. These included two general issues stamps and several postmasters’ provisionals. Close on the heels of Upham came other fakers of Confederate stamps. The more famous of the mid to late 19th century were S. Allan Taylor, James Petrie and John W. Scott.
In the late 1860s, John W. Scott of New York began a concerted effort to find Confederate postmasters’ provisionals by contacting former postmasters of the Confederacy. Although his motive was financial, he shared his finds in the pages of his American Journal of Philately and in the descriptive price lists and catalogs that evolved into the Scott Catalogue.
In 1870 the first stamp auction was conducted in New York. In 1872 the first stamp auction was conducted in London. This was the first year that rare Confederate provisionals were included in auctions, proving that the collection of Confederate stamps was on par with the collection of stamps from other countries.
Stamp collecting continued to grow along with a fascination for Confederates stamps. This was particularly true of many English collectors. Notable among these collectors were Edward L. Pemberton, Frederick A. Philbrick and Thomas K. Tapling. Pemberton was a postal historian who wrote extensively on Confederates and in 1874 published The Stamp Collector’s Handbook which featured an extensive listing of Confederate provisionals. Philbrick and Tapling were great collectors. Tapling is known for his magnificent collection that included many Confederate provisionals. On his death the collection was donated to the British Museum. The collection remains intact and is now housed in the British Library.
In Europe a competitor of the English collectors was Count Ferrary of Paris. He amassed a huge worldwide collection that included many of the rare Confederate provisionals. His collection was sold in the 1920s.
In the United States a major collector of Confederates was Hiram Deats of New Jersey. By the end of the 19th century his collection of Confederate provisionals, which was almost complete for the issues known at that time, had been exhibited at major exhibitions.
In the 1920s, August Dietz serialized a detailed study of the general issues of the Confederacy in his periodical the Southern Philatelist. This effort culminated in 1929 when he published what became known as the bible on the subject: The Postal Service of the Confederate States of America. He continued to publish the results of his studies and finds in a series of publications he founded: The New Southern Philatelist, Stamp and Cover Collecting and Stamp and Cover Collectors Review.
During the 1930s Dietz published the first two editions of a Confederate stamp catalog: Dietz Catalog & Handbook of the Postage Stamps and Envelopes of the Confederate States of America. During the same decade he was a major force behind the founding of the Confederate Stamp Alliance (Alliance). The new society finally brought together those collectors who specialized in the stamps and postal history of the Confederacy. It was at this point that the collection of Confederate stamps and postal history became a major specialty. Dietz went on to publish new editions of his catalog in 1945 and another in 1959.
For his tireless work in bringing the history of Confederate stamps and postal history to the attention of the collecting world and his efforts to produce a Confederate catalog to fill the needs of collector, August Dietz is considered the father of Confederate philately.
In the 1900s, several major collections of Confederates were offered at auction. These included the Arthur Hind (1933) and Harold C. Brooks (1943), A. Murl Kimmel (1976), Marc Haas (1986), and Charles and Lucy Kilbourne (1999) collections.
In mid 1950s, the greatest collection of Confederates every assembled was auctioned. This was the sale of the Alfred H. Caspary collection. His collection of provisionals was sold in 1956 and general issues on and off cover in 1957.
By the mid-20th century the collection of Confederates was a major area of collecting interest. There is no better illustration of this than the Kilbourne collection of Confederate postmasters’ provisionals winning the Grand Award at SIPEX in 1966.
Some members of the Alliance recognized a need for an expertising service specifically for Confederates. In 1945 an Authentication Committee was formed to provide such a service to members. Over time the service was also made available to non-members and, by the 21st century, the name was changed to the Authentication Service.
In 1956 the Alliance began publishing its own journal, the Confederate Stamp Album. Four years later the name was changed to the Confederate Philatelist. This award-winning journal is filled with articles on a wide variety of topics of interest to Confederate collectors.
In 1986 The New Dietz Confederate States Catalog and Handbook was published to meet the demands of an ever-growing number of collectors. This edition only partially quelled the demand for a new and more updated Confederate catalog. This need was finally answered in 2012 with the publication of the Confederate States of America Catalog and Handbook of Stamps and Postal History. This catalog not only updated the earlier editions of the Dietz catalogs but also introduced new material and made extensive use of color images. Demand for the new catalog was so great it was sold out the year of publication.
Today stamps and postal history items of the Confederacy remain in high demand, indicating the continued interest in this specialized area of philately.