What in the World is Polar Philately?


A casual visitor to the site e-mailed me with a good question, and the thought occurred to me that the term philately (let alone POLAR philately) is a word that is probably not in common usage in the English language.  Not everyone reading this page may be familiar with it, so I will explain this a bit further.  First of all, if you are a philatelist, you have not committed any crimes, and it is not a dirty word. 

A philatelist is someone who collects stamps and other related material, including these scans of collectibles you will see on my pages: the postally-used envelopes which we collectors call "covers."  Primarily I think it would be safe to say that polar philatelists are those whose main collecting interest would be the collecting of complete envelopes, along with the accompanying postal markings, and ancillary markings obtained enroute back to the addressee from the ship or expedition.  In other words, we collect postally-used envelopes for the most part.   Those collectors who just specialize in collecting only stamps from the countries that are represented in the polar regions might also be considered polar philatelists, but call me a purist... but when I think of polar philately, I think COVERS.

Polar Philately is a specialized area of "cover" collecting (covers are typically always postally-used envelopes, cards or aerogrammes with stamps, cachets and postmarkings) and in this case-specifically being that of mail items originating from the polar regions. One could safely say that Polar Philately is somewhat "off the beaten path" of the main hobby of stamp collecting.  These "covers" have, in many instances, been autographed by the captain, scientists, team members, etc. and special rubber-stamped or printed markings called "cachets" are often applied to these homeward-bound mailings as a decoration or commemoration thereof. The cachets may relate to that particular university, vessel, expedition, project, voyage or season.  Once this cacheting is done, (by the Master of the vessel, purser, public relations officer, postal clerk, acting postal officer or whomever) they drop them into the mailstream from the nearest postal facility (ship or shore) and they are delivered back to the original sender, who then gleefully adds them to his or her collection!

Why, you ask?  Because we are unabashedly into polar "stuff," but more importantly, these little items of postal history-call them souvenirs, if you will--document in a tangible and visible way, the activities of contemporary polar expeditions and scientific excursions both to the Arctic and the Antarctic. 

They thus allow us, in a small way, to experience vicariously some of the adventure of these modern day explorers.  We are to a large degree, armchair explorers.  I for one, doubt that I will ever get to enjoy my dream of going to the Arctic or Antarctic, but I hope the cover galleries on this page will illustrate a bit of what this hobby of polar cover collecting is about, and will serve as a sampling of some of the collectible material that is out there, and on a limited basis after 911, available to collectors today who wish to send for their own polar covers.

In my opinion, those who just accumulate polar covers, either haphazardly in shoeboxes, or on a more elitist note by serving them up in carefully categorized albums or whatever, probably falls into the category of a polar philatelist.  Those polar philatelists like myself, who go beyond just the collecting, and get into the actual history of the missions and the explorers who are represented on the philatelic material, and have a true love of things Arctic and Antarctic (other than just the philatelic material) could be said to be polar postal historians--as we seek to preserve the postal history of those expeditions and polar operations--as well as knowing the behind-the-scene story on how those tangibles came about.

There are several collectors groups to assist beginning collectors, some are international in scope, including notably the American Society of Polar Philatelists (ASPP) as well as other organized groups of such collectors on the Internet; one being the Polar Philately group on Yahoo (formerly known as e-Groups) originally founded by the webmaster of The Polar Philately Mailing List .  I have a separate page set up with some links that might be useful and provide you with more information if you wish; go here

NOTE: You do have to be a member of Yahoo (and thus have a Yahoo ID) to be able to access the link; otherwise if you are not signed in when you click on the link, you will get a "Document not found" error- very irritating, I realize, but that is the way it works and it is a worthwhile group to be in, if you get past the trouble.  I recommend it for new and old collectors alike.

Back to My Main Polar Philately Page

QSL.net/KG0YH Page last updated 09 Nov. 2010