The American Philatelic Society is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to stamp collecting. Since 1945, the society’s headquarters has been in Centre County.
The society publishes a monthly journal, provides stamp buying and selling services, and offers educational seminars. It employs 34 full-time staff in the former Pennsylvania Match Factory in Bellefonte. The offices include the American Philatelic Research Library, which is the world’s largest collection of philatelic literature.
The hobby of stamp collecting began in the 1850s. By the 1880s, there were an estimated 25,000 collectors in the United States. Leading collectors began discussing creating a national organization of collectors, and in 1886 they launched the American Philatelic Association.
The next year, the association began publishing its journal, The American Philatelist. In 1908, the organization changed its name to the American Philatelist Society and membership grew steadily during the early decades of the 20th century.
In the 1940s, the organization’s leadership began discussing the need for a central office. After the 1944 national convention, the society sought applications for the position of executive secretary. The job went to H. Clay Musser of State College, a Penn State staff member who was an active collector and a longtime member of the society. That appointment led to the establishment of the society’s office in downtown State College’s in 1945.
In 1958, the society’s sales division, which had been in Dallas, Texas, moved to State College and became one of the responsibilities of the executive secretary. The society, having outgrown its downtown office, dedicated a new headquarters in 1972 in the American Philatelic Building on South Atherton Street. Four years later, the consolidation of the society’s various components led to the relocation of The American Philatelist’s editorial offices to State College.
As membership grew rapidly in the 1970s, the society once again looked for a new home. In 1982, the new American Philatelic Building opened on Oakwood Avenue. Four years later, the society hosted the first-day ceremony for four postage stamps celebrating its 100th anniversary.
The society continued to grow and by the end of the twentieth century was looking for a larger home. In 2002, the society purchased the Pennsylvania Match Factory in Bellefonte and began renovating the historic structure. Two years later, it moved into the newly named American Philatelic Center.
The Headsville, West Virginia, post office, on loan from the Smithsonian Museum of American History, opened as a contract post office in the American Philatelic Center. The historic building had served as the post office for Headsville from 1860 to 1914 and a contract post office for the Smithsonian from 1971 to 2006.
The Smithsonian wanted an authentic post office for its 125th anniversary celebration. The board and batten building was taken apart piece by piece and reassembled. The same process was used when the post office moved to the American Philatelic Center.
The research library had been housed in temporary space in the Pennsylvania Match Factory, but in 2016 the library moved into a new 19,000-square-foot renovated space. The library features open stacks, reading lounges, and a gift shop.
The American Philatelic Society currently has 27,415 members, down from a high of 57,815 in 1988. It sponsors the annual APS StampShow at different locations around the United States.
American Philatelic Society. www.stamps.org/history (Accessed June 30, 2022).
Davidson, Robert L. D. “APS: The First Century,” The American Philatelist, December 1986.
Lidman, David. “Old Post Office Put Back to Work,” The New York Times, October 3, 1971.
First Published: July 6, 2022
Last Modified: August 10, 2022