The library can trace its beginnings back to 1886 when two members, John K.Tiffany and William Image presented the Society with works of philatelic literature. In the Proceedings of this meeting the hope was expressed that, as the Society now had ‘the nucleus of a valuable philatelic library’, other members would follow the example of those gentlemen and contribute to the collection. This hope was not in vain and over 130 years later the generosity of the Society’s members and philatelic friends has produced one of the leading philatelic libraries in the world.
Many significant libraries from individuals and other societies have been acquired by either purchase or donation over the years. Among the first was that of Heinrich Fraenkel of Berlin, whose library was bought by the Earl of Crawford. Crawford incorporated what he needed into his own collection and donated the balance to the Society, thus forming the basis of our extensive holding of European language periodicals. Over 500 volumes were presented in 1916 by Franz Reichenheim and, a year later, the library of the Immediate Past President Marcellus P. Castle was received as a bequest. Those with an interest in the history of philately and the great philatelists will notice the bookplates, signatures and hand-written notes evidencing the significant provenance of many of our items.
The earliest philatelic incunabula is strongly represented in our collection including the early catalogues of Oscar Berger-Levrault, Alfred Potiquet, Frederick Booty, Ferdinand Mount Brown, and Dr Edward Gray being present.
The Society's collection also includes items from 1881 to date produced by the organisers of major international, UK national and other specialist exhibitions and displays. This provides valuable information on events generally, lists of exhibitors and awards made. The literature frequently includes philatelic information and articles not available elsewhere.
In November 2014 it was decided that the library would become an archival library for philatelic literature. Therefore a copy of each item is retained (including superseded editions) and every effort is made to fill any gaps in the collection. The library grows at a prodigious rate (approximately 24 linear metres per annum), despite being reliant upon donations.