Some stamp collectors collect “British Empire” stamps. But what does that actually mean?  According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the British Empire is, “the group of countries that in the past were ruled or controlled by the U.K. [United Kingdom], including Australia, Canada, India, and many parts of Africa”.  

Philatelically speaking, it’s a bit different from that. For example, Great Britain is considered by stamp collectors to be part of the British Empire and it is, obviously, still “ruled or controlled by the U.K.” because it is the UK. Also, the United States is emphatically NOT considered by stamp collectors to be part of the British Empire, although the US had to fight a war to gain independence from Britain. (Of course, that was before we had postage stamps.) 

What about Ireland? This is a bit of a sensitive subject for me, because of my Irish ancestry. As a stamp dealer, I’m willing to say that Ireland can be considered to have been (an unwilling) part of the British Empire up until Ireland’s independence. Northern Ireland, which is part of Ireland, is still as of this writing within the United Kingdom and citizens there use the postage stamps of Great Britain when mailing letters. 

Anyway, here are the six major divisions of the British Empire for philatelic purposes: 

British Europe 

British Africa 

British America 

British Asia 

British Middle East 

British Oceania   

I know the list above doesn’t tell one much without knowing which countries, specifically, are in which category, but it is useful in terms of thinking about organizing your stamp collection and/or thinking about an area to focus on. I’ll cover each area in more depth in future blog posts, which is necessary, because each major division has numerous countries in it, and some countries appear in more than one division. For example, British Asia consists of over thirty different former or existing countries, from Bahrain (which is also in British Middle East) to United Arab Emirates. 

Thanks for reading, and Happy Stamp Collecting!