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"stamp-collecting," 1865, from French philatélie, coined by French stamp collector Georges Herpin (in "Le Collectionneur de Timbres-poste," Nov. 15, 1864), from Greek phil- "loving" (see philo-) + ateleia "exemption from tax," the closest word Herpin could find in ancient Greek to the concept of "postage stamp" (from a- "without" + telos "tax;" see toll (n.)). A reminder of the original function of postage stamps, now often forgotten: the cost of letter-carrying formerly was paid by the recipient; stamps indicated it had been pre-paid by the sender, thus the letters were "carriage-free."
It is a pity that for one of the most popular scientific pursuits one of the least popularly intelligible names should have been found. [Fowler]Related: Philatelic; philatelism; philatelist.