"stamp-collecting, the fancy for collecting and classifying postage-stamps and revenue stamps," 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-) + atelēs "free from tax or charge," which was the ancient Greek word Herpin found that most nearly matched the concept of what a postage stamp does (from a- "without," see a- (3), + telos "tax;" see toll (n.)).
It is a reminder of the original function of postage stamps: the cost of letter-carrying formerly was paid by the recipient; a stamp indicated that carriage had been pre-paid by the sender, thus indicating to the recipient's postmaster that the letter so stamped was "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]
Stampomania (1865) also was tried. Stamp-collecting is from 1862. Related: Philatelic; philatelism; philatelist.