What is the word for people who collect ... ?

Generally speaking, most people who collect something are just known as 'xxxx collectors', for example 'a fossil collector' or 'a doll collector'. Various terms do exist to describe people who collect specific items, for example:

  • philatelist - stamps
  • numismatist - coins and banknotes
  • lepidopterist - butterflies and moths
  • coleopterist - beetles
  • dipterist - flies
  • arctophile - teddy bears
  • oologist - birds' eggs
  • deltiologist - postcards
  • notaphilist - banknotes
  • tegestologist - beer mats
  • phillumenist - matchboxes or matchbook labels
  • scripophilist - old bond and share certificates

Nevertheless, only the first few items on this list have much genuine currency in English. And, judging by the evidence in our databases, even in these cases the 'xxxx collector' form is often just as commonly used as the specialist term. For example, the Oxford English Corpus currently contains 125 examples of philatelist  and 131 instances of stamp collector, and 56 cases of numismatist as against 64 of coin collector.

One expert's view of the special terms is summed up by the following extract from J. Rendell's 1963 book Collecting Matchbox Labels:

Despite the fact that the word 'phillumenist' has come to a certain extent into general use the only correct appellation for the subject remains 'matchbox label collecting' and the serious student of it describes himself or herself as no more or less than a 'matchbox label collector'.

 

See other Vocabulary Questions.
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