Olympic philately is rooted in the modern Olympics and was a means of attracting money and interest to the Games. Organizers of the first 1896 Athens Olympics faced financial difficulties and issued series of 12 stamps to save the situation. From 50 thousand to 4 mln stamps were printed and came into circulation on April 6, 1896. Under a decree by the King of Greece, all postage had to be paid by these stamps during the following year.
The first Olympic stamps were a real object of art. The designs, made by French Professor Gillieron, were based on ancient Greek art and architecture connected with the games. French engraver E. Mouchon created the steel matrixes for the stamps. Professor Svoronos, the head of the Athens Numismatic Museum, consulted the designers.
This series is a rear one and very popular with collectors. A 10 lepta-value stamp of this series costs some 200 dollars.
Greece was the most active issuer of sports stamps. Later it was joined by other countries, primarily by Latin America.
Russia and the USSR began to use a sports theme in the mid 1930s to mark the 1928 All-Union Spartakiade. These first sports stamps are still very popular and expensive.
The USSR had its first Olympic stamps in 1960. Since then it has been issuing stamps to every Olympics. Collectors believe that the Sochi Games will significantly contribute to the world's philately.