100 Objects: Stamp Collection – Part One

Man of Errors

All autobiography is self-indulgent.

Daphne De Maurier

In 1940 my father turned 11.  I have sometimes wondered how the war played in his mind when he was a teenage boy in the deep south of New Zealand.  He was, as a teenager, a good sportsman, worked on a farm, and hunted rabbits.  If he had been born five years earlier he would have been in World War Two.  But he wasn’t.  He was 16 when the war ended in the Pacific, and not 21.  On such slight things are the course of a life built.

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I’m not sure when I was given my father’s stamp collection, but for a while I also collected stamps and on the inside cover of my first stamp book I wrote my name and the date: 1982.  I imagine that I did this because my father had written his name and the date on his stamp book, and I imagine that it was in 1982 that his collection was passed on to me by my mother as a present.  I was quite diligent in little bursts with my stamp collection, and my mother worked at the Correspondence School and received school work from the odd exotic place around the world often covered in stamps which she dutifully passed on to me.

They are an intriguing record of history; stamps.  My father collected first day covers throughout his life that show, for example, the coronation of Elizabeth, and the beginning of decimal currency in New Zealand (10 July, 1967).  The first day cover for decimal currency shows stamps with some peculiar values including the half a cent stamp, and the two and half cents stamp.  In fact there are stamps from one to eight cents in value although no nine cent stamp.  It is this kind of detail that springs out at you.  Not that New Zealand changed to decimal currency in 1967, but that when we did we had an awful lot of different denominations (in stamps at the least).

Last night I read this stamp book.

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Such a great cover.  The simple two colour design, and the graphic sunburst lines behind the circular clouds.  Wonderful.  The end pages are also wonderful and have some tips about stamp collecting, and a lovingly crafted  paean to the stamp collector.

Very few boys have not succumbed to the delights of philately….  As your collection grows – and how quickly it grows – so your pride increases, and you begin to regard your album as you would a friend, something to turn to for great pleasure, not only when the rain is beating on the windows, but throughout the year….  Also, this first-rate pastime develops the mind by encouraging it to store up detail, and it promotes neatness and tidiness by the careful arrangement of the stamps on the pages.  The gay patterns and pleasing colours are an attraction in themselves, and it is not long before your heart and soul is in your album.

There are some tips about mounting stamps, and then a section on organizing a stamp club.

…the meetings can be held in turn at the homes of the various members, where, by the way, some obliging wife or mother will usually be glad to serve at the appointed time that indispensable feature of all group meetings – the refreshments.

What to do at the meeting?  How about some fun games?

Stamp Treasure Hunt: Packets of stamps are hidden in all parts of the room.  Club members search for them, keeping what they find for their collection.  Use some really good stamps and also, to create amusement, some utterly worthless ones.

Auction Sale: This is an ever-delightful stunt for stamp clubs.  Many clubs hold auction sales at every meeting and find them an unending source of entertainment, especially where the club humourist is appointed the auctioneer.

Philatelic humourist.  Quite a rare breed I imagine.

The book has no publication date, but it seems to have been published sometime in the late 1930s, but before 1939.  The book is divided into sections, each section being devoted to a different country, and at the head of each page there is a brief description of that country.  These descriptions are wonderfully diverting, and a snapshot not only of the world just before World War Two, but of a blithe, British view of that world.  It reminds me, with great force, that my father was a little boy in quite a different world from me.

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Here, for example, is the end of the entry for Germany: “…the Hitler regime became powerful largely because the new generation of Germans, too young to understand the suppression that followed defeat, wholeheartedly backed the new leader (an Austrian) believing that he would recover Germany’s “place in the sun”.  The Germans have always been in the vanguard of literature, music and science, and the future of this great country is impossible to determine.”

Indeed.

Because these little country sketches are so good, and because I have always had a sickly yearning to have been a little boy during the height of the British empire, I am going to spend a little time now wandering the world with my father’s stamp collection.

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