Reflections of a stamp collector

photo of tweezers

He had formed a collection at school, not a very large one, seven or eight hundred at most, but still big enough for him to take an interest in; and then when he left school the collection, like may others, had been laid aside forgotten.

On leaving school he went as a clerk to the bank in his native village. He would then be about seventeen. Some three years afterwards he was transferred to one of our larger provincial towns and amongst his luggage he placed the old stamp collection. Why he did so he could not tell. But it was lonely in his lodgings in the new town, where everybody seemed too busy to take any interest in him and he took out the old collection of his schooldays to have a look at it. He thought that it might make life less dreary were he to start collecting stamps again and so have some occupation which would help him to pass agreeably the weary hours in which he was not at the bank. So he rearranged his stamps.

One day not long after, he happened to mention stamps to a brother clerk.

"Hello, do you collect stamps?"
"Well I used to do so and I’m thinking of beginning again".
"That’s right; I’m a collector, but nobody round here seems to collect. I got a fine thing the other day though……."

And then ensued a long talk dear to the heart of the philatelists, at the end of which our friend found himself invited to "come round to-night to see them".

So, through stamps, he made his first friend. He admired his collection and invited him round to see his own poor seven hundred stuck in an old exercise book. But his friend soon remedied all that. He told him of albums quite cheap, but yet by no means bad, of stamp mounts of catalogues and of all the accessories to the hobby of Philately. And our beginner listened and marvelled and picked up many things from his friend. Papers for advanced collectors there were in abundance, but these served only to render the possessor of seven hundred ashamed of the paucity of his collection.

Soon after he contracted a disease which affected his spine. It was not a very bad ailment but it necessitated his keeping in bed for two months and spending another two in an arm-chair. During those months his hobby was indispensable, for it took his attention away from the pain which was continually gnawing at him. So he bought and album – not an expensive one and a catalogue. Then he rearranged his stamps according to his catalogue.

This took some time and when it was done he felt that a blank had come into his life. He missed the old pleasure. So he bought some more stamps, not from approval sheets, but in packets. He found it much cheaper and better to buy packets and sets than to buy from low-priced not cheap approval sheets. And as his friends learned the hobby by which he alleviated the racking pain he suffered they brought him stamps. Stamps that they had bought for him, the stamps that they had begged, stamps they had torn off old letters, in short stamps obtained in every conceivable way. But the gift which pleased him most was a box full of envelopes which he received from the manager of a big cloth mill, who promised at the same time to send him some more. All the stamps in that box were modern; they were stamps that could be exchanged. For many collectors can not get hold of modern stamps except by buying and are only too pleased to exchange some of their old stamps for these modern ones. And so our beginners collection grew during those months and when he went back to work he had quite a nice general collection, of between two and three thousand. He took pride in showing the collection and was most careful to keep it spick and span. No torn copies, no faded stamps, no labels or fiscal stamps did he admit. He collected only true postage stamps.

It was about this time that he joined a stamp society. It was not a famous one, nor had it been long in existence. Our beginner did not believe in rushing things; he always bided his time and went cautiously. The members all lived in the town and twice a month they met at the house of one of their number to discuss stamps. They were all juniors like himself; their biggest collection was a general one of about five thousand varieties, but they were all keen. They did not circulate sheets, they simply exchanged or sold their stamps when they met.

He exchanged many of his duplicates in that society and the endless talk and exchange of ideas did him good. It enlarged the horizons of his views and apart from stamps he made a good few friends amongst the members. It was about this time that he bought his first Gibbons Album. This step was forced upon him by the fact that the standard catalogue was used as a basis for all the selling and exchanging of stamps which went on in his new society; nor did he ever regret his purchase. The Gibbons of those days was not the same as the present handsome catalogue, but it chronicled thousands of varieties that his cheaper one left unlisted and thus is showed him the endless possibilities of stamp collecting.

It did another thing. It brought a sort of despair into his mind. How could he hope to get nearly all those varieties? It was quite impossible. He had too little money to spend on his hobby. But after a time despair left him. It left him when he came to recognise that nobody attempts to collect all those varieties, that Gibbons chronicles all that varieties known to the specialist of the country, many of which a general collector never sees. So gradually he grew contented again as his collection went on increasing. After some half dozen years in this town he was promoted to the head office of his bank in London. It was with very mixed feelings that he said good-bye to his associates at the station. He was sorry to leave them, of course, very sorry; they had been good to him, better friends he would never find, but – and it was a but which outweighed all other considerations the town to which he was travelling was London; and London held the shops of stamp dealers. Now he would be able to go round and examine the stamps in the shops; for his collection now numbered close on five thousand and his salary was being raised, so he would be able to buy stamps. Of course, he had long been buying stamps, but only sets and from the approval sheets of recognised firms and he had for some time realised that the value of stamps be bought in this fashion would not rise very much. Yes, he was rapidly becoming a hard headed collector. He still loved his hobby for his own sake, but was always looking for a bargain or a stamp that would rise. So he came to London with one or two letters of introduction from his old stamp friends to collectors in the great metropolis. After he had settled down comfortably in his lodgings, he sought out these collectors and found it marvellously easy to make friends of them. Their common hobby was a lubricant for the wheels of the machinery which makes friends. But it was not easy for him to find a suitable stamp society of which to become a member. It was a curious fact that they all seemed too advanced. However, at last he got in touch with a number of collectors of the same status as himself and he banded them all together and formed a society. He was a persevering young man, this collector. And then he commenced to visit the dealers shops. He did not make many purchases. His salary was not big enough for that and he limited himself strictly to those stamps which he wanted. Still, the continuous perusal of dealers stock books, taught him what stamps there were and what was their value. Not only so, but the dealers got to know him. They recognised that he was a beginner and keen; so they were inclined to help him. The dealers had a sort of friendly feeling for him; they remembered the days when they themselves were beginning and they2 helped him a lot. They did not offer him a 2d blue Mauritius, or all the minute varieties of the Orange River Colony. They offered him good old Europeans, which did not cost much, because just then nobody wanted them. But our young collector had the sense to see that some day people would want them and he took them. He did not take every one that was offered him. He took time and chose only picked specimens. Sometimes they cost little more, but he felt that they were worth the extra cost.

As the years past the collector became a true Philatelist. A philatelist is a true student of the science of stamps and the collector had learnt so much about stamps that he owned. He lectured at societies and became a specialist in many fields. Still his collection grew larger, finer and more extensive. When finally retirement came his collection had been exhibited on many occasions at exhibitions and societies the length and breadth of our country. As he got older his physical participation in the hobby declined but even then he would happily pool over his treasures and think back at the many stamps he had bought and the tales behind them and the people too. His life had been much enriched due to stamp collecting and that I feel is the case of all who collect stamps, for stamps can become so much more that just a hobby – a tonic indeed and to be taken regularly too!