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The wonderful world of philately

Published Jul 30, 2013


Durban - Stamp collecting is one of the world’s most popular indoor hobbies. It’s history is as old as that of the postal system itself, with the Penny Black widely considered to be the world’s first adhesive postage stamp used in a public postal system.

Despite being issued in 1840, a substantial number of these have survived, and they are therefore not very valuable.

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Oddly enough, errors alongside rarity have made for some of the most precious stamps in the world.

For example, the 1855 tre-skilling yellow stamp, among the first Swedish postage stamps, was printed in the wrong colour. Only one surviving copy is known to exist. It holds the world record sale price at auction for a postage stamp, having sold for $2.6m in 1996. Every time this stamp was sold it was for a world record price at the time and it was sold again in 2010 for an undisclosed price.

The first postage stamp issue for a country on the African continent was the triangular Cape of Good Hope set that was issued on September 1, 1853. Designed by Charles Davidson Bell, who was surveyor-general of the Cape Colony at the time, and depicting the figure of Sir George Cathcart, the shape was unique.

Rare copies of these stamps have survived and in the Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue of 2011, values of £100 up to £180 000 are quoted for single Cape of Good Hope stamps.

Surely the allure of that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow contributed to the popularity of stamp collecting over the years; however, it seems to have thrived locally – largely for the sheer pleasure of collecting.

Former navy man John Bracey said he began collecting stamps as a 14-year-old in the 60s simply for “interest”.

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Roy Wood, a former cinema projectionist and photographer, said he took up the hobby only 10 years ago as the pictures on stamps appealed to him. Since then he has amassed about 25 albums of “pretty” pictures, among them stamps of the king and queen when they visited South Africa in 1947.

Richard Morey of Hillcrest, a member of The Highway Philatelic Society, has one of the most impressive collections in the group.

The 74-year-old says: “I have stamps on flowers, agriculture, literature and animals and an array of other topics. I’ve learnt more from collecting stamps than from anything else in life.”

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Morey makes no bones about the fact that his family – particularly the younger generation – haven’t shown any interest in his hobby. “I will leave my stamps to them, it doesn’t matter what they do with it – the important thing is that I’ve had the pleasure from it in my lifetime.”

He quips that they can do whatever they like, even burn them, but that they wouldn’t, knowing the stamps must be worth something.

“I understand that they’re not interested, there just isn’t the time these days. Young people today have far more distractions than we did growing up. There are computers and wonderful sport – it is to be expected.”

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While the young may indeed be too busy, culture has influenced a new audience, says Bev McNaught-Davis, former president of the Natal Philatelic Society and a committee member of the Philatelic Federation of Southern Africa.

“I began collecting when I was four years old and I do so because my mother and siblings were collectors and I did not want to be left behind. Children today do live stressful lives and perhaps stamp collecting is no longer a young person’s hobby, but what I’ve found is that people in their late 40s, who perhaps have more time on their hands, are entering into collecting.”

McNaught-Davis, who holds auctions regularly, says Durban has a vigorous stamp-collecting community. At the Saturday morning meeting which I attended, about 20 newcomers had responded to newspaper invitations to attend.

It appeared that many were there to sell albums they had inherited, while there was the odd new collector.

“Banter is part and parcel of the deal. Stamp collectors buy and sell to build themes or collections,” said Jaco Beyleveld, president of the Highway Philatelic Society, which meets at Westville Round Table (Club) Hall.

“It doesn’t matter what you collect, but you’ll find that most people collect something or the other – it’s almost an innate human trait. Some people collect a particular item to belong to a particular group – wanting to fit in or belong is normal as well. Stamp-collecting has worked well for many, with at least four societies in KwaZulu-Natal, meeting at fairs and auctions.”

Beyleveld said getting involved was simple, and started with joining a philatelic society. The wealth of information available from the members was invaluable in putting together a well-structured, sensible stamp collection. These members were also a good source for stamps and other collectable philatelic material.

Catalogues are issued on a regular basis and stocked by stamp dealers, and this is a kind of route map for a collector. Whether your chosen theme is birds, countries or anything in between, there is likely to be a catalogue.

Stamp dealers are a great source for stamps and often offer inexpensive packages containing examples from all over the world. To find a stamp dealer in your area, look in your Yellow Pages or online.

You can also purchase new stamps from the post office. Save stamps from envelopes, packages, and postcards that come to your home, or ask friends and relatives to save the stamps from their mail for you.

You can get a pen pal so that you can send each other letters with cool stamps. - The Mercury


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