An Affair with Stamps

It was probably sometime in March 2006. Another issue of my favorite magazine at the time, ‘Gokulam’ had just arrived. I thanked the postman as he handed me the issue, ran back into home, packed some snacks in a box, laid out a chair and a table in the garden area and sat down to an uninterrupted reading marathon of stories, personal anecdotes from famous personalities, comic strips, puzzles, science experiments, current affairs – all of which lasted for half a day.

The magazine was the very reason I took up writing in the first place. I used to scan the length and breadth of the magazine to find new spaces to contribute to and would take down notes based on the pattern of write-ups appearing in a particular column. I would then go out of my way to not conform to the same. In my head, I assumed that’d make an editor sit up and take notice. Alas, a lot of what I sent never made it to the magazine. One reason, as my mother pointed out, and rightly so, could be the fact that in an effort to consciously stir away from a pattern, I was not allowing any room for my natural flow of thought to be put to paper.

Most good readers have a knack of making a fair distinction between what portion of a write up is authentic and what is not. And when the scales are tilted heavily in the favor of the latter, it does not help your case much. Some obsessive-compulsive readers might make it to the end of your semi made-up sparkly work, but you can be dead sure of very few returning to read or review your future pieces. I for one, am a reader who holds grudges against magazines and authors that go way back to pre-school. I remember this one time I was reading an issue of DC’s ‘Scooby Doo’ series, where they separate Scooby and Shaggy towards the end of the comic, over the most unsatisfactory plot line. It left me scarred and I spent the better half of the following decade avoiding Scooby comics and changing cartoon channels playing episodes or advertisements of Scooby Doo.

The set up and the screenplay is still so vivid in my mind that I could go on and on about it. I do plan to cover this episode in a detailed write-up one day, but let me not digress from the very reason, I began writing this particular piece. So, while I was on my usual scanning spree across the magazine, I landed on a page that regularly featured snippets of quick food recipes (a page and an activity that I have successfully been able to avoid to this date). A small humble box highlighted in black sat in the bottom right of that page. It was an advertisement by a stamp collector looking to give away a set of ‘100 stamps’ to collectors, philatelists or any other interested party. The advertisement also offered more ambitious readers to choose from an assortment of numerous other stamp categories as an add-on to the existing set of 100. All of ten, my eyes were instantly drawn towards the ‘Walt Disney Cartoons’ catalog. It featured all of the cartoons I held dear at that age. It did not seem like a whole lot of money either and even if it did, I had to absolutely have it.

Without wasting a second, I ran back into home, asked for my mother’s cellphone, and called up my father. I told him about the advertisement and what I wanted. One of the more special qualities of my father is not to deny me access right away to any material. More so when he sees an aspect of education associated with it. He asked me if I knew anything about stamps and the hobby of collecting it as such. I did not but the ego in the child-me hated admitting to it, and so I told him I knew stuff about it. And then I spent the next five minutes giving the most dismal explanations in the history of philately. Dad laughed it off and agreed to get me the set. He wrote a letter, placed an order with the seller and in two weeks’ time I was in possession of my first set of stamps. It was 12th April 2006.

That was also the day I officially became a stamp collector. My father sat me down and gave an exhaustive explanation about the activity. Since its inception in 1840 with the ‘Penny Black’ stamp, how the science of philately became an integral portion of history itself, documenting, preserving, and remembering every significant event of the time since gone by. Over the years, he registered me as a member in various philatelic groups and societies and taught me how to exchange quantity for quality and enlarge my collection. Value of first day covers. How to detach stamps from envelopes by carefully rinsing and drying them. All that I know about this art and its methods is all what my father has taught me.

Australia and Equatorial Guinea were the first countries I built an extensive collection for.

When I started out, I just collected what I liked – stamps that were visually appealing and had a direct story to tell. The first collection I ever built was that of ‘Indian Railways and Locomotives’. More recently, I have been transitioning from merely collecting stamps, to analyzing the more technical aspects, documenting history of the stamps, the denominations they were originally available in, etc. It also helps that most philatelic associations these days, put out brochures with long lost data about old stamps.

These brochures are also issued with first day covers and come with a detailed explanation in both English and Hindi about the cover stamps.

The art of letter writing is an endangered one and with that the world of philately has also taken a nosedive. The very thought of the hobby dying, people seeming to care less and less about the world of stamps, breaks the heart of the child in me that was introduced to this very fulfilling world years ago.

From what I have seen of personal experiences, this hobby has no age. My mother took an active interest in this only a couple of years ago and ever since she has been doing her part to introduce school children to this dying art form. The last one-millionth of the population pursuing this art are the ones on whose shoulder the responsibility to propagate it also rests.

In my efforts to educate the younger section of the population, I have been working on building a blog and a digital library of my personal stamp collection. Given all this and how far, with the help of my parents, I have been able to bring this hobby along, I have been trying actively to track down the person who was the original point of initiation in this chain reaction, the seller who advertised the Walt Disney stamps in the magazine. The only time we communicated with him was in 2006 when he sent us the 100 odd stamps. The letterhead had his address on it and I had it saved. My friends living in the same part of the city as the seller, tried tracking down the address and the person over the last year or two, but to no avail. It would have made me happy to have been able to personally narrate my experience to him and the part he played in my learning.

The detailed catalog of stamps with the seller’s address (blurred) on the top left corner.

In many ways, stamp collecting is like the barroom scene from the original 1977 Star Wars movie — filled with all sorts of exotic creatures from distant reaches. No matter your collecting proclivities, you can always find something odd or unusual in the philatelic universe to peak your particular interest.

– Anonymous

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