The Romance of Stamp Collecting

[This is taken from Edward J. Nankivell's Stamp Collecting As a Pastime, originally published in 1902.]

The story of the development of stamp collecting, and of the trade that has sprung up with it, is full of romance.

Our publishers' business, with its world-wide ramifications, was begun by young Gibbons putting a few sheets of stamps in his father's shop window. The father was a chemist, and it was intended that the lad should follow in his father's footsteps; but the stamps elbowed the drugs aside, and eventually yielded a fortune which enabled this pioneer of the stamp trade to retire and indulge his globe-trotting propensities to the full. He sold his business for £25,000, and, still in the prime of life, retired to a snug little villa on the banks of the Thames. The business was converted into a Limited Liability Company, and the Managing Director may be said to be a product of the original business, for it was a present of a guinea packet of Stanley Gibbons's stamps that first whetted his appetite for stamp collecting, and eventually for stamp dealing. Mr. Gibbons had for a great many years conducted his business from his private house. The new broom changed all that, and opened out in fine premises in the Strand, W.C., where the Company now occupy the whole of one house and the greater part of the adjoining premises. In every room busy hands are at work all the day long endeavouring to keep pace with a world-wide business which began with a few sheets in the corner of a chemist's shop window in the town of Plymouth.

And now, looking back on the humdrum days of the beginnings of the stamp trade, what opportunities do they not seem to have missed! Could they but have foreseen the present-day developments, a few unconsidered trifles, valued at a few pence in those days, put away in a bottom drawer, would to-day net a fortune. Young Gibbons, amongst his early purchases, bought from a couple of sailors at Plymouth for £5 a sackful of triangular Cape of Good Hope stamps, a large proportion being the rare so-called Woodblocks, with many of the Errors described in the list of great rarities in another chapter. Those Errors he disposed of at 2s. 6d. each. They are now worth from £60 to £75 each. And the ordinary Woodblocks, which were so plentifully represented in that sackful, are now catalogued at from 50s. to £9 apiece. Strange as it may seem, those were the common stamps of those days, and they are the rarities of today.

A well-known collection, full of rare stamps of the value of from £5 to £50, has been largely formed by the fortunate possessor out of stamps for which he paid 2s. per dozen just a little over twenty years ago.

A leading collector once conceived the idea of scouring the little-visited country towns of Spain for rare old Spanish stamps, and a most successful hunt he made of it. He secured most valuable and unsuspected hauls of unused and used blocks and pairs of rare Portuguese; but before returning home he decided to treat himself to a trip to Morocco, and during that ill-fated extension of his tour he lost nearly the whole of his patient garnerings of rare Spanish stamps, for during an inland trip some very unphilatelic Bedouins swooped down on his escort in the desert and carried off the whole of his baggage. He, being some distance ahead of his escort, escaped, and brought home only a few samples of the grand things he had found and lost.

In all forms of collecting the hunt for bargains adds zest to the game, and probably more so in stamps than in any other hobby, not even excepting old china; and, as in other lines of collecting, the bargain hunter must be equipped with the expert knowledge of the specialist if he would sweep into his net at bargain prices the unsuspected gems to be found now and again in the philatelic mart. Many a keen stamp collector turns his years of wide experience to good account as a bargain hunter, and at least one innocent amateur is credited with netting a revenue which would make many a flourishing merchant green with envy.

Many a match has probably been due to stamp collecting. Not long ago we were told of a young lady who wrote to an official in a distant colony for a few of the current stamps issued from his office. The stamps were forwarded and a correspondence ensued. There was eventually an exchange of photographs, and finally the official applied for leave, returned home, and married his stamp collecting correspondent.

Truly the scope of the stamp collector for pleasure, for profit, and for romance is as wide as the most imaginative could desire.





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