Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Sadness of the Lone Philatelist

.The notice arrived as an insert in the latest edition of the Ozpost freebie, 'The Stamp Bulletin'. It informed all that the Tasmanian Philately Society was holding an exhibition in my city's town hall. There would be commemorative postcards on sale and prizes to be won. I became very excited. I imagined, after fifty or so years of collecting, I'd go along and find like minds. In my thoughts I could picture it – my new found pals and I would discuss at length a mutual abhorrence for African countries seeking foreign exchange through issues of stamps not reflecting in any way their cultural identity, but with portrayals of Mickey Mouse instead. I would pontificate on my dislike of the annual production of Christmas Island Chinese New Year zodiac stamps, and so it would go on. Why there may even be enthusiasts there of tender years I could give tips to in light of my decades of romance with the humble stamp – maybe even some slightly geeky, but nonetheless alluringly youthful, female devotees who would hang off every utterance from my sage, venerable lips. And so I dreamt on in the lead up to the great event. That my DLP (Darling Loving Partner) looked at me askance with raised eyebrow, when I announced my intention of an afternoon's outing to that venue, failed to damper my ardour – I was pumped!

..Harking back, I vaguely remember when I first became aware of my oldest passion. In the mists of time, when I was unbelievably young, I remember my mother in the kitchen of my childhood home sharing with me a book of a very different type to what I was used to. In it were all sorts of images with perforated edges. Some had the same picture, but in different colours. It seemed the same attractive young lady was repeated in profile over and over again. I later discovered she was our not so long ago crowned queen, to whom we sang at the local movie house before the start of 'Hopalong Cassidy' or 'The Lone Ranger' in those pre-television days. I was immediately fascinated by this incredible book and I wanted more. Gradually my mother, always savvy in such matters, realised that, yes, I had it – the stamp collecting gene. Into my hands, for keeps, she placed this treasure trove of delight. Through it, and later on via albums of my own, I discovered the world that existed away from my small island in the southern seas. In its pages I found places with fantastical names – Fernando Poo, Fiume, Lundy and Danzig, for example. I knew of great events such as the '56 Melbourne Olympics, and Sputnik circling the planet, through commemorative issues. I discovered huge swathes of the earth was coloured the red of the British Empire, and an equal proportion the blue of the French, as colonial stamps in turn led me to atlases and Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopaedia. There were pictures of the world's scenic spots in the days before mass tourism, reproductions of great art works and portraits of the rich and famous, including a nasty little man from Germany with a moustache. Why, there were even stamps of native women with bare breasts, of which I found more satisfactory images in the National Geographics housed in my primary school library.

Speaking of which, around the corner from said school, was the Opportunity Shop. Most of my mates would go there for second hand 'The Phantoms' or 'Donald Ducks', but I went for what was hinged to the back wall – a myriad of stamps. As an aside, an abiding memory from these pre-adolescent years was the smell of a newly opened packet of freshly minted, sticky stamp hinges. I can almost taste that aromatic .scent all these decades on.  Anyway, back to that wall and the pleasurable occasions I had making my selections – a shilling would probably allow for at least half a dozen or so carefully considered purchases, which were reverentially placed, by the eternally patient matron at the counter, into a second hand envelope, to be taken home and added to the collection. The local Coles Variety Store, in the main street of my North West Coast town, was also a haven. As perfumed shop assistants patrolled the counters and the sharply attired 'bodgies' of the town smoked outside whilst perusing the 'talent', I was happily engrossed in sorting through sets of stamps from the world over, held in the hobbies’ section, towards the rear of this Aladdin's Cave of a store, along with  Airfix model planes and supplies of balsa wood. Later on came the sublime joys of mail order. Firstly, if my memory serves me correctly, it was the Rocket Stamp Club, followed by the more sophisticated Seven Seas. I was beside myself when the monthly parcel arrived, taking delicious time over my choices, usually from the less expensive packages, and then sending off the leftovers by return post with parental cheque attached. At yearly intervals I would lug the current 'Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue' home. It was a heavy orange tome, a hot item in the town's library, with a long waiting list. I would proceed to painstakingly 'value' my collection. And from this bible I also discovered that every stamp had a background story, a provenance. And for many, what a tale it was!

Over subsequent years I have waxed and waned in my collecting, and these days restrict myself to Australian issues, with an occasional perusal of eBay as a treat. I've inherited albums from maiden aunts, but I've also developed other, equally expensive, passions. The love though has always remained, causing me to venture out on that Friday arvo a few weeks ago.

The upstairs room was crowded and stuffy, and after I recovered from an initial shock, yes, the displays were indeed interesting, when I could get at them. And the reason for my unwelcome surprise – was that, without doubt, I was the youngest person present. My prior fantasies flew out the window. All those around me were attached to walking sticks, zimmers or wheelchairs. There had seemed to be a frisson emanating from the beautiful old dames in the room when I came in – it was because a piece of eye candy had arrived, a young buck – and that was me!!!!!!!!!!!!! One darling elderly gentleman, a hundred if he was a day, tottered around after me, placing his hoary old head between myself and whatever it was that I was attempting to examine. He was constantly gesticulating at me with his cane, and then at the portable displays. He thought he was telling me something important about each one, but distressingly, no words were coming out. And it all smelt, dare I say it, of the certain mustiness of the passage of time – there was nary the scent of a stamp hinge to be had! I left before I had done it all justice, well before I intended. And I felt sad, just very sad.

.I feel there is a throughline between the tiny images of my stamp collecting past to my obsession with the photographic image today. Neither my beloved daughter nor son have the particular 'stamp gene' to carry it all on after my demise, but that’s fine.  They both adore collecting other items no less passionately than I, so they possess the mother gene. In that second storey room, full of those under the same spell as I, I figured out that something I adored has now only a very limited shelf life. I sense it will all die out with my generation, along with the composing of letters to souls in far away places, and more than conceivably, hand writing itself. In the future, if stamps continue to exist at all, they will probably somehow become, like everything else, digital. No longer will I be able to hinge them into the albums of my past, the albums of my mind. 

Tasmanian Philatelic Society Website -

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful, poignant story! Made me get a bit teary. I do have to pull you up on something, though! I love stamps, and would gleefully become a collector if money didn't mean that I have to narrow my spending down to other passions (books and music, of course). If I was a rich man, I'd be a budding philatelist for sure!