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Albert H. Harris: Philatelic Literature Dealer

Albert H. Harris. What seems to be a Dictaphone is behind him.

In my previous blog I had mentioned that the F. A. Bellamy library was bought by Albert H. Harris (not to be confused with H. E. Harris of the US). This blog is about the man who was a philatelic literature dealer, writer, and proprietor and editor of various stamp magazines.

​Albert Henry Harris was born at Croydon on 13 September 1885. He became interested in stamps at an early age. Party educated in Paris, on his return, Harris started The Enterprise Stamp Club in 1902 with two friends. This grew into the City of London Philatelic Society in October 1906 of which he was a member till his death.

​Harris’ initial career was in the advertising business but he gradually veered towards the stamp trade, in particular dealing in philatelic literature. His interest in journalism led him to cut his teeth as a junior in the editorial offices of Ernest Benn Ltd., then amongst the leaders of magazine publishers. Hence it is perhaps not surprising that, on 1 March 1911, Harris launched a new monthly magazine – the Philatelic Circular – for one of his other early enterprises, an exchange club called the Modern Collector’s Club. After acquiring two other magazines and after 58 numbers, its name was changed to The Philatelic Magazine. In July 1919 the magazine became a fortnightly. Down the road, Harris also acquired the venerable Alfred Smith’s Monthly Circular (1922) [Note 1], The Record of Philately (1936), and perhaps the most prestigious, Stamp Collectors’ Fortnightly (1958). From 1914 to 1937, Harris also brought out 13 edition of Who’s Who in Philately in book form; it was later amalgamated and published in Stamp Collector’s Annual.

Stock of Books of Albert H. Harris (1942/43). Is it Vera Trinder behind the typewriter?

Harris’ firm, Harris Publications Ltd., became an important supplier of philatelic literature in the 1920s and they maintained that position well into the 1940s. Apart from the Bellamy library which purchased in 1938, Harris also purchased many other important libraries like those of Hugo Griebert as well as considerable portions of the Edgar Weston stock. It may be pertinent to mention here that Weston traded under the name ‘Victor Marsh’ and was the biggest philatelic literature dealer of the early 20th century.

Harris’ sticker on the front pastedown of Volume I of my copy of The Journal of the Philatelic Literature Society
Libraries bought by Harris. From the ‘Food for Thought’ Philatelic Literature Catalogue (1943 3rd Edition)

Individual Parts of Standard Index to Philatelic Literature (1926-32). Courtesy: Burkhard Schneider of Philabooks.
The individual parts were published as a book in 1933

Harris’ famous work on philatelic literature is The Standard Index to Philatelic Literature which is considered by the famous bibliographer, James Negus, to be the best single volume for tracing books and articles published in the early period to December 1925 [Note 2]. The original idea was to complete it in ten or more bi-monthly parts. However only six parts came out from 1926 to 1932 and the parts were published in book form in 1933 (and reprinted by James Bendon in 1991 with editing by James Negus).

While the first five parts were published by 1928, departure in February (or March) 1928 of Leslie A. J. Baker, who was in the main responsible for the work, and the Great Depression slowed down the project and the final part to 1932. While the index was already much complete when he joined the firm as a 17-year old two weeks before Baker left, most of the task to complete the work fell on the young Kenneth F. Chapman, later Editor of Stamp CollectingThe Philatelic Magazine, and Philately.

In his Introduction to the reprint edition of The Standard Index, Chapman gives a brief but remarkable insight into the manHe describes Harris as imbued with a devotion to good philatelic practices and having an “eagle eye” for empty “puffs”. He was a hard taskmaster (which perhaps contributed to Baker leaving) and strict in his deportment. He was always ready to do wield swords in print, aware of but not intimidated by the laws of libel and working just within them. His battles with Stanley Phillips, the editor of Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal, which tended, “a little pompously, to consider itself the voice of British Philately” and the more down-to-earth Hugh F. Vallancey, the editor of Stamp Collecting, and Harris’ main rival in the philatelic literature business, “kept Harris alive and well!” Finally, he was also a good businessman always looking for cost cutting and labour-saving; for example he used a Dictaphone for writing letters thus keeping the typist fully employed while he himself had extended lunches with friends and he introduced modern accounting systems replacing the “old-fashioned Dickensian monstrosities.”

Harris died suddenly on 29 November 1945. His only child, Captain H. Gordon Harris was then serving with the Army in Burma and the business was carried on by Tom Morgan and Vera Trinder [Note 3]. Harris Publications was reorganised sometime later changing policies and premises. While some valuable philatelic literature titles were sold by auction through R. C. Jacombs in 1946, the rest of the stock, excepting current publications, was purchased by Vallancey in January 1947. ​Thus ended the philatelic literature reign of one of its greatest dealers of all time [Note 4].

Note 1: The Monthly Circular was published from January 1875 onwards. Its predecessor The Stamp Collector’s Magazine was one of philately’s earliest journals having been published from February 1863 to December 1874. After taking over the Circular, Harris renamed it as The Stamp Collector’s Monthly Circular (later Journal) and published it from September 1920 to August 1922. However he amalgamated it with the Philatelic Magazine in September 1922.

Note 2: The Index’s genesis dates back to 1904 when Harris, as Honorary Secretary of the Enterprise Society, prevailed upon three members to index the society’s library; the attempt failed. After many previous attempts had been scrapped, work on the Index as in its present state began in 1923. However it was only after Baker joined in April 1925 that the work started seeing progress. The work indexes handbooks of the entire world but journals of the British Empire only.

Note 3: ​In 1969, Vera Trinder (Vera Webster before her marriage to Derrick Trinder) left the company to establish her own literature and accessories business. Not many in the stamp collecting world and over 40 are unfamiliar with Trinder! ​When Stamp Collecting went into liquidation in 1984, the literature business was acquired by Trinder. In 2006, Trinder sold the company to Prinz Publications (UK) Ltd. who closed the iconic physical shop at 38 Bedford Street on 30 June 2014 but still retails books on eBay UK and catalogues on their website. Vera Trinder died in June 2016.

Vera Trinder from Harris Publications Stamp Dealers Directory 1950/51. Courtesy: Casper Pottle of HH Sales.

​​​Note 4: To complete the story, Harris Publications was sold by the Harris family to Urch Harris & Co. (no relation) of Bristol in 1967. Two years later, Stamp Collecting Ltd. took it over. The latter went into voluntary liquidation in July 1984. The two titles, The Philatelic Magazine and Stamp Collecting were bought by Stamp News Ltd. which then published a magazine of the same name. Stamp News itself ceased publication in October 1986.

Updates

23 March 2020: The blog has been translated into German by Hans-Joachim Schwanke, the ex-owner and auctioneer of Schwanke Auctions. It can be found here: https://www.schwanke-philatelie.de/2020/03/albert-h-harris-ein-bedeutender-haendler-philatelistischer-literatur

July 2020: This post has been re-published in Wolfgang Maassen’s Phila Historica. The bibliographical details are:

Bhuwalka, Abhishek. “Albert H. Harris: Philatelic Literature Dealer.” Phila Historica: Zeitschrift für Philateliegeschichte und Philatelistische Literatur. (=Phila Historia: Journal of the History of Philately and Philatelic Literature) No. 2 June 2020: 171-175

The journal can be downloaded from the following website for a limited time period: http://philahistorica.de/Dokumente/PhilaHistorica_2020_02.pdf

Bibliography

  1. Williams, L.N and M. “Philately’s Great Loss.” Philatelic Magazine: 53 No. 25 Whole Number 795 (December 14, 1945).
  2. Harris, Albert H., ed. The Standard Index to Philatelic Literature 1879-1925. London: Harris Publications Ltd., 1933.
  3. Chapman, Kenneth F. Introduction to The Standard Index to Philatelic Literature 1879-1925. London: Harris Publications Ltd., 1991.
  4. Negus, James. Biographies in The Standard Index to Philatelic Literature 1879-1925. London: Harris Publications Ltd., 1991.
  5. Negus, James. Philatelic Literature: Compilation Techniques and Reference Sources. Limassol, Cyprus: James Bendon, 1991.
  6. Bacon, Sir E. D. Catalogue of the Crawford Library of Philatelic Literature at the British Library. Fishkill, N.Y.: The Printer’s Stone Limited, 1991
  7. Birch, Brian J. The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion. Montignac Toupinerie, France: The Author, 2018.

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