This post was translated into German and published by Hans-Joachim Schwanke on his website on 23 March 202o. Read here: https://www.schwanke-philatelie.de/2020/03/albert-h-harris-ein-bedeutender-haendler-philatelistischer-literatur.
It was then published in print as “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.
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 (Figure 1) 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 (Figure 2). 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.
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 was 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 (Figure 3). 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 (Figure 4).
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 (Figure 5) and the parts were published in book form in 1933 (and reprinted by James Bendon in 1991 with editing by James Negus) (Figure 6).
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 Collecting, The Philatelic Magazine, and Philately.
In his Introduction to the reprint edition of The Standard Index, Chapman gives a brief but remarkable insight into the man. He 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) (Figure 7) 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.
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.
23 Aug 2023: This day, I received an email which I reproduce in full, with due permissions from its sender. The email has been lightly edited.
Dear Mr. Bhuwalka,
I just want to say how much I enjoyed reading your article on Harris Publications, which I came across on the internet.
In 1967 I was a 19-year old Danish girl, looking for a job in London. Vera Trinder gave me that chance, and became my role model as far as being a good progressive no nonsense boss, when I a decade later joined a Danish Shipping Company. Alas, when she started on her own, I stayed with the Urch Harris group for a while, then changed to a Danish owned company, and finally returned to Denmark.
Whilst with Harris Publications, who moved from St. John Street to Maiden Lane, just opposite Rules restaurant, Gordon Harris often frequented the premises, very posh and laid back. Then the Hodgson Press took over, with Charles Hodgson also paying frequent visits to the office, albeit his main focus was on his acting career.
By then I had progressed from mere typist to PA to the editor, Bill Newport, a specialist in CI stamps. Later, he joined the Guernsey Philatelic Service, and subsequently was charged with selling printing blocks he was in charge of destroying. His advice to me was always “never volunteer information”. He took me to a reception in celebration of the first stamps issued by Bangladesh in 1972, hosted at the Houses of Parliament by the then Secretary for Transport & Communication, which covered the issues of UK stamps at the time, John Stonehouse. I actually shook hands with both his wife and children, and not long after did he make his disappearing act from a US beach, later to be found in Australia, after an attempt to con family, media and debt collectors.
The office was not far from the St. Martin in the Fields post office, where Harris Publications bought sheets of new stamps on the date of issuing. On one such occasion I was sent to purchase a number of sheets, and standing in the middle of a very long very quiet queue, very Britishly quiet, a voice was heard saying very loud to the person handing over a sheet of the new stamps: “please change these, the Queen’s head is upside down”. The sigh repeating itself along the queue was palpable!
I also found stamps a great way to widen my knowledge of geography, which was a great asset when I started a career in shipping. I wound up my working years with an 8 years stay in the French Pyrenees, operating a chambres d’hôtes and brocante, and am presently catching up on painting pop art, hiding behind the signature Phil Glyck ( think German pronunciation) in the town of Soroe in Denmark.
Anyway, what I really wanted to say is that the world of stamps was a wonderful start to an interesting and informative life.
Best regards, yours truly
- Williams, L.N and M. “Philately’s Great Loss.” Philatelic Magazine: 53 No. 25 Whole Number 795 (December 14, 1945).
- Harris, Albert H., ed. The Standard Index to Philatelic Literature 1879-1925. London: Harris Publications Ltd., 1933.
- Chapman, Kenneth F. Introduction to The Standard Index to Philatelic Literature 1879-1925. London: Harris Publications Ltd., 1991.
- Negus, James. Biographies in The Standard Index to Philatelic Literature 1879-1925. London: Harris Publications Ltd., 1991.
- Negus, James. Philatelic Literature: Compilation Techniques and Reference Sources. Limassol, Cyprus: James Bendon, 1991.
- 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
- Birch, Brian J. The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion. Montignac Toupinerie, France: The Author, 2018.