The Royal Philatelic Collection

A few weeks back, Frank Walton, was kind enough to alert me to the sale of his six-volume The De La Rue Collection (2014) at an Australian auction house – Abacus Auctions; he knew that I have been searching for the set. While I had placed an alarm to wake myself up early that Monday morning, the 31st of August, I cancelled it the previous night when I realised that the price had already gone beyond my budget!

Next day, checking the prices realised, I saw that the next immediate lot was The Royal Philatelic Collection by Sir John Wilson. Published in late 1952 and winner of The Crawford Medal in 1953, this is the most luxurious and beautiful philatelic book of all time. What left me in astonishment was the realisation – A$ 4312.80 (approximately USD 3,140 or GBP 2,190 at the time of writing this) including buyer’s premium of 19.80%! This price stuck me as being absolutely ridiculous as anyone with basic Google search skills can find out for him/herself.


The Royal Philatelic Collection was edited by Clarence Winchester and authored by Sir John Wilson, Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection from 1938 to 1969 as well as the President of The Royal Philatelic Society London from 1934 to 1940 and again from 1949 to 1950. At that time the Royal Collection consisted of 330 large albums containing a total of nearly a quarter million of stamps.

According to Sir John Wilson, it was King George VI who wanted the book to be published and hence it was to him that it was dedicated. The King always wanted, as far as was practical, to share what he had with his people. And since one “can’t allow the whole of Great Britain to come into Buckingham Palace and inspect the collection”, the King allowed his most valuable and interesting stamps to be printed in this volume.

An interview of Sir John Wilson sometime in 1952. Sir Wilson talks about the Royal Collection and about the book (Heard through: Glen Stephens on

Lord Kemsley, owner of The Dropmore Press, undertook the task of publishing the book. Lord Kemsley was a Welsh colliery owner and newspaper tycoon who owned, amongst others, The Sunday Times. Much effort was involved in its production as the publisher wanted to uphold to the highest standards of book production viz. a binding designed to last for centuries, full thickness red Nigerian Morocco leather covering the boards (one whole goat skin being required for each volume) and stamped in gold with the Royal Coat of Arms on the front and the Tudor rose motif on the back covers, and precise colour photo-lithography using 51 machinings when printers at this time had no experience with more than 25 colours.

The book consists of two parts: (a) introduction narrating the story of the royal collection followed by the (b) catalogue of the collection. The first part is printed on thick coated while the second is printed on thick uncoated paper. The catalogue comprises of five sections for Great Britain, British America, British Africa, British Asia, and British Australasia.

There are 12 colour (depicting stamps and each protected by onionskin paper; printed on one side only) and 16 monochrome plates (depicting albums, housing of the collection, and various album pages; printed on both sides) in the introduction part apart from two photographs of King George V and King George VI as frontispiece. The catalogue part contains 48 monochrome plates of stamps and covers [Note 1].

The “dog” moniker

The superb production values of the book came with its downside of high cost. Originally expected to be priced at 20 guineas (£21), the cost of the book went up to 60 guineas (£63) or US$180 when published in 1952. This equates to £1,825 in today’s money. Clearly beyond most people given that the average weekly wage levels in Britain in the 1950s was just about £7.

To market the book, a prospectus (containing 12 pp plus one colour and two monochrome plates) was issued. Agents were appointed to sell the book inside and outside the UK. Further, the publishers were aware of the cost factor and devised instalment plans. Robson offered three plans while The British Book Centre in US offered one (though it is curious that they did not give any discount for the full cash order).

Dog: People use dog to refer to something that they consider unsatisfactory or of poor quality. [US, informal, disapproval]

Over time, the book became, as William Hagan puts it, “a dog on the market”. Of the edition of 3,000 copies (4,000 as per a knowledgeable English editor; the difference in printing numbers may have been due to printing waste being included in the latter number), 1,500 copies were bound in leather and the remaining sheets were stored flat. Despite hard marketing, the bound copies did not sell well and the price of the book dropped to £30 in England and $85 in the US by the mid-1960s. In 1975 Bridger & Kay was selling a new unpacked book for £85 (Note 2).

By 1955, Dropmore Press had gone bankrupt. There was no interest in the remaining copies, which had remained flat and unbound, due to their poor sales record. Finally, in 1963, 1,000 of the unbound pages of the catalogue part were acquired by Stamp Collecting Ltd (Note 3); the remaining being destroyed. The catalogue was divided into five separate books to comply with the stipulation that they be different from the original 1,500. Kenneth F. Chapman, the then editor of Stamp Collecting, added his own comments to each section (Note 4). They were divided up and priced as follows:

  • Section 1: Great Britain (74 pp, 1 colour & 16, monotone plates) – £10
  • Section 2: British America (48 pp, 3 colour & 8 monotone plates) – £5
  • Section 3: British Africa (63 pp, 2 colour & 8 monotone plates) – £5
  • Section 4: British Asia (62 pp, 1 colour & 8 monotone plates) – £5
  • Section 5: British Australasia (75 pp, 2 colour & 8 monotone plates) – £5

In the US, Section 1 sold for US$28 and the others for US$14 each.

In Volume 2 of his magnum opus, Philatelic Literature A History and a Select Bibliography From 1861 to 1999, Dr. Manfred Amrhein tells a story of seeing the book in 1965 at the Weill Brothers “Rare Stamp Shop” in New Orleans but not being able to afford it. He sounds a warning note familiar to most publishers of philatelic books:

The story of The Royal Philatelic Collection confirms that no matter how good the research, how scholarly the prose, or how luxurious the production, most philatelic works, aside from the yearly published catalogues, rarely sell in a quantity to be a commercial success.

Other Versions

Apart from the original leather bound edition and the individual sections of Stamp Collecting, a red cloth bound version exists. I am not sure of its genesis but it may have been brought out by the publishers as a low-cost alternative [Note 5]. Limited numbers must have been published since it seems to be scarcer than the leather bound version.

Royal Philatelic Collection Cloth Bound
Figure 6: The cloth bound edition. Appeared in Spink sale of 27 January 2016 (lot 1012)

As an aside, both the leather and the cloth bound editions are housed in a red cloth-covered wooden slipcase. The slipcase is not strong enough to house such a heavy book and hence most slipcases have associated wear and tear.

Hagan also records a few books bound in grey cloth. Their origin is not known and I have never seen one. Hagan also records the book’s appearance as a catalogue without the introduction. In this form, some 20 plates and 98 pages are omitted; the colour plates are included though. Finally, there exists some copies which seem to have been privately bound.


Two copies sold in Prestige Auctions (another Australian auction house now taken over by Abacus) on 14 November 2014 for A$ 2,574 and A$ 2,808 including buyer’s premium (lots 923 and 924). High prices are not just confined to Australia though. Another two copies were sold in Heinrich Köhler’s special literature auction held on 3 November 2012, to coincide with the International Philatelic Literature Exhibition (IPHLA) in Mainz, for EUR 1,428 each including buyer’s premium (lot numbers 9306 and 9307). In a Cavendish auction sale on 4 March 2020, a copy sold for £1,920 including buyer’s premium of 20%; but the main attraction of this lot (number 213) were the accompanying ephemera viz. contemporary press photographs for the publication of the book, the prospectus and advanced publicity booklets, letters to and from Clarence Winchester (including from Buckingham Palace and some framed behind glass), and two menus from a dinner held to celebrate the publication.

Apart from these realisations, I have recently not seen copies going for such high prices. In fact I agree with Hagan; there are just too many of them available for sale at any point in time and hence the overhang will always reflect on the price. A simple internet search leads to copies selling for anywhere between 10% and 25% of these prices! Further, most copies are in a great condition given that, physically, it is not an easy book to handle and most of them have hardly been used.

In parting

Due to the democratisation of information thanks to the internet, many items, hitherto expensive, are available cheaper than ever before. So one wonders: why do people buy easy-to-find stuff at unjustifiably high prices? Do they not have the time or the thought to check ongoing rates? Or is it that some do not know how to do this? Whatever be the reason, this is not the first or the last time people are literally giving away their good money.

Meanwhile, sellers may do well to consign this book in particular to auction houses rather than sell them privately. After all, every dog has its day!


  1. I have seen listings on eBay wherein cutouts of stamps from these plates are being sold for obscene prices. Perhaps the sellers are trying to do what was done to the Fournier and Sperati albums; but the latter are actual stamps albeit forgeries whereas the ones in the plates are just prints. I do hope these cutouts are from the unbound pages and bound books are not been ransacked this way.
  2. I bought my copy from them in 2013; perhaps one of their last available copies, they were happy to sell it at a fraction of recent auction prices.
  3. Both Hagan and Amrhein mention incorrectly that the remainders were bought over by the owners of The Stamp Lover.
  4. The five individual sections sold at an Corinphila Auction No. 227 held 26 November 2018 (Lot 1765) for CHF 360 exclusive of buyer’s premium.
  5. Update on 8 Sep 2020: Within an hour of this blog being published, Rudolf Buschhaus of Germany emailed me with more information. He thinks that the cloth bound version is likely to have been published first and may have been for libraries. In his copy is an error on page 29 wherein Plate 12 is mentioned (line 14 from top) instead of Plate II and a page correcting this error to Plate II is laid in. According to Jan Vellakoop, Plate II is itself an error and it should be Plate XI (see comments below). I think that while plates have Roman numerals on them, they are referred to in the text using Arabic numbers; for example page 27 refers to Plates One and Two using Arabic numbers (I and II). Hence the corrected page 29 line 14 is actually a ‘eleven’ (II).
Royal Philatelic Collection Page 29 Original Buschhaus
Figure N1a: Page 29 of Buschhaus’ Cloth Bound Version: Line 14 with the Plate Number
Royal Philatelic Collection Page 29 Original Detail Buschhaus
Figure N1b: Page 29 Line 14: Plate Number enlarged
Royal Philatelic Collection Page 29 Original and Insert
Figure N1c: Page 29 Original and Insert
  1. Update on 9 Sep 2020: Rudolf has drawn my attention to articles and letters to the Editor which appeared in 2/2014 and 3/2014 issues of Wolfgang Maassen’s Phila Historica; I was not aware of them. One interesting information that Maassen gives is that the cost of the 12 colour plates alone worked out to £12,000 and of the entire project upwards of £100,000. The rest of the information is based on inquiries made by Rainer Fuchs with The Royal Philatelic Society London. Howard Summers and later Rainer Fuchs sent me a copy of the letter that the RPSL sent to Fuchs. The reader will note that some of the information is contradictory to what may be found elsewhere in the blog; at this time, I would go with Hagan’s information since that is more contemporary.
Royal Philatelic Collection RPSL Letter
Figure N2: Letter from RPSL clarifying on various aspects of the book.
Courtesy: Rainer Fuchs.
  1. Update on 9 Sep 2020: Howard Summars has also sent some photos of his book in a disbound state. Wonder if it is an example from the pre-production period in the 1950s? The details of the book are as follows:
    1. Size 375 x 265 mm (the usual pages are 357 x 255 mm)
    2. Pages are uncut with no gilt on the top edge
    3. Page 29 Line 14 has ‘II’ and not ’12’
    4. The copyright line on the dedication page opposite King George VI’s photo does not exist
  1. Update on 2 Oct 2020: In today’s auction by Argyll Etkin, lot 618 containing a King George VI signed copy was sold for £3,300 plus buyer’s premium. According to the description, since the King died on 6 February 1952, the year the book was published, this copy is probably a early proof edition. It is also inscribed “A Right Royal Binding JW” and signed by Sir John Wilson. The auction company informed me that it was in the collection of the previous owner for 30 years. I fancied a bid but when the lot opened at £1,800 I closed my live bidding window!


  1. Amrhein, Manfred. Philatelic Literature: A History and a Select Bibliography from 1861 to 1991 Volume 2. Vol. 2. 4 vols. San Jose, Costa Rica: The Author, 1997
  2. Birch, Brian J. The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion. Montignac Toupinerie, France: The Author, 2020
  3. Hagan, William. “Philatelic Literature Price Trends.” Philatelic Literature Review Vol. 28 No. 1 Whole No. 102 (First Quarter 1979): 29-33
  4. Holmes, H. R. “King Georve V and his Stamp Collection.” The London Philatelist Vol. LXII Whole No. 723 (February 1953): 21-23
  5. Accessed on 7 September 2020. Note that some of the posts on this thread are mine.
  6. Maassen, Wolfgang. Sir John Wilson: The Royal Philatelic Collection. Phila Historica Nr. 2 July 2014: 157-161.
  7. Letters to Editor from Jan Vellekoop, Frank Walton, and Federico Borromeo all published in Phila Historica Nr. 2 October 2014: 5-10


The Stockholm Catalogue

More than a 100 years back, the best philatelic bibliography ever, Bibliotheca Lindesiana Vol VII: A Bibliography of the Writings General Special and Periodical forming the Literature of Philately or more popularly, ‘The Crawford Catalogue’, was published. Since then many libraries and private collectors (such as Dr. Stanley Bierman and Albert Kronenberg) have published bibliographies of their holdings; Negus (1991) does a survey of them in his brilliant and indispensable work.

Stockholm Catalogue Books 1
The Stockholm Catalogue in five volumes and Supplement
Courtesy: Postmuseum, Stockholm

Amongst these is ‘The Stockholm Catalogue’ of philatelic books in the Postmuseum, Stockholm. Published in 1954 and with a supplement coming out in 1968, this may well be, next to The Crawford, the most important philatelic bibliographic work existing. An important point is that it also covers books (but unfortunately not periodicals and bibliographic works) published in the nearly half-century after Crawford, an information-wise dark period with which many philatelic bibliographers and historians struggle.

Stockholm Postal Museum
Postmuseum, Stockholm

When the main work came out, the Postmuseum had 20,000 literature titles in its library. That number has grown to 60,000 to 70,000 now. Unfortunately, the Postmuseum is not yet a contributing library to the Global Philatelic Library (GPL) initiative and hence one does not know the extent and contents of its current holdings.

The Catalogue

[Org, Votele]. Handbok över Monografier m. m. i Postmuseums Filatelistiska Bibliotek, Stockholm (=Handbook of Monographs, etc., in the Postmuseum Philatelic Library, Stockholm). Stockholm: Royal General Post Office Board, 1954.

Stockholm Catalogue Front Cover
Front Covers of Volume I of The Stockholm Catalogue

The catalogue was published in five paperbound volumes with grey covers. Each volume covers the following:

  • Del I, pp.i-ii + 1-323: Preface and Aalborg – Cyrenaika.
  • Del II, pp.324-631: Dahomey – Italienska Ostafrika.
  • Del III, pp.632-946: Jaipur – Oudeypoor Palumpoor.
  • Del IV, pp.947-1265: Pahang – Syrien.
  • Del V, pp.1266-1468: Tahiti – Övre Volta;
  • Register [Index], pp.1469-1506

The volumes, when published, were labelled with their volume number only on their spine.

As can be seen from the above, the catalogue is arranged country-wise in alphabetic order. Since the Swedish language has three letters at the end of the alphabet (å, ä, ö), the last volume ends with the letter Ö. While the language used in the book is Swedish, the names of books remain in their original language and are not translated. Within each country, general works are placed next and then come the various sub-divisions i.e.

  • Proofs
  • Varieties
  • Reprints
  • Air mail
  • Local postage stamps (government issues)
  • Private postage stamps and Christmas seals
  • Military post
  • Railway stamps
  • Revenue stamps
  • Forgeries
  • Bogus stamps
  • Pre-philatelic postmarks, postmarks and forerunners
  • Postal stationery
  • History and Geography

Books are listed alphabetically by author and the citations given are in full, including size and number of numbered and unnumbered pages.

One of the important aspects of this catalogue is that contents of encyclopaedic books such as the Kohl-Handbuch, Robson Lowe’s Encyclopaedia, Lindquist’s Stamp Specialist, the American Philatelic Congress Books, the Stamp Collector’s Annuals, and Earée’s Album Weeds are also included. So if someone goes to the Thailand section and searches for references on its airmails, the book will show the exact page location amongst these comprehensive works.

It was intended that periodicals would be covered at a later date, but as is common with such projects, that never happened. Further, regular supplements were also supposed to be released frequently; however, only one came out 15 years later.

The Supplement

Org, Votele. Bibliografi över Filatelistisk Litteratur: Supplement till Handbok över Monografier m.m. i Postmuseums Filatelistiska Bibliothek (=Philatelic Literature Bibliography: Supplement to the Handbook of Monographs, etc. in the Postmuseum Philatelic Library). Stockholm: Postmuseum, 1968. vii + 207pp.

Stockholm Catalogue Supplement Title Page
Supplement to The Stockholm Catalogue: Title Page

The contents of the supplement are listed below:

  • Contents
  • Foreword, pp.ii-iv
  • Adélieland – Östrumelien, pp.1-194
  • Register [Index], pp.195-207

The supplement is also paperbound in the same manner and style of the main work.

Stockholm Catalogue Supplement Foreword1
Stockholm Catalogue Supplement Foreword1
Stockholm Catalogue Supplement Foreword2
Foreword to the Supplement to The Stockholm
Stockholm Catalogue Supplement Foreword3
Foreword to the Supplement to The Stockholm

While Org was not credited as the complier in the five-volume main work, his name clearly appears as the author in the supplement’s title page; in the preface to the supplement Org confirms that it was he who compiled the work over eight years.

While it was published in 1968, the supplement to the book covers the works received in the library between 1953 and 1957 only. The contents are laid out in the same format as the main catalogue.

The five-volume main catalogue is pretty scarce since it was published in a run of 100 copies only. Presumably 100 copies of the supplement were published as well.

Hunting for the Handbok

Having read Negus (1991) like my philatelic bible (or rather Bhagavad Gita, I have been trying to find a copy of this catalogue for long.

When I went to the Postmuseum, Stockholm in May 2019, I searched for and took some photographs of the work. However, despite advance inquiries with the library itself and with some dealers in the city, I was not able to find a copy.

Therefore, when I saw the catalogue up for sale in Cavendish‘s Philatelic Literature auction scheduled to be held on 30 July 2020, I was excited at the prospect of buying it. Like most other items in this sale, the catalogue is ex-Junior Philatelic Society (later National Philatelic Society) and contains Junior PS (JPS) hand stamp inside front covers (as confirmed by Greg Springer of the auction company). Lotted at number 191 and estimated at a lowly £30, I was under the grand (and false) impression that I would be able to snare the work for £100-150, at most £200. Further, and curiously, the supplement was lurking in a box bearing lot number 184 with other literature titles and was also estimated at £30.

During the live auction, when lot 184 went for £280, I was wondering if it was because of the supplement; the other more common titles put together surely could not have attracted this high a bid. And when lot 191 opened at £500, I looked on in horror as my worst fears came true; I alone was not looking out for a copy of this catalogue! As the bidding quickly went up and the catalogue sold for £700 (plus buyer’s premium), I rationalised that I should live to fight another day! Perhaps someone else wants the volumes for his own library quite badly and this is pretty understandable for a quality and scarce work like this.

Now until the next opportunity comes my way, I will take James Negus’ advice from his Bibliographical Notes no. 14 titled Guides to Sources of Philatelic Information dated 24 August 1958 and reproduced in Birch (2020):

A useful substitute for the large and expensive Stockholm Catalogue, suitable for the individual student, is the Catalogue of a private collection of books on philately and postal history, by Alb. A. Kronenberg

Off to pull out my copy of Kronenberg.


  1. Birch, Brian J. The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion. Montignac Toupinerie, France: The Author, 2020.
  2. Negus, James. Philatelic Literature: Compilation Techniques and Reference Sources. Limassol, Cyprus: James Bendon, 1991.

​My links with Germany and how a philatelist discovered his ‘zweite Heimat’ by Philip E. Robinson

I tried to learn German over many months last year, mainly from a philatelic perspective, but have not succeeded much. A few days back I wrote to Philip Robinson curious as to how he brought himself up to the level where he is translating long philatelic texts from German to English. Philip’s reply attached a short memoir which traced how his interest in the language was aroused and how he got into translating texts. The memoir contains a remarkable story of Anglo-German friendship; that British and Germans could develop so close a relationship especially so soon after a devastating war is astounding. I requested Philip if I could have his never-before published piece on this blog and he has graciously agreed. This is the first guest blog on this website.

Philip E. Robinson

I was born in 1948, in a little house on the edge of Sheffield, a city that still bore the scars and showed the dereliction of wartime bombing. I well remember in the 1950s going to town on the tram with my parents, sister and brother and seeing the gaunt remains of factories, houses, city-centre shops such as the large Burtons store, and St Philip’s church – a garden now occupies its former site.

St. Philip’s Church in Sheffield. Heavily damaged in World War II and demolished in 1952.

Karl Fauser, the proud godfather. With the future translator!

A year or so later, Karl Fauser had become such a good friend of the Whittles and Robinson families that when I put in my appearance in April 1948 he was chosen as my godfather. Whenever I saw Karl in later years he always told me how surprised he was at the friendliness that he found in Sheffield – after all, the people had suffered during the war.  He repaid this friendship many times, for example by bringing gifts that he had made himself in the camp workshop, or commodities that were rationed but more easily available to camp inmates. Then the time came in the summer of 1948 for Karl to return home to Ludwigsburg, but the contacts continued. In 1949 Karl and his wife Hilde came to stay with my grandparents in Sheffield, and the following year my grandparents and sister Valerie visited Germany.

I had to wait until 1965 to see Karl again, but I well remember as a schoolboy taking the low-price AJS (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Jugend- und Studentenreisen) special train to Germany for a three-week stay. I learned more German during my brief time there than in a year or more at school (to say nothing of the local Schwäbisch dialect – which my German teacher would complain about when I went back to school).

Further links with Germany followed in the later years; by the 1970s we had telephones and in 1974 we were first able to make direct-dial calls to Germany, and so I surprised the Fausers with a call “across the miles”. In 1977 Karl’s granddaughters Jacqueline and Jeannette visited us, and I re-visited Ludwigsburg later in in 1977, and again in 1981, 1984 and 1994.

Meanwhile, as a philatelist I had made contact in 1980, quite by chance via the Great Britain Philatelic Society, with Burkhart Beer. A keen philatelist and something of an Anglophile, Burkhart lived with his wife Brigitte and daughter Bettina in Monheim, a town on the Rhine halfway between Cologne and Düsseldorf. The following year, while touring Germany by train with my railway-enthusiast friend David, I visited the Beer family – this being the first of the 24 occasions when I signed the visitor’s book at Dachsbau 12!

So needless to say, Burkhart and I hit it off, and visits in both directions followed. In September 1982 I visited Germany again to show my line-engraved GB collection at meetings of the Forschungsgemeinschaft Groβbritannien in Düsseldorf and Stuttgart, and in the 1980s I showed my GB stamps and early Siberian postal history at local and regional exhibitions in Düsseldorf, each time receiving a Gold medal.

Meanwhile, my interest in Siberia had begun with a journey along the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1978. At first I simply studied this part of the world – its history, geography, ecology etc., and collected books on Siberia. But a chance purchase in 1980 of the first issue of “Stamps” magazine was fortuitous. Therein was an article on Imperial Russian railway postmarks by the late Rev. Leonard Tann, which included some illustrations of Siberian railway marks. This made me realise that my interest in Siberia could be developed philatelically. Another fortuitous event was a chance contact, via the philatelic literature dealer Harry Hayes, with a Russian philatelist, Anatoly Kiryushkin. By 1994 I had written and published two editions of Siberia: Postmarks and Postal History of the Russian Empire Period, had co-written with Anatoly Kiryushkin Russian Postmarks and Russian Railway Postmarks, and had made other contributions to Russian philatelic literature. This led indirectly to more links with Germany, as I began to visit German collectors of Russia, and to attend meetings of Russia collectors in Germany. And as time went on, the name Harry von Hofmann repeatedly turned up in the context of Russian philately in Germany.

In 1993 Harry had written and published ‘ЗAKAЗHOE – Recommandirt’, the first book on Imperial Russian registered mail, an excellent study. Although it was in German, I was aware that many English-speaking collectors had purchased it, as they could learn much from the illustrations alone. How much better it would be, I thought, if they could read the book. I decided to translate the text into English, so that I could then place copies of the translation in specialist philatelic society libraries. The book seemed to be so predominantly composed of high-quality illustrations that surely it could not be too hard a task to translate the text. In fact the English translation ran to some 30,000 words, but I plodded on doggedly until I had translated the whole book. Meanwhile, halfway through the work, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be a good idea to tell Herr von Hofmann what I was up to.

I wrote to Hamburg in my best German (made better with Burkhart’s help) and in due course received a reply. Harry was interested in my project, and in the course of his beautifully-worded letter in “High German” of the highest calibre, he mentioned some German philatelic/postal words and phrases that might “challenge” a translator. Some were indeed difficult, but I came up with translations which seemed to please my new-found friend at Hartmutkoppel 2.  In due course Harry was so keen to make the English text of the book available to readers that he published it separately as a non-illustrated booklet.

Noel Warr with the English translation of ‘ЗAKAЗHOE – Recommandirt’

Harry now of course had more time for philately, and during the course of my visit he told me “I am preparing another book, on Latvian postal stationery. Perhaps this could be published bilingually in German and English”. What transpired in the long run was that during the next two decades I translated another ten of Harry’s works on Baltic philately into English, comprising over 400,000 words. This of course enabled the books to be published bilingually, and so reach a wider readership. It also must have improved my knowledge of “philatelic German”!

Harry von Hofmann, RDP

An invitation to Hamburg followed and thus I was able to meet Harry and his lovely wife of many years, Annelore. They had come to war-torn Germany in the 1940s as refugees from the Baltic German community. Under the “secret protocol” of the Moltov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, ethnic Germans had been expelled from their ancestral homelands in the Baltic States in 1939-1941. Harry and Annelore had spent the war years as youngsters in Poland, and after a very difficult beginning had made a new life for themselves in the German heartland. Having met at a refugees’ social event, and having married in 1958, they now had grown-up children and grandchildren and were enjoying well-earned retirement at Rissen, just outside Hamburg. 

As time went on it became more clear to me that people with the ability to translate philatelic German into English – with all its specialised terms such as Nachnahmegebühr, Kreuzbandsendung and Annahmestempel – are few in number. And so it was perhaps not surprising that the telephone began to ring, or emails arrive, with requests to translate German philatelic texts. For example, I helped with the English translation of Theo Brauers’ book on scarce Victorian stamps on cover, and the English translation of the book Die Erfindung der Briefmarke about the “Prussia find”. The end result is that I seem to have become a German-English philatelic “wordsmith”, and I am more than pleased to be able to help the English-speaking philatelic community to understand and appreciate some of the high-quality philatelic literature that is published in Germany.

This story began with an account of “humanitarian” efforts towards Anglo-German understanding and cooperation in the post-war period. I hope that in a very small way I have been able, in recent decades, to pursue a similarly worthwhile course of action in regard to philatelic literature.


zweite Heimat = second homeland
Forschungsgemeinschaft Groβbritannien = Great Britain Study Group
Nachnahmegebühr = Cash on delivery fee
Kreuzbandsendung = Newspaper wrapper
Annahmestempel = Acceptance mark
Die Erfindung der Briefmarke = The invention of the postage stamp


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.


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:

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:


  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.


Frank Arthur Bellamy and his Philatelic Library

F. A. Bellamy (1863 – 1936)
Bellamy at his desk at Radcliffe Observatory, 1934. Photo from Oxford Philatelic Society: A History.

Frank Arthur Bellamy was one of the greatest philatelic literature collectors of all time. After the library of the Earl of Crawford was bequeathed to the British Museum (now in the British Library), Bellamy’s library was considered the largest in the world until its sale in 1938.

Bellamy was born in Oxford on 17 October 1863 as the seventh and last child of a college butler and master bookbinder (perhaps one of the reasons for his love of books). He was employed at Radcliffe Observatory from 1881 onwards and devoted 46 years to the Astrographic Catalogue, the first international scheme to use photography to catalogue stars in both hemispheres. Along with his niece, Ethel Bellamy, he catalogued some one million stars. While Bellamy was made as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1896, Ethel followed suit in 1926. In 1931, H. H. Plaskett was appointed as the new Chair of the Observatory; unfortunately Bellamy could not get along with his new superior and resigned from his post on 30 January 1936. He died, perhaps heartbroken, two weeks later on 15 February.

On 8 October 2019, a plaque under the Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Scheme was unveiled at their residence, 2 Winchester Road where they lived from 1930 to 1949.

Bellamy started collecting stamps as a child of 5 years. His interest lay in the Oxford and Cambridge College Messenger Stamps of which he possessed some 2,500 items. These and some other stamps and material were acquired by John Johnson through Ethel Bellamy and is now in the world-famous John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera held by the Bodleian Library.

Bellamy was the author of Oxford and Cambridge College Messengers Postage Stamps, Cards, and Envelopes 1871-86 (1921) and A Concise Register of the College Messenger Postage Stamps, Envelopes, and Cards used in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge 1871-95, together with the stamps used by the Oxford Union Society 1859-85 (1925). He also co-authored A History of the Philatelic Congress of Great Britain and a Précis of the Proceedings at the First Four Congresses held at Manchester, London, Birmingham, Margate in 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912 (1914).

Bellamy’s greatest contribution to the philatelic world was as a member and office bearer of the Oxford Philatelic Society (OPS). On 13 December 1890, a meeting was held in the Boys’ School Room at Gloucester Green to consider forming a “postage stamp collecting club or society in Oxford”. As a result, The Jubilee Philatelic Association came into being on 27 January 1891, with Bellamy as its Honorary Secretary and Treasurer. This association merged into (or more likely the earlier society was renamed as) the OPS on 22 March 1892. Bellamy continued in the same posts till 1930 and once again from 1933 or 1934.

Bellamy was a prickly person though meticulous and dedicated. For example, in 1889 he had helped form the Oxford Photographic Society but resigned in 1892 on a matter of principle and refused to join its successor, the Oxford Camera Club; he joined the Banbury Photographic Club instead! The gap of 3 or 4 years ins his OPS tenure came about thus: In a meeting of the OPS held on 12 March 1929, Bellamy was outvoted 8-1 on an issue of increasing the yearly subscription. He put forth his intention of resigning the same day though he agreed to continue to act as the Hon. Sec. and Treasurer until the next Annual General Meeting in January 1930. While one Captain Harley succeeded him, no further meetings were held till 25 July 1933. Bellamy came back to occupy his posts in either this or the next meeting held on 13 February 1934.

Bellamy’s interest in philatelic literature dated back to probably the last two decades of the 19th century. He was Judge of philatelic literature at the London Philatelic Exhibition 1897. By 1916 Bellamy had amassed a massive library. Some items from his library was used by Edward D. Bacon while compiling the Crawford Catalogue.

Privately published by Bellamy and containing two letters written when the University of Oxford rejected his gift of over 200,000 philatelic items.

By the turn of the century, Bellamy had made up his mind to donate his collection to the University of Oxford. He informally discussed this with the University in 1916 but was asked to wait for the end of the war. In 1920 he made a formal offer which was rejected six years later in 1926. The University rejected the offer “…on the ground mainly that philately is not a branch of the University studies and that the collection, however desirable, would be a source of expense to the University which it would not be justified in incurring.”

Bitterly hurt, Bellamy wrote two letters, one which was published in The Times on 9 June and the other more detailed one in The Oxford Times on 25 June 1926. In them Bellamy claims that he had offered to bear all present and future expenses arising from this gift. Only space was required of which there was enough in several University buildings; further if it ran short later, the items could be removed or destroyed then! He felt that the University’s Council had failed to appreciate the importance of postal history. Unsaid was that if the British Museum could accept the Earl of Crawford’s bequest, why could not the University of Oxford his gift, which was of an equally high standard?

These letters were later reprinted as a monograph titled Statement and Comments upon the Result of a Proffered Gift to the University of Oxford. This monograph is now quite rare.

At the time of his death in 1936, Bellamy was under the impression that his collection was going to Queen’s College (Cambridge). While Queen’s had indeed provisionally accepted, they declined in view of the financial position of his two nieces who lived with Bellamy and were dependent on him; Bellamy himself dying insolvent.

A book with Bellamy’s bookplate on the covers. Courtesy: Burkhard Schneider of Philabooks
Bellamy’s bookplate. Courtesy: Jan Vellekoop

The earliest books were from about 1500 AD being Acts and Postal Proclamations and road-books of pre-railroad days. A manuscript catalogue of the library is held in the John Johnson collection.

Bellamy’s library was sold to Albert H. Harris in 1938. It weighed around 10 tons then. Since then Bellamy’s books as evidenced by his bookplate (a rubber stamp 19 mm in diameter in black) on the front covers have been disbursed far and wide. However in recent times it has become quite difficult to find one; perhaps they are all hiding in existing collections.


12 March 2020: Originally published on 21 February 2020, this post has been extensively revised after the author received a copy of the history of the OPS (can be ordered from the Society). Much new information have been sourced from this book.

22 March 2020: This post has been translated into German by Hans-Joachim Schwanke, the ex-owner and auctioneer of Schwanke Auctions. It can be found here:

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

Bhuwalka, Abhishek. “Frank Arthur Bellamy and his Philatelic Library.” Phila Historica: Zeitschrift für Philateliegeschichte und Philatelistische Literatur. (=Phila Historia: Journal of the History of Philately and Philatelic Literature) No. 2 June 2020: 156-159.

The journal can be downloaded from the following website for a limited time period:

  1. Hughes, A. M. Oxford Philatelic Society: A History. Oxford: Oxford Philatelic Society, 2016
  2. Birch, Brian J. Philatelic and Postal Bookplates. Montignac Toupinerie, France: The Author, 2018
  3. Birch, Brian J. The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion. Montignac Toupinerie, France: The Author, 2018


Relative Scarcity of the Various Volumes of Robson Lowe’s The Encyclopaedia of British Empire Postage Stamps

Since the earliest days of stamp collecting in the 1860s to date, there have been so many great philatelists that it is almost impossible to choose the GOAT – greatest of all time. However it is certain that Robson Lowe (1905 – 1997) would find his name in any potential voter’s top three list.

Auctioneer, dealer, writer, expertiser, not to mention a collector as well, Robson Lowe was as multi-faceted a philatelic personality as there has ever been. Interested readers may refer to Dr. Stanley Bierman’s two-part biography of the man in the Quarter 1 and 2 issues of The Philatelic Literature Review.​


Lowe’s six-part Encyclopaedia

As far as his writings is concerned, “Robbie”, as he was affectionately called by his friends, is known for publishing The Philatelist, one of the best stamp magazines of its time, as well as editing it from its beginnings in the 1930s to the 1970s. However he is probably more famous across the world for his magisterial six-volume The Encyclopaedia of British Empire Postage Stamps. Published between 1948 and 1991 they are arguably the most read philatelic books ever; particularly the first four volumes.

This blog is about the relative scarcity and prices of the six volumes. The first remark I would like to make is that despite being many decades old, these books are still quite useful and in demand and hence, unlike many other books in this internet age, never sell cheap.

Current dealer-quoted prices of the volumes in descending order is:

  • Australasia – perhaps £75-85 for a copy in G/VG condition
  • Africa and Asia – perhaps £45-60
  • British North America Special Edition – £40-45
  • Leeward Islands – £35-40
  • Great Britain and Europe Second Edition – £25-30
  • British North America – £20-30
  • Great Britain and Europe Second Edition – £10-15

Africa contains information for many well-collected countries and hence sees good demand. Asia is sought after for the main reason that India and some other countries covered have not seen as much original research in certain areas. Further these two volumes were printed in lower quantities than some others. Leeward Islands was published not so long back and perhaps not that many copies have come back to second-hand market. British North America covers Canada and its provinces only and hence is not as popular. Finally Great Britain ranks towards the end since much original research has been published on it over the last 70 years or so.

Now it is frequently mentioned by dealers that Australasia is the rarest of all the titles in this series. So does that mean that the Australasia volume was printed in lower numbers than the others?

​​In a letter to the Editor published in Q2 1992 issue of The Philatelic Literature Review, Jim Ryan mentions the printing quantities of the Encyclopaedia; he received these details from Robson Lowe himself.​

VolumeYear PublishedNos. Printed
G.B. and the Empire in Europe1948 Jan (First Edition)*4,000
-do-1952 (Second Edition)4,000
The Empire in Africa1949 Mar2,000
The Empire in Asia1951 Jun3,000
The Empire in Australasia1962 Feb4,000
The Empire in British North America1973 Regular Edition3,500
-do-1973 Special Edition (two volumes with slipcase)500
The Leeward Islands19912,000

* Corrected and reprinted in March 1948

As can be seen, quantities printed of the Australasia book is the highest (along with G.B. and B.N.A.) in the series. So it begs the question: why are they termed scarce and consequently priced higher?

There could be two theories. One is that they are indeed scarce for some reason; perhaps many copies have been destroyed or pulped. So there is a ‘supply issue’. Second is that someone started the adage sometime in the past and it has persisted into the present.

​I think both these reasons may be to blame, to a greater or lesser degree.

​What is surely scarce is finding these books with their dust jackets. While the final two volumes almost certainly have their dust jackets on, perhaps only 10-20% of the first four volumes are so lucky. Further the jackets are more likely than not to be in poor to fair condition only.

One reason for this is that these jackets were printed on not-so-thick paper and are fragile. Further these books are so good and so intensively used by their owners that the dust jacket suffer and are subsequently removed.

That’s quite a shame since the dust jackets add quite a bit of charm to these books. There can be a price difference of 25-35% between the same title with and without a dust jacket.


  1. I thank Casper Pottle of HH Sales for his inputs especially with respect to current prices. The final decision on prices mentioned was however mine.
  2. All images are from a past eBay sale listing. See

The Authur Hind Auction Catalogues

Arthur Hind was arguably 20th century’s greatest stamp collector. He was to the second and third decade of the century what Philippe De Ferrari​ and Thomas K. Tapling were to the final two of the previous one. Amongst his prized possessions were the British Guiana 1c magenta, currently the most expensive item in philately last auctioned in 2014  for US$ 9.48 million, and the “Bordeaux” cover with the one-penny orange and two-pence blue “Post Office” stamps of Mauritius.*

* In my book, this superb piece of philately and postal history, much more pretty and attractive than the ugly British Guiana stamp, is the most valuable philatelic item in existence and will likely realise upwards of US$ 10 million if it ever comes for auction.

The “Bordeaux” cover of Mauritius once in the collection of Hind (clicked at Stockholmia 2019)

Since this post is about the auction catalogues of the Arthur Hind collection, I am not going to dwell on the man and his philately. Those interested may want to read up on him in Dr. Stanley Bierman’s The World’s Greatest Stamp Collectors (from where some of the information given below is taken).

The Arthur Hind collection was auctioned by two great philatelic auctioneers in two of the biggest philatelic centres of the world:

  • New York, where United States including the Confederate States were auctioned by Charles J. Phillips (ex-Managing Director and owner of Stanley Gibbons) between Nov 20 and 24, 1933.
  • London, where the British Empire and Foreign Countries were auctioned by H. R. Harmer between Apr 1934 and Jun 1935.
First sale of US and the second proposed sale of British Empire

The reasons behind this split is quite interesting.

The realisations of the US portion amounted to just US$ 244,810 (about £47,000), mainly due to two reasons – one was the ongoing Great Depression and the other was the careless way in which Hind had treated many of the priceless items including by affixing them to album pages with adhesive tapes and Band-Aid! After this sale concluded, Phillips had printed the catalogue and plates for a second sale of 3,506 lots of Hind’s British Empire collection to be conducted on Mar 31 as well as Apr 2 to 7 and 9 of 1934. A third sale of Europe and Colonies was planned for Oct or Nov of that year and a few more were planned for 1935.

Given the disappointing first sale, Hind’s nephew reached out to H. R. Harmer who, in Feb 1934, sailed to New York. After 24 hours of non-stop negotiations with the executors of Hind’s estate – First Citizens Bank and Trust Company – he bought the British Empire and Foreign Countries collections (but not the British Guiana 1c magenta)** for US$450,000. Phillips’ already announced Empire auction had to be hence cancelled and the catalogue’s price refunded to anyone who wanted it. It was the “sale that never took place.”

The  Hind collection was duly brought to London and a series of 11 sales took place between Apr 1934 and Jun 1935. A total of 6,334 lots realised £135,000 (about US$ 675,000). The 11 Harmer auction catalogues were published staple bound with yellow card covers.

** Firstly the stamp was “lost” at that time and was eventually found in a registered letter in which it had arrived after being displayed in an exhibition; Hind had failed to remove the stamp from the envelope and the cover itself was found in his safe! Secondly the ownership of the stamp was being contested with Hind’s widow, who had not been bequeathed his stamp collection, claiming that the 1c was a gifted to her by her late husband.

Today, will a US$ 10 million stamp travel across the seas in a registered letter? No way!

One of the 11 Harmer auction catalogues, all of which were published in a similar fashion
The House Bound Volumes in my Collection

They were later bound up by the auction company in their house binding and published in two parts; the yellow front and back covers were however discarded.

  • British Empire section bound in red leather and buckram. This volume contains Sale Nos. 1 (Great Britain, European Colonies, and British North America), 2 (British Possessions in West Indies and Central and South America), 3 (British Possessions in Asia and including India and States), 4 (British Possessions in Africa and including Mauritius), and 5 (Australia and Oceanic Possessions). The sales were all held between Apr and Jul 1934 and hence this volume must have been published perhaps sometime in the second half of 1934 or first half of 1935.
  • Foreign Countries bound in green leather and buckram. This volume contains Sale Nos. 6 (France, Post Offices and Colonies), 7 (Northern European Countries and Possessions), 8 (Southern European Countries and Possessions), 9 (Spain and Colonies), 10 (Asia and Africa), and 11 (Central and South America, Cuba, Philippine Islands, Porto Rico and Hawaiian Islands). The sales were held between Oct 1934 and Jun 1935 and hence this volume (with a introduction by one of the greatest philatelists of all time – Fred J. Melville) must have been published perhaps sometime in the second half of 1935 or first half of 1936.
Title Pages of the House Bindings

Over the last couple of years I have frequently wondered why the two bindings that I have are different. The red is bound in quarter leather while the green in half. Was it that the green, which would have been published at a later date, given a more royal treatment now that the success of the 11 sales was known in entirety? However I have seen, on the internet, a red bound in half leather.

Arthur Hind Auction Catalogues - House Publisher's binding
Arthur ArthThe House Bound Volumes in the Stockholm Postmuseum

When I visited Stockholmia 2019 in May, I took the opportunity to see the city’s Postmuseum. While browsing the shelves of its superb philatelic library, I happened upon the two house bindings. The difference is that the bindings are reversed: their red is bound in half leather and the green in quarter.

This leads me to believe that there was no particular logic in the way the volumes were bound; it seems to have been random. Sometimes just a simple (even if it is disappointingly so) explanation suffices!


Searching for some ‘Early English Philatelic Literature’

There is this very popular saying in Hindi: जब भगवन देता है चपड़ फाड् कर देता है।

This literally translates as, “When God gives, he tears down the roof and gives.” The implied meaning is that when good things have to happen, they often happen together in quick succession (Of course it applies equally to the not-so-good stuff in life as well!)

I have faced many such ‘When God gives…’ situations in my philatelic literature collecting journey. Books, which I have been searching for years to no avail, suddenly become available, well not in hordes, but in multiple copies. Given that most philatelic literature titles are scarce and the most popular and in-demand ones are rare to very rare, we surely cannot expect hordes.​

Original State of the Publication

I had been searching for one such extremely collectable book, Early English Philatelic Literature by P. J. Anderson and B. T. K. Smith, for many years. As die-hard bibliophiles will know, this is one of the most important works of philatelic bibliography ever written, perhaps only next to the great Crawford Catalogue. Further given that it is a work published by The Philatelic Literature Society, a society consisting of the giants of philatelic literature collecting and inquiry, makes it extremely collectable. Finally with just 125 copies* published, it is not a common title with just 15 unnumbered and 30 numbered copies identified as existing by Brian Birch in his magnum-opus The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion (available on Global Philatelic Library)

Bound Copy #89
Unbound Copy unnumbered

​* While an earlier notice in The Journal of the Philatelic Literature Society mentions that the book will be a run of 120 copies, a later notice in the same journal says 125 copies were printed of which 20 were given to Mr. Anderson and 5 to Mr. Smith. I would assume that they were all unnumbered.​ In case you are wondering why unnumbered copies exist, you can read my articles on The Philatelic Literature Society and its publications. Briefly it is because this publication was printed only for members and their number in 1912-end were 79; hence apart from Anderson and Smith’s copies, which would probably have been unnumbered, other unnumbered surplus copies exist.​

Now coming back to my story. In late 2018 I acquired a copy from, very surprisingly, an Indian dealer. I would have never expected a copy to be lurking around in this country. The dealer informs me that the copy came in a lot which he had purchased years ago from England. There exists a small sticker of the bookbinder Higginbotham & Co., who were (still are but under an Indian management) one of India’s most well-known general books dealer with shops in Madras and Bangalore. This implies that one of the previous owners was an Englishman (there exists his signature on the title page, scroll down) stationed in India, maybe even born there.

​That copy is numbered 89/120 and is bound; thankfully the covers are still intact and the deckled edges have not been trimmed.

The bound numbered and unbound unnumbered copies

Last last month I bought a copy from another unlikely source, a US non-philatelic eBayer; this arrived in my hands today. The copy is unnumbered and is in the same unbound uncut state (deckled edges and oversized card covers) in which it was published in 1912. How very rare and how very exciting!​

Uncut deckle edges of both copies

So the number of known copies of this book has now increased from 45 to 47! I would think that my contribution to the 4.4% jump is pretty respectable!

I am right now so very excited with my latest acquisition that I think I will sleep tonight hugging the book! On second thoughts, that would not be good for the book; let me rephrase and say that I will sleep with the book on the side table next to me.

Unnumbered copy presented to W. S. Mitchell by D. W. Douglas Simpson

On the half title page are inscribed the presenter and the presentee? Can someone identify who they are? I can read “W. S. Mitchell” and “D. (or Dr) W. Douglas Simpson” respectively. Please do contact me if you have any information on these two gentlemen.

Update on 15 Aug 2019: When my blog went online last night, Casper Pottle of HH Sales immediately reverted back on my query. Dr. William Douglas Simpson was librarian at Aberdeen University Library for 40 years and  William Smith Mitchell was the author of Catalogue of The Incunabula in Aberdeen University Library and A History of Scottish Bookbinding 1432 to 1650 both published by Aberdeen University. If one also considers that one of the co-authors, P. J. Anderson, was also a past librarian of the University and had bequeathed all his books to it, they all form a nice common connection.

So my next query: the bound copy has the following signature. Can anyone identify it for me? As mentioned above, it could be some Englishman stationed in India.

Update on 15 Aug 2019: Casper has once again identified the signature. He thinks it is probably of H.F. Murland. Murland was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 2nd Battalion, Madras Pioneers (and wrote their Battalion history). He would have been stationed in Madras and that ties in with the binding details. Capt. H.F. Murland is listed as a member of The Royal Philatelic Society in 1917-18.

Numbered copy of H.F. Murland
Stamps and Postal History

Gandhi Rs 10 Service: Strip of Four

The 1948 issues of Mahatma Gandhi can be said to be the most popular and collectible stamps of modern India. Further, these stamps overprinted “Service” for exclusive use by the office of the then Governor General of India, C. Rajagopalachari, are known for their elusiveness being one of India’s rarest stamps. Finally it is one of the most expensive post-World War II stamps in the world!

The definitive book on the 1948 Gandhi issues

The definitive book on the subject is Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Issue of 1948 by Pradip Jain. Published in 2014 and authored by a well-known Gandhi collector, it is the last word on the subject. As per Jain, just 76 copies of the Rs 10 Service exist. Details are as follows:

  • A full sheet of 50 and a strip of five in the National Philatelic Museum, New Delhi = 55
  • A block of four in the Royal Collection = 4
  • 13 singles and a horizontal strip of four in private hands (all certified) = 17

In Jain’s book the strip of four is shown through the courtesy of Stanley Gibbons. In Apr 2017 it was widely reported in the philatelic and popular press that Stanley Gibbons had sold (the same) strip to an unnamed Australian collector-investor* for £500,000. Earlier in Sep 2013, the auctioneer David Feldman had sold the finest known single copy for €168,000 (including buyer’s premium) while in 2016 Gibbons had themselves sold another single to a collector in Uruguay (of all places!) for £160,000.

The Rs. 10 Gandhi strip of four
Spink Private Treaty Sale booklet for the Rs. 10 Gandhi strip of four

While attending Stockholmia 2019 in late May, I visited Spink’s stand. Spink, founded in 1666 and headquartered in London, are one of the world’s leading auctioneers of not only stamps, but also coins, banknotes, medals, wine & spirits, etc. At the stand, the same strip of four was on display for sale for £550,000. A small booklet advertising this and a few other stamps available under Private Treary was also kept on the counter for anyone interested to pick up.

M. S. Ramu with Geoff Anandappa of Spink

Pictured here is M. S. Ramu of Bangalore (right) with Geoff Anandappa, Director – Client Services, Spink at Stockholmia 2019. Ramu (not the new owner) is holding paper worth close to Rs. 5 crores or $700,000!

I am thankful to Ramu and Pragya Jain, two well-known Gandhi collectors and dealers, for going through this blog post and providing me their valuable inputs.

Philatelic History

The Initial Members of The Philatelic Society of India

In the last few years of the 19th and the first couple of decades of the 20th century, The Philatelic Society of India (PSI) was the premier society in the British Empire outside of the UK or even London. It members consisted of the top most Anglo-Indian philatelists of the day many of whom were also members of The Philatelic Society, London (later The Royal Philatelic Society London). Efforts to form a pan-India society had been on for many months before and PSI commenced its activities in the beginning of 1897.

However the first General Meeting of the Society took place only on 6 March 1897. This date is usually taken to be the one when the Society formally came into existence. The minutes of the meeting were recorded in the April 1897 issue of The Philatelic Journal of India (PJI); the PJI having being published from Jan 1897 itself. It must be an unique occasion when the journal of a society started before the society itself was formally constituted!

Recording of the first meeting of the Society in Apr 1897 issue

This piece is to clarify on the issue of how many members of the Society existed in the beginning. Common lore has it at 50. This myth has been perpetuated in all later writings. The editors of the PJI, C. F. Larmour and F. N. Schiller, are to be blamed when they report in Vol. 1 No. 1 that the PSI, “…commences its existence from the beginning of this year with just fifty members”

Editorial of the Jan 1897 issue mentioning 50 members

I am not sure why this number is mentioned since on the reverse of the very page a list of all the (initial) members are given! And a simple count totals to 49. Perhaps 50 is a round number easier to roll off the tongue than 49? However as a historian I would rather be precise and set the record straight, 122 years later!

Initial 49 members of the Society

Further support comes from the Feb 1897 issue of the PJI which has the list of new members added. It clearly says that the current membership is now 60. A count of the new members works out to 11 and this is a further confirmation that the number of initial members were 49.

New 11 members elected immediately after the initial 49