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 (Plate II is itself an error and it should be Plate XI as Jan Vellakoop mentions in the comments below); this error does not exist in the leather version.
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
  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 or after Stamp Collecting took over the unbound sheets in 1965?


  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.

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

New Zealand and Dependencies: A Philatelic Bibliography

A few days back I bought, off eBay UK, a copy of Beech et al’s New Zealand and Dependencies: A Philatelic Bibliograophy. The edition was shown as bound in bright red cloth and thank to Brian Birch’s magnus opus, The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion, I immediately recognised it to be the British Philatelic Trust’s version – one of the 16 numbered copies. I could not believe my luck and placed a rather high bid; I was fortunate to get it for a decently low ball number.

#5 of the British Philatelic Trust’s version of the book

I wrote to Brian mentioning my acquisition and that it was numbered 5/16. Brian maintains a record of all limited edition bibliographic philatelic books and in his records this number was shown as belonging to the British Library in London. Both the Library and I sent Brian photos of the copies in our possession. It turns out that we both have ones numbered 5 (the British Library has another unnumbered copy as well) and there has obviously been an error in numbering. Possibly there is a 4 or a 6 missing in the world.

When I inquired from the eBay seller, he mentioned that this book was part of the Francis Kiddle library. Kiddle was, of course, the past librarian and President of the RPSL and a philatelic bibliophile. Brian says that Kiddle, who was also Chairman of the Trustees of the British Philatelic Trust, was responsible for publishing the Trust’s edition. He mentions in his Companion:

“It was originally intended that the British Philatelic Trust would publish ​this book on behalf of the compilers. However, there were serious disagreements between the compilers and the Trust on policy and editing of the book so that the agreement on publication of the book by the Trust was eventually terminated and the compilers published it themselves. Since the Trust had expended a considerable sum of money on the publication, it produced a small edition of sixteen copies in order to recoup at least some of the money.”

The authors self-published their own edition a year later in 2004. The Trust’s edition has great production values – a very high-quality buckram covered hard binding with rounded spine and impeccable gold lettering. The authors’ own version is also quite good considering that it was meant for widespread distribution (published at N$ 80) and hence possibly costs needed to be controlled. I also speculate that superiority of the former’s bookbinder may have also played a part.

Update as of May 2020: Brian Birch was kind to send me his updated but unpublished 2020 Philatelic Bibliographic Companion and other files. The whole story is given in it as naratted over email by David Breech to Brian.

“Just to be clear and for the record: The original intention was for the British Philatelic Trust to be the publisher. It mismanaged the project and let production costs – for which it alone had control – get out of hand. This resulted in the trustees deciding to produce the first edition – not formally published – in a limited edition of just 16 [numbered] copies and bound in red.

To the three authors, having put many years work into the project (in my and Allan Berry’s case some sixteen years each, for Robin Startup much longer) this was unacceptable. This resulted in a second edition (improved and expanded from the first edition) being published in Thames, New Zealand by Allan P Berry & David R Beech. This second edition was reset to avoid any question of typographical copyright belonging to the British Philatelic Trust.

The bibliographic data is:

David R Beech, Allan P Berry & Robin M Startup, New Zealand and Dependencies: A Philatelic Bibliography, British Philatelic Trust, London, UK, 2003, 298 pages.

First edition of sixteen copies, bound in red.

David R Beech, Allan P Berry & Robin M Startup, New Zealand and Dependencies – A Philatelic Bibliography, Allan P Berry and David R Beech, Thames, New Zealand, 2004, 288 pages.

Second edition bound in green.

It is bit of a sorry tale for it soured my, and Allan Berry’s, relations with Francis Kiddle (then Chairman of BPT), as his fellow trustees, no doubt rightly, gave him a hard time over the non-control of costs and the production manager they employed for the project. When we produced our green bound 2004 second edition one would have thought we had committed some kind of crime in doing so. We at all times owned the copyright. With Allan Berry’s death in 2010 I inherited, by his will, his copyright in the book.

I am happy for this text to be published as a matter of record.”

In an email dated 23 September 2019 to me, Beech mentions that he holds number 1 of the 2003 edition. The red binding it that of Kiddle’s friend Tony R. Finlayson. Finally, 300 copies of the second edition were printed.


The Value of First Editions

It was sometime in 2012/13 that I started collecting Indian mails going to foreign destinations in the pre-UPU period. The comprehensive book on the subject is Martin and Blair’s Overseas Letter Postage from India 1854 to 1876 but that covers only routes and rates and not accountancy markings on, well, the covers! As I struggled with making sense of the markings, I was trying to get hold of other books which would give me some insight.

First Edition of Moubray & Moubray

So it was in Jan 2015 that I got in touch with an eBay seller who had a copy of Jane and Michael Moubray’s British Letter Mail to Overseas Destinations on sale for £220. I later learnt that the seller was John W. Jackson, a well know philatelic literature enthusiast. I was not sure if this book* would help me and I requested John for more information. He explained that this was a standard book on 19th century British rates which had won the Crawford Medal and was quite popular with philatelists. The book was published in 1992 and had sold out within a short while and hence was rare and expensive.

​At that point in time, the British dealer, Bill Barrell, had a copy for sale for £300 (which sold in the coming months). The German philatelic literature dealer, Phila Books or a.k.a. Burkhard Schneider, was willing to buy copies for €250 and later that year / early next he did list a couple of copies for €400 which sold quickly. Knowing that I was unlikely to find a cheap copy anytime soon and since John’s copy had sold in the meantime, I threw in the towel and bought a copy off another eBay seller for £215 + postage**

At the time of buying the book I had no idea that a second edition was coming out soon. It was published by the Royal Philatelic Society of London in 2017 and met with good reception. It was priced at £75 for non-members and £68 for members.

First and Second Editions of Moubray

While I ordered the second edition, I find that the first edition’s value is falling off the cliff over the past year or so. Obviously those who want a book for its contents would rather buy the second edition with updated information for a lower cost. And there are very very few new collectors of philatelic literature. So the demand-supply ratio has flipped 180 degrees. From £250-300, the average price is in double digits now. I have seen copies not selling for months at even £50-75!

Philately is a science or atleast partly that. It follows that philatelic works are technical and similar to other pedagogical books where earlier editions have few takers. This is completely different from fiction or even many non-fiction works where first editions (rather first prints; the two words are often used synonymously and need to be distinguished) are desired. So unless a philatelic title is a valuable incunabula item your first editions are not worth much, both value and content wise.

​​* I now know that no one book helps and this is why I have had to assemble a jamboree of them even if most of them contain just a few pages of my interest. Check out my Maritime and Rates & Routes sections.

** Never forget postage when buying literature. It cost me £28!


The Royal Philatelic Society of Victoria Library

In 1996 was published The Royal Philatelic Society of Victoria Library: A History and Catalogue​ by Geoffrey Kellow (later an RDP, the highest award in philately) and Russell Turner. The library of the RPSV is perhaps the biggest in the Southern hemisphere. I have written an article on the library which can be found in the Articles section of this website and those interested may want to refer to that.

The Subscriber’s edition of the Catalogue

The Catalogue is perhaps one of the last, if not the last, of the big philatelic catalogues cum bibliographies to be published in printed form. While stamp collectors may be declining, the rate of philatelic output continues to be added at a prodigious rate and hence it is very difficult for printed works to be published and stay relevant for any length of time. The Global Philatelic Library on the internet is an initiative to provide a consolidated listing of philatelic publications, archives, museum items etc. held by libraries; so far 27 libraries have contributed their listings.

Now more on the Catalogue. It is a high quality work published in two editions:

  1. A pre-publication Subscribers’ limited, and numbered edition of 75 hard bound in maroon cloth with a matching slipcase.
  2. A Standard, limited, but unnumbered, edition of 75 bound in blue cloth with a matching slipcase.
Both the subscriber’s and the normal edition side-by-side

The information on (2) has been taken from the Auction Catalogue of The “Maharaja”, Dromberg & Garratt-Adams (last part) Philatelic Libraries, Sale held 26-27 Apr 1997.

The subscriber’s edition is signed by the authors as well as the President of the Society, John Trowbridge, on the Introduction page. It is also numbered (mine is no. 23). However, I am unable to find any other difference between the two.

Needless to say any hardcore bibliophile will do well to have a copy of this book in his library.


Melville’s Postage Stamps Worth Fortunes

What is the difference between the two booklets shown here (apart from the fact that the one has the price mentioned on top)? Both are exactly the same except that the one on the left is the first and the one on the right is the second edition of Fred.(erick). J.(ohn) Melville’s Postage Stamps Worth Fortunes. This is one of the first, if not the first, book dealing exclusively with rare stamps of great value (Crawford 261).

Melville needs no introduction to philatelic bibliophiles, being the most prolific writer in all of philatelic history (more than 100 books can be attributed to him) Incidentally he published a booklet of 8 pp called Stamp Collecting in 1897 when he was just 15; he was later so embarrassed of his work that he actively hunted for it and destroyed the copies that he could lay his hands upon!

First and Second Editions of Postage Stamps Worth Fortunes by Fred Melville

In their book, A “Melville” Bibliography (yes, such a book was needed to just list out the great man’s works), the Williams brothers (L.N. and M. Williams) give the story behind the two editions. Apparently the first edition was published on 11 March 1908 in a run of 2,000 copies. All copies were exhausted in one day (!) warranting a second edition to be published three days later, again in a similar sized run. This fact is also printed in the second edition of the work.

Apart from the British edition, a Swedish edition came out in 1910, a Dutch edition in 1911, and an American one in 1918.


Vol. 1 No. 1 of The Stamp Collector’s Magazine

The Stamp Collector’s Magazine (SCM) is the second journal on stamp collecting or philately ever published in the world. The reason I use the word “philately” after “stamp collecting” is because Georges Herpin had not yet coined the former word; he did so only in Nov 1864, almost a couple of years after the first issue of SCM came out in Feb 1863.

Published over 12 volumes from 1863-74, SCM set extremely high standards of philatelic journalism. It was edited by Dr. Charles William Viner till about end-1866 and thereafter by George Overy Taylor; Viner having left to edit The Philatelist.

Vol. 1 No. 1 was reprinted. In Vol. II No. 4 of The Journal of the Philatelic Literature Society, Edward D. Bacon, eminent philatelist, mentions two variations to distinguish the original from the reprint.

Vol. 1 No. 1 of The Stamp Collector's Magazine
Blake in small roman capitals
  1. On page 15, in the advertisement at the top of the right hand column the letters “lake” of the name “Blake” are in small roman capitals in the original and in lower-case type in the reprint.
  2. On page 16 the error of spelling in the words “Just Pubished” (missing “l”) above the advertisement of “The Postage-Stamp Collector’s Pocket Album” in the right hand column, is corrected in the reprint to “Just Published”.
Vol. 1 No. 1 of The Stamp Collector's Magazine
Just Pubished Error

Bacon further adds that the original No. 1 was probably dispatched only in March 1863 since he has seen one postmarked March 4 while the reprint was not made until August 1863.

Note: My copy of Vol. 1 No. 1 is the original.