STAMPS AND STAMP COLLECTORS IN LITERATURE
Stamp collecting, philately, philosophy and intrigue have long featured in literary works and become part of popular culture.
The importance of mail and the transmission of messages has always been an historical theme as may be seen in fiction concerning the court intrigues of the Tudors in Great Britain, or the Regency of Anne of Austria in France - where secret or intercepted messages are a key ingredient.
With the advent of the adhesive stamp, and the rapid growth of stamp collecting from the 1860's, the pursuit of valuable stamps became associated with fraud, theft, and even murder.
The murder of Gaston Leroux in France in 1892 dominated the popular press and was followed in 1898 by the publication of possibly the first novel based on competition for the ownership of rare stamps "le Roi de Timbre-Poste" - written in French but translated into English and published by Stanley Gibbons.
REAL LIFE THAT LED TO POPULAR FICTION?
The Murder of Gaston Leroux
The Missing Hawaiian Missionary Stamp
Many of the books that depend upon a stamp collecting theme highlight the desire to possess a rare stamp, and the consequent descent into criminal activity to achieve this.
In 1892 the French police were baffled by the murder of a Gaston Leroux, a wealthy Parisian. There appeared to be no motive with no evidence of any robbery. The case was solved when one of the policemen, who was a keen stamp collector looked through Leroux's extensive collection and noticed that there was one stamp missing - a 2 cent Hawaiian 'Missionary Stamp'.
The police started interviewing other philatelists known to Gaston Leroux. One of these a Hector Giroux aroused their suspicions. They examined his collection and found a cope of this very rare stamp (only fifteen are known to exist). Under questioning Hector Giroux broke down and confessed to the murder, admitting he did it because he desperately wanted to own this stamp. He was subsequently hanged for his crime.
This case was sensational at the time, and brought the passion of stamp collecting onto the front pages of all the French newspapers, and was also reported widely in the UK, USA and elsewhere.
An interesting footnote, however, is that whilst the Hawaiian 'Missionaries' are some of the rarest stamps in the world, so called because they were usually found on the letters of missionaries working in Hawaii, they are also a target for forgers.
In 1920, new Missionaries were 'discovered' by Charles Shattuck, who said that his mother had connections with a missionary family in Hawaii. The stamps (known as the Grinnell stamps) were sold to a dealer for $65,000. But in 1922 a court case deemed the stamps as forgeries. Since then, numerous studies have been done on the stamps, but no one has quite agreed on whether they’re real or not. A detailed study of the RPSL's Expert Committee's concluded that the Grinnell stamps are forgeries. Patrick Pearson of the RPSL published a book detailing the Committee's investigation and findings.
AN EARLY WORK
Le Roi de Timbre-poste" by Gérard de Beauregard (Henry de Gorsse). This book was translated in the same year by Edith C. Phillips and published by Stanley Gibbons in 1898.
LE ROI DE TIMBRE-POSTE"
The story charts the adventures of two competing philatelists from the New York Philatelic Society; The Stamp King, William Keniss and young novice, Miss Betsy Scott, as they travel the world in search of the rare Brahmapootra stamp. Theft, forgeries, betrayal and espionage abound in this fast-paced novella set in the golden era of philately
Some extracts illustrate the style of writing and the sentiment of a novel when stamp collecting was associated with the wealthiest and most influential people in society.
“ I tell you” said William Keniss with decision, “I believe her to be quite capable of doing it”.
“It is ridiculous!” said stout Dr Buxon, emphasising the remark with a shrug of the shoulders.
“Well, well,” said little Mrs Evans-Bradford, “who knows? Nothing is impossible for a true American. Now Mis Betty is one of the real sort. I can answer for it.”
“Pooh!” replied Buxton, his fat cheeks quivering. Such a pretension is much less the act of an amateur in stamps than that of a professional”.
“But I solemnly declare”cried Mr Hartlepool, as soon as he was able to put in a word, “that I really do collect the finest stamps, and plenty of them”.
“I know perfectly aware that I am at the New York Philatelic Club, that I am a titular member of the same, and have every qualification for being so.”
“I doubt if you even know what the qualifications are”.
“What a libel. One must, in order to belong to the Club, prove one’s self to be at least twenty times a millionaire: I am one thirty-three times over. One must promise never to discuss politics or religion: I have a horror of such controversies. Finally, one must be interested in postage stamps and prove that one possess a collection. I am interested in them and I have a collection.”
“A fine collection, on my faith”, returned the voluminous doctor, who was much given to contradiction. Scarcely twenty-five thousand stamps!”
SOME MODERN BOOKS
Numerous novels and short stories have used stamp collectors and stamp collecting as major themes.
This theme in fiction continues with several recent publications: further evidence, perhaps, that the demise of stamp collecting as a popular pursuit has been exaggerated?
In the following section we list several books that our Members have read and brought to our attention.
They are organised by approximate date of publication.
1933 "The Adventures of the One Penny Black"; Ellery Queen
1936 "Antigua Penny Puce": Robert Graves
1939 "Cancelled in Red": Hugh Pentecost
1957 "The Little Man from Archangel": Georges Simenon
1960 "The Rare Stamp Mystery": Mary Adrian
1972 "The Scarlet Ruse": John D. MacDonald
1991 "A Very Long Engagement": Sebastian Japrisot
1992 "The Volcano Lover": Susan Sontag
1992 "McNally's Secret": Lawrence Sanders
1994 "The Stamp Collector": David Benedictus
1998 "The Chalon Heads": Barry Maitland
2003 "On Collecting Stamps": Hakan Lindquist
2004 "The Plot Against America": Philip Roth
2005 "Keller's Homecoming": Lawrence Block
2013 "Chasing Jenny" : Jeff Sage
2013 "Cancelled- Stamps to Die For": Janet Feduska Cole
2014 "The Philatelist" : Tito Perdue
2014 "The Dutch Blue Error": William Tapley
2015 "The Fisherman's Fee": Richard A. Coffey
2015 "Travels with Stamps": Betsy Nelson
2015 "A Very Exciting Stamp Adventure" : Adam Acidophilis
2015 "A Letter from Paris": Peggy Kopman-Owens
2015 "The Stamp"; Brian A. Hawkins
2017 "The Finder": Carl Widrick
2018 " A million Dollars an Ounce": M. John Lubetkin
2020 "The Philatelist": D.H. Coop
2021 "The Chronicles of Noella Bry": Eva Mealing
"THE ADVENTURES OF THE ONE PENNY BLACK"
By Ellery Queen: A short story that first appeared in the second issue of "The Great Detective Magazine" in April 1933
"Ellery Queen" was a pen name created and shared by two cousins, Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, as well as the name of their most famous detective.
In "The Adventure of the One-Penny Black", a man tells Ellery that someone knocked him out and stole a book from him, and when he later got home his other copy of the same book had also been stolen.
The reader is drawn into a world of obsessions, of which 'stamp collecting' is one. Others are the world of book collecting as the stolen book is obscure and yet several copies are stolen from a small Manhatten bookshop over the course of a few days, and the compulsion to philosophise on political systems in far away countries.
The 'stamp collecting' theme itself contains an obsession within an obsession with rich men hiring assistants just to curate their collections, and reflecting on the nature of a person who would aspire to be such a curator and the level of trust necessary for them to be able to undertake their work (or is it to indulge their own passion rather than work?).
This very early work in the 'Ellery Queen' oeuvre is also one of the first of a sub-genre the two writers brought to the 'who dunnit' - the pursuit of a murder where there may not be a death.
ANTIGUA PENNY PUCE
First published in 1936, re-issued in 1984 by Penguin; performed as a BBC radio play in 1995.
This story is quite unlike most of Robert Graves' other work. Critics comment that it is more in the style of Evelyn Waugh, a contemporary, a fast paced novella with dashes of humour. Graham Greene (another contemporary) described it as like the Marx Brothers, humorous initially but then the gags wear thin. But others, especially those who read it as teenagers, are more appreciative, not least because unlike a 'children's book' the characters are often quite repellent and there is a surprising incidence of bad language!
The story starts with the children, Oliver and Jane, always quarrelling about their stamp collection. Many years later, as adults, they still meet and argue about it. And there is one stamp in particular - a very rare one, that causes a lot of trouble and radically affects their lives
This "Antigua, Penny, Puce”, is the rarest and most beautiful stamp in the world. That was how the auctioneer announced it, and from that moment the feud began in earnest, for as children they had agreed to share Oliver's schoolboy stamp collection, and Jane now wanted her rightful share.
A book from the 1930's that continues the tradition set by "The Stamp King" in 1898 of associating philately with the hope of finding a great rarity, and the intrigues and insight into people's character, that follow the pursuit of such stamps.
CANCELLED IN RED
First published in 1939 in six weekly issues of "Argosy" with Judson E. Philips using the pen name of Hugh Pentecost.
The story is set in the shady world of corrupt stamp dealers (stamp brokers' using the American term); eventually leading to murder and a battle of wits between the protagonists and a determined detective.
The story is brought to life by insight into some of the practices used in the stamp market, for example:
"What your father's executors wouldn't realise is that Adrian removed a fine uncancelled specimen worth two thousand dollars from the collection, and replaced it with a slightly frayed cancelled item worth four hundred and fifty dollars......Thus Adrian gets the auction commission on the substituted stamp and still has the two-thousand dollar one which he will sell in time at full value."
"A colleague of mine has a stamp I want badly, one of the 1861 Cape of Good Hope Triangulars - the Number 11 wood-block. .....Five thousand won't buy it from my friend, nor ten thousand, or any amount! But there is away I thought I could get him to part with it . I knew he wanted that Newfoundland Number 10 and if I could get hold of one he might make a trade".
Repairing and re-gumming stamps, and the manipulation of the market provide a background as the story develops with the usual 'dishy dame', dogged detective who is not as naive as he seems, and threat of violence.
The values quoted (in the 1939 edition) for the stamps (easily referenced by the use of Scott's catalogue numbers) also highlights how very scarce stamps of known provenance would have proved to have been good investments over the last eighty years!
THE LITTLE MAN FROM ARCHANGEL
This is a novel by Georges Simenon in which Inspector Maigret does not feature. First published in an English translation in 1957.
In outline it tells of Jonas Milk, a timid and quiet man who lives in the small provincial town in Berri. he lives above his second-hand bookshop and also deals in rare stamps. He feels at home amongst the other small businesses in the town, until he marries his maid, a much younger woman with a doubtful reputation in terms of her morality. He converts to Catholicism from his Jewish faith. But his wife is neither a good housekeeper nor a faithful wife.
One day day when she has not come home after a night away Milk decides to spare himself yet more embarrassment over her affairs, and lies over her whereabouts. As the days pass, his lies are believed by fewer and fewer neighbours, who begin to shun him, and somebody informs the police. His anguish is increased by the fact that his most valuable stamps, which only she knew about, are gone from his safe!
The story develops as a psychological drama (it was adapted as radio play by the BBC in 2011) and is interspersed with details about Milch's stamps, why he collects them, and the affection he holds for them.
THE RARE STAMP MYSTERY
Published 1960 by Hastings House
A delightful 'thriller' written for young adults which also contains a lot of information about the practicalities (and fun) of stamp collecting.
A summary from "GOODREADS" explains the basic plot.
'There was plenty of excitement at the Red Barn that day. The Red Barn was a restaurant on the Macdonald farm run by Skeet Macdonald's parents. News had come that a rare stamp had been stolen from the home of a nearby collector. Skeet and his friends thought that this loss might tie in with a theft a short time ago at the Macdonald Farm. So the three children start out to solve the case.'
An extract gives an idea of how stamp collecting is woven into the story.
"Come up to my room with me, Chris," said Skeet. "I want to mount those new stamps in my album, especially the dollar stamp. You don't see many of them nowadays. The big post offices use a postage meter, and only a small piece of paper with the amount of postage is pasted on the package"
The boys raced each other up the narrow stairway to Skeet's room in the old hayloft. Then Skeet went to the bathroom and partly filled a glass with lukewarm water. He came back to his room, set the glass on his desk, and under the watchful eyes of Chris carefully placed the stamps in the water.
"I'll let them soak until they come loose from the wrapping paper," he said, "Then I'll peel them off with my stamp tongs [tweezers] and put them on clean paper to dry"
"I do that, too, when I take stamps off a package or an envelope", said Chris, "but I'll have to buy a pair of stamp tongs because I've spoiled some stamps by touching them with my fingers".
Skeet opened the desk drawer. "I have an extra pair, Ill give them to you"
"Gee, thanks, Skeet".
THE SCARLET RUSE
By John D. MacDonald
First published in 1972
The story begins when an expert stamp collector is left frantic when he misplaces the extremely valuable collection of an important and shady client.
The private investigator Travis McGee is too busy with his houseboat to pay attention to the little old man with the missing postage stamps. Except these are no ordinary stamps. They are rare stamps worth four hundred thousand dollars.
McGee becomes more interested when he finds that a crime syndicate has put out a contract on him, and the hired killer knows something about stamps .
A short extract:
"A block of four stamps filled the screen. They were deep blue. They showed an old-timey portrait of George Washington. The denomination was ninety cents.
“This was printed in 1875”; Fedderman said. “It is perhaps the finest block of four known , and one of the very few blocks known. Superb condition, crisp deep colour, full original gum. It catalogues st over twelve thousand dollars, but it will bring in thousands more at auction”.
“Meyer said, “As the purchasing power of the currencies of the world erodes, Travis, all the unique and the limited quantity items in the world go up. Waterfront land. Rare books and paintings. Heirloom silver. Rare postage stamps.
“Classic postage stamps”, Fedderman said, “have certain advantages over that stuff. Portability. One small envelope, with a stiffener to prevent bending, with glassine interleafs for the mint copies, you can walk around with half a million dollars.”
The whole thing seemed unreal to me. He claimed to have made fifty thousand last year as a buying agent for the investment accounts. But here he was in a narrow little sidestreet store."
An old fashioned thriller but as one reviewer wrote:
Probably the best part of The Scarlet Ruse? The stamp collecting. John D. MacDonald is recognised for his character-building, but his talent at dramatising minutiae isn't something to be sneered at. The elderly Hirsh gives a spirited defense of stamp collectors coupled with a few fascinating anecdotes about the trials and triumphs of collecting. (from a review in "underground reading".)
A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT
Sebastian Japrisot is relatively unknown in the UK although his work has been translated. This book was originally published in 1991 as "Un long dimanche de fiançailles".
Recommended by our President, Peter Wood, it is a moving tale of lost love in the chaos of trench warfare in the First World War: and in which tale postage stamps have a role to play.
The novel has also been adapted as a film under the same title.
To give away too much of the plot would spoil the enjoyment of the story as it unfolds - but to set the scene: the narrative follows Mathilde Donnay, who doubts the veracity of a report that her fiancé, Manech, has been killed in combat. Despite her inability to walk, she uses her investigative skills to gather information about his location, also unearthing the French government’s complicity in a corrupt scheme that sentenced soldiers, including Manech, to the no man’s land on the front lines. The story is shaped by a series of clues that Mathilde discovers about what befell her fiancé between two days and two nights in January 1917.
AN UNCOMFORTABLE READ?
This novel, published in 1992, is set in Naples at the time of Emma Hamilton and Admiral Lord Nelson. It does not feature stamps or postal history but "Collecting" is a major theme.
"Collections unite. Collections isolate. They unite those who love the same thing. (But no one loves the same as I do; enough). They isolate from those who don't share the passion. (Alas, almost everyone)".
She describes the tension faced by an art collector when he spots an item he wishes to acquire, and how you mask your excitement to avoid alerting others as to your interest, or in case the vendor raises the price. A tension many stamp collectors would recognise in stamp fairs and at stamp auctions.
"So the collector is a dissembler, someone whose joys are never unalloyed with anxiety. Because there is always more, or something better. You must have it because it is one step towards an ideal of completing your collection. But this ideal completion for which every collector hungers is a delusive goal."
A fine and thought provoking novel which captures some of the joy of collecting - and some of the dark side.
another book centred around the theft of a block of four of the fabled USA "inverted Jenny" postage stamp.
A young investigator is asked by his father, a lawyer, to assist him with one of his clients.
"My father sighed and took a small sip of his port. 'She alleges that an important part of her estate has vanished.'
'Oh? Lost , strayed or stolen?'
'She believes it was stolen. It was kept in a wall safe in her bedroom. It is no longer there'.
'What exactly is it?1
'A block of four U.S. postage stamps'.
I was amused. 'And this is an important part of her estate?'
My father looked at me thoughtfully. ' A similar block of four was recently auctioned at Christie's in New York for one million dollars'.
As the story unfolds Archie make discreet inquiries for Palm Beach’s power elite and uncovers secrets many would prefer to keep buried. The owner of the stamps is a lady with a past, and now on her sixth husband, living in a mansion that Archie likens to Tara in "Gone with the Wind".
His search takes him into a thickening maze of sex, lies, scandal, and blackmail; and the threat of murder. Through this runs the story of the inverted Jenny and a sense that this may not be a lucky stamp to own.
THE STAMP COLLECTOR
Published 1994 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson: also available in paperback
A well written crime thriller with some disturbing scenes.
Chiefly, however, some important scenes also evoke the thrill of exploring boxes which contain the stamp collection - some sorted some not.
In outline the story concerns the aftermath of the death of James Marshall, a retired British diplomat.
After his death his estate is left to his daughter but his son Marshall discovers a horde of boxes and a deal is struck between the siblings. Slowly Marshall discovers the true riches within the boxes, including stamps, and he decides to try and complete the collection - with unforeseen and dramatic consequences.
What adds depth to the story is that, apart from being a renowned theatre director, writer and critic, David Benedictus is also a stamp dealer and has operated his own stamp stall at Charing Cross.
THE CHALON HEADS
First published 1998; now available in paperback
A taught thriller in which the Chalon Head (painting of the young Queen Victoria subsequently used on New Zealand and Canadian stamps amongst others) plays a significant part.
The Scotland Yard detectives David Brock and Kathy Kolla are surprised to be tasked with a case of theft at Cabot's, a venerable dealer of rare stamps. But they view this as a pleasant digression from the usual crimes they encounter in the Serious Crime Branch.
Instead, they find themselves on the trail of an extortionist when they learn that the wife of Sammy China, an unsavory figure from Brock's past, has been kidnapped. The only clue is a ransom note decorated with rare and valuable Chalon Head stamps of the young Queen Victoria, and realise that she closely resembles the head in the Chalon portrait.
Charing Cross and London - the centre for London's stamp market - also plays an important part in this crime thriller that has received many favourable reviews.
ON COLLECTING STAMPS
Published by Kabusa Books: 2003
This novel starts about a journey to the town where Matthias was born for a funeral. which becomes a trip into the past. He starts recalling the time with Samuel when Mattias was searching for a friend, while Samuel was longing for his big love. Samuel's funeral leads Mattias back to an unanswered question. Why did he dedicate his life to a stamp collection instead of really living it?
“He stopped at the door and nodded into the room. I was right by his side by now and I couldn’t help but once again notice his eyes. They had come alive and there was now a completely different expression. He looked at me curiously “This is where I keep all my stamps”.
The walls of the room were lined with shelves covered with boxes, albums, and catalogues. The boxes and albums had labels. Some of them I could read even from the doorway. ‘Sweden – duplicates’, ‘Norway – uncancelled’, ‘Subject – mountains’.
“Come in! Don’t be shy!”
“Have you looked out of the window?” he asked, his voice different now. I turned, looked out over the valley, the softly winding road with the lonely tree and the white eighteenth century church with its red-tile roof”
“Did you see?”. I shrugged “yes…”
“The church;” he said.
He pushed the box a bit closer.
“All these stamps have different church motifs. All the boxes on this side are divided into different motifs: churches, bridges, mammals, birds…”
Here at Kingston and District Philatelic Society, we are driven by a single goal; to do our part in making the world a better place for all. Our decision making process is informed by comprehensive empirical studies and high quality data evaluation. We strive to build productive relationships and make a positive impact with all of our pursuits.
THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA
published by Houghton Mifflin 2004.
The original cover of the book shoed a copy of the 1934-1935 USA 1 cent stamp showing 'El Capitan' in Yosemite National Park. But the stamp is defaced with a black swastika. This later edition replaced the swastika with the outline of the American Eagle but a damaged US flag.
The novel is an alternative history in which Franklin D. Roosevelt, is defeated in the 1940 election by Charles Lindbergh, and the story follows the fortunes of the Roth family during the Lindbergh presidency, when antisemitism becomes rife.
The young narrator has a nightmare early in the book when he dreams that his prized set of the 1934 National Parks stamps have all been vandalised with a swastika overprint, and that the portraits on his George Washington stamps have all been replaced by a picture of Adolf Hitler.
A key element in this disturbing re-imagining of history and alternative outcomes, is the significance of his stamps, the pictures and and stories they tell, to a seven year old boy. Many collectors will remember when they too carried their stamp album around with them, and it had pride of place in their bedroom.
E Book Published by QA Productions: 2011 and LB productions 2016 (as shown).
The author describes the book as follows - Keller, an introspective fellow, was always your basic Urban Lonely Guy. He collects stamps. He used to have a dog, until the dog walker walked off with him. Then he soldiered on alone.
It’s his profession that sets him apart. He’s a hit man. He kills strangers for a living.
"Then a couple of weeks ago, Julia and Jenny walked into his upstairs office - Daddy's Stamp room - to find him shaking his head over the new Peachit catalog. Julia asked what was the matter.
'Oh this', he said, tapping the catalog. 'There are some lots I'd like to buy'.
'Well, the sale is in New York'.
'Oh', she said.
'Daddy'tamps', said Jenny.
'Yes, Daddy's stamps', Keller said ,
and picked up his daughter and set her on his lap. 'See?' he said, pointing at a picture in the catalog, a German Colonial issue from Kiachau showing the Kaiser's yacht, Hohenzollern. 'Kiachau', he told Jenny, 'was an area of two hundred square miles in southeast China. The Germans grabbed it in 1897, and then made arrangements to lease it from China. I don't imagine the Chinese had a lot of choice in the matter. Isn't that a pretty stamp?'
'Pity 'tamp', Jenny said , and there the matter lay."
Chasing Jenny: A Philatelic Mystery
From the Philatelic Mysteries, Book 1 by Jeff Sage
Published October 2013 by Self.
The following is taken from the publisher’s description.
"A fire in an old, exposed-beam summer cottage leaves two people desperately searching for an escape. A slippery car chase over country roads through a blizzard. Explosions. Magic. A deadly knife. Deceit. Prowling U-boats. Thievery. Death.
So, these are the elements of stamp collecting?
Perceptions of the hobby are turned upside down in Jeff Stage’s “Chasing Jenny: A Philatelic Mystery,” a history-based novel that includes the story of the U.S.A.'s first airmail flight in 1918; a tense WWII convoy across the Atlantic; and a brush with the post-war 1950s. Much of the story is contemporary, set in Syracuse, N.Y., and the cottage area of the south-eastern shore of Lake Ontario.
In 1955, someone boldly plucks a block of four rare postage stamps – the world-famous inverted Jennys – from beneath security guards’ noses on the third morning of a national stamp show in Norfolk, Virginia.
Fictional “Chasing Jenny” picks things up nearly 60 years later when Lizzy Smith thinks her aging father has one of the rare stamps, and she’s out to find the tiny piece of paper that could be worth $1 million. Trouble is, so are others, who are willing to steal, lie and commit murder."
This fictional and entertaining story is based upon the real life events of the famous "Spinning Jenny" U.S. airmail stamp.
When this was printed in 1918 a single sheet of the stamp (showing a Curtiss JN4-H biplane – popularly known as the Jenny) – was printed with the biplane upside down.
This single sheet was purchased at a Washington, D.C. Post Office by William T. Robey for the combined face value of the stamps, $24. It immediately became an icon for stamp collectors. The sheet changed hands and it was broken apart, sometimes as single stamps, sometimes as blocks.
In 1936 Ethel B. McCoy (1893 – 1980), a patron of performing arts and an avid collector whose father, Charles Bergstresser, was a co-founder of the Dow Jones company purchased a block of four for $16,000.
Then, in September 1955 while on exhibit at the American Philatelic Society convention in Norfolk, Virginia the stamps were stolen.
The block was apparently broken apart, and one of the stolen stamps was discovered in 1977, another in 1981. Both were recovered with the participation of the FBI.
In 2014, Donald Sundman, President of The Mystic Stamp Company in Camden, New York, offered a reward of $50,000 per stamp on behalf of their current, legal owners, the American Philatelic Research Library, in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The two missing stamps have not as yet been recovered.
"CANCELLED: STAMPS TO DIE FOR"
JANET FEDUSKA COLE
Published by Pegasus Books: 2013
‘Cancelled’ is based on the search for the enigmatic Lünersee Stamps, one of many treasures purportedly stolen by the Nazis during and immediately after WWII. The heroine, Elyse, is confronted with the decades-old cold case when she receives a request from her editor, Artur, who assigns her to write an article on philately. In the process of conducting research for the article, Elyse contacts her old college friend Karl, an avid philatelist. Caught in a web of intrigue she uncovers information about the rarest of stamps, fascinating stamp crimes, and the complex psychology of collectors.
“He revealed details from his painful past relationships and shared his career successes. He described his travels and his hobbies, which consisted of collecting artefacts: stamps rare coins, exotic rugs, Indian earthenware, early 20th century pressed glass and relationships. While all these activities interested me, it was the stamp collection that captivated my attention.
Of all the collectibles, the stamps were the most intriguing. Stamps encapsulate the rich history of their representative countries. Their unique and creative beauty, the intriguing stories associated with many, and their potential for fiscal value all combined to stimulate my fascination for the solitary activity of philately and collecting. Unlike an American satirist, who assessed a stamps’ usefulness by its “ability to stick to one thing till it gets there,” I came to regard stamps as exceptional objects.”
Kingston and District Philatelic Society knows that our strength lies not only in the words we stand by, but most importantly through the actions of our initiatives. Back in 2000, our Non-Profit realized that by working together we could overcome our challenges much more efficiently, and that is why we ultimately decided to launch Kingston and District Philatelic Society.
Published by Counter-Currents Publishing; 2014. Also available on Amazon Kindle.
In this otherwise grim and rather depressing novel shines the joys of stamp collecting as a refuge from an unhappy life and the detritus of a decaying urban neighbourhood.
In the words of Tito Perdue, the author, “It happens more than just sometimes that overly refined persons like thee and me may opt to turn away from ordinary things and seek entry into a more perfect world than this one. I’m thinking about art galleries, concert halls, coin and stamp collections, ingenious mechanical devices or a well-played chess match.
People like you spend too much time gazing at the stars while others, like my good friend who offers us a case study of the type, has traded away his life in a still-continuing struggle to assemble a non-representative array of the world’s most beautiful postage stamps. A little custodial ‘art gallery,’ he calls it, his own bespoken domain after three failed marriages and a deleterious son. All the elements, I’ve been told, can be found in a single drop of sea water. So, too, with a choice collection of the world’s postage brought together for aesthetic purposes. Thus my friend. One doesn’t need to be a good person, remember, to be extraordinarily interesting anyway.”
“Now was the time to take out my collection and magnifying glass and focus on some of the images provided in the classic material prior to 1945. Here one could see castles, battle scenes, portraits both of stern looking rulers and garden variety human individuals. Those were serious times, those, masculine in character ,before the West lapsed into…into the huge black fly who had just then settled on a Hungarian issue that had cost me better than $400 at that time. A bloated as she was on human blood, I dasn’t swat the ting lest she do damage to one of the best views of Budapest in my collection.
Turning to Romania, I lingered over the 1941 “fortress and monastery” series of semi-postals showing stone buildings of historical importance, and never mind that the stamps themselves have no antiquarian value. You have already seen, or soon will, that I care only for the aesthetics, a personality defect that angers some of my philatelic colleagues who actually strive to make money from what ought to be a spiritual project only, beneficial to the soul. Watermarks? Variants? Mistakes? Perforations? Superior people care nothing for such trivia. Both here and in life itself, art is all. I am even able to enjoy some of the commemoratives of King Carol II, one of Europe’s most contemptible men, and the murderer of Codreanu.”
Note: Corneliu Zelea Codreanu was an ultranationalist Romanian politician, who founded a right-wing group called the Iron Guard. He was assassinated in 1938 after opposing the growing links between Romania and Nazi Germany. King Carol II was a keen stamp collector and patron of the hobby.
The Romanian issues of 1941 for the Restoration of Bessarabia, and Bukovina, follow a simple classical design highlighting the beauty of the buildings. The two sets, totalling 25 stamps, were recently catalogued by Stanley Gibbons at £25 unused.
"THE DUTCH BLUE ERROR"
Part of the Brady Coyne series. Published by 'Head of Zeus' 2014.
"I used to collect stamps" I said,. "When I was a kid. I had several thousand from all over the world. Fascinating hobby. From places like French Equatorial Africa and the Gold Coast and Ceylon, countries that do not even exist anymore. Colourful birds, maps, kings, athletes. I sold my collection so I could buy a motor scooter when I was fifteen. I got sixty-five bucks for it."
Ollie chuckled. "the man who bought it was probably doing you a favour. Listen, I collect stamps. It's more than a hobby. It's a passion and an investment. Most of my stamps are drab. They're all very old. My total collection numbers forty-seven. Forty-seven stamps. Total." He pushed his face at me. "My stamp collection is worth, conservatively, five point six million dollars".
In this story a stamp known as the Dutch Blue Error is one of a kind -- an error of printing worth at least one million dollars. It is the prize possession of the Ollie quoted above a wheelchair-bound Boston banker. Unfortunately the stamp is so valuable and sought after that its pursuit will lead to several violent deaths.
A fellow collector contacts Weston, claiming to have found a second copy of the Error -- a claim that, if truthful, would destroy the stamp's value. Weston sends his attorney to purchase the rogue stamp for two hundred fifty thousand dollars, but just before the hand-off, the collector is killed and the stamp disappears.
The attorney, Brady Coyle, becomes engaged in a dangerous game of cat and mouse in pursuit of "a small paper square with uneven edges, dark blue in colour and bearing a smudged portrait of a long-dead king."
THE FERRYMAN'S FEE
RICHARD A. COFFEY
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2015
The novel starts with the discovery of a man’s body and a valuable stamp collection after a fire in a mobile home park. While philatelic experts try to understand how a trailer park resident built a collection worth three million dollars, the county sheriff—and the stamps—go missing. The action begins on Lake Superior, moves to London, and ends on a yacht in the Mediterranean, where the price of looking for rare stamps in the underworld is likely to cost a man more than money. Throughout there are some fascinating insights into some of the world’s rare stamps, and the stories that surround them.
The chief pulled a stamp album off a shelf and opened it. The thick ivory paper felt unusually soft between his fingers. There was printing at the top of the page:
Printed by Pellas Bros., Genoa
Six stamps, all pale colours muted by time, were aligned perfectly below the title, each with a handwritten caption. The chief whistled. ‘We got some serious old shit here’, he said. ‘We gotta find someone who knows about stamps – who’s that women who saves stamps? She was on the council a few years ago. What’s her name?” Margaret
And one day while Margaret pondered how best to dispose of Walter’s stamp collection she opened an album of his notes on the Overland Mails of Romania.
At first she read his paragraphs impatiently, as if she were angry with the writer for his enthusiasm, then quite unexpectedly, she recognized Walter’s voice. Reading his philately, she discovered, was like listening to him speak. Margaret was stunned. Walter’s passion for philatelic scholarship was great, it had consumed him, and when he had written about his researches, he had penned his fervour, fluidly and floridly, with an unscholarly inflection that she could hear as clearly as if he were sitting with her by the fire.”
She tasted the philatelist’s curiosity during her evening readings. She began to experience the thrill that a collector feels when the examination of a postage stamp leads to the discovery of a moment in the past – the sweet shiver of scholarly revelation, as Walter had so often said. It was a journey of a kind that had brought with it the most unusual pleasure for her, often for hours on end.”
“Oh, Lord,’ Margaret said quietly. I wish Walter could have seen this. She walked along the bookcases, her fingers tracing the contours of the albums. ‘Even if there no stamps in these albums they would be valuable, Chief. And some of the reference books are worth hundreds of dollars. Margaret removed an album from the bookcase and opened it on the table.’ Oh, my, look at this’.
……..’These are the first stamps of what became Switzerland. This one is called the Basel Dove’.
‘ It looks like a miniature stained glass window,’ Freddie said.
Three short and unusual books in which stamps are used to illustrate the narratives. They will not be to everyone's taste (especially when stamps are glued to the pages!) as there are consistent threads concerning well-being and health in a complex and disturbed world. Short, relevant to the current times, challenging, and with illustrations of some lovely stamps that have served their purpose by authorising the carriage of mail.
TRAVEL BY STAMPS
"I wrote the words on the left hand page and glued the stamps to the right-hand one."
"The stamps were given to me by a friend. They were in a massive box, from an estate - it was one man's entire lifetime collection."
The storing of the stamps and the selection of some led to the creation of this story / art project."
Description by Betsy Nelson.
"This is a collection of stories using stamps for the illustration. The stamps created the story, if you will. I’ve collected stamps for many years, usually from 300 piece grab bags I find in my local hobby shop."
"I sort them into different themes based on the subject: flora, fauna, transportation, landscapes, for instance.....But sometimes, the stamps defy categorization, and these often are my favorite ones."
Description by Betsy Nelson
These short stories are the result of Betsy Nelson's sorting of these stamps. An interesting bynote is that they were completed during the Covid-19 pandemic and some of the stories are "inspired by ephemera that cause a virus".
"have you ever noticed that the fortunes in Chinese Cookies are often pithy little comments about the nature of being, rather than telling you what is going to happen? They are less like a Magic Eight Ball and more like Lao Tzu with a crunchy outer shell".
"Tis book is the result of saving those fortunes, a lifetime of collecting stamps, and a quirky need to put things together in unusual ways".
Description by Betsy Nelson
A VERY EXCITING INDIAN STAMP COLLECTING ADVENTURE
by Adam Acidophilis. Published by fableman.com 2015
A JOURNEY TO AND AROUND INDIA INSPIRED BY HIS GRANDFATHER'S STAMP COLLECTION
"My grandfather Charlie, widowed and retired, was a very, very, serious stamp collector. He had shelves of leather bound albums like encyclopedias. I used to spend my school half terms with him and on a selected day, we would settle in his lounge, fold out the dining table, and 'do the stamps'. He would lay out the albums and pore over their pages - one of which I recall, featured many, many specimens of the same Swiss stamp, arranged in a perfect grid, but each in a slightly different shade of blue. "
MONUMENTS OF INDIA
" 'Monuments of India' was a series of stamps issued in 1949 by the newly independent Indian Post Office. It featured 16 engravings of, I suppose, the 16 best monumnets in India. They range from a rather small low-value stamp (for letters or postcards) to a rather large and expensive stamp (for, presumably, parcels). I still have them; they must have come from Charlie. "
A JOURNEY TO INDIA
"And the more I thought about what it was that was pulling me towards India (the music?, the peace and quiet?, the cuisine?) the more I realised that a lot of my interest was connected to a set of stamps."
A fascinating story, embracing many facets of India, its history, and culture, and illustrated by references to these 16 beautiful stamps.
A LETTER FROM PARIS
"Mrs Duchesney's Mystery in the Stamp Marke
"The stamp market provides a perfect setting for a shadowy figure from Moscow, whose real interest in Paris may not be stamps. The closed case of the dead diplomat and his dubious widow refuses to stay “closed,” when evidence suggests the Egyptian statue is not the only priceless item missing from their apartment. In Deauville, France, Louie searches for two married sisters, traveling sans husbands, while in Paris, Mrs. Duchesney receives a coded invitation to rendezvous with a dead poet. As if that weren’t enough intrigue… both Paris sleuths will be forced to investigate one of their oldest friends, when an unauthorized biography reveals his hidden past and secrets taken to the grave."
"Collecting stamps was still relatively new to her, causing her to rely on catalogues, stamp magazines, and ultimately the advice of stamp dealers, whom she did not know particularly well. ........."
From the beginning she was hooked. Later when an unexpected package, containing a 40 year old stamp catalogues, arrived at her door, she was thrilled to discover a message slipped inside. ..On the page, a photograph of her elusive stamp appeared, and a short article about its history."
BRIAN A. HAWKINS
Published in 2015. Available on Kindle or in paperback
The story centres on a mysterious stamp - or stamp proof - found hidden in an old album bought in a Parisian flea market long after the war.
The early chapters, set in the dark days of the German occupation of the Czech Sudetenland and highlight the work of famous Czech stamp designers Alfons Mucha and Jindra Schmidt in the 1930's.
As the story unfolds this strange stamp is sought after by an unscrupulous Zurich rare stamp dealer, The Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection, the Deputy Private Secretary to the Queen, a powerful Japanese millionaire and MI-5 amongst others; with the reality of the workings of the philatelic market interwoven with a society in which an exclusive London Gentleman’s Club, a stylish Swiss sapphic nightclub, and Germany’s surreal Karl May Society also figure.
"During his second year Fritz met the great Alfons Mucha in his Prague studio. Mucha took a liking to the young Fritz and offered him a position as one of his assistants. It was during this period that Fritz learned that this famous artist and Czech patriot had designed the new Republic's first stamps in 1918..... and the young artists suddenly saw postage stamps as a new medium of visual expression in which to create a miniature form of art."
"Studying under the master engraver, Jindra Shmidt, it took him five years to master the fine art of hand engraving intricate designs and realistic portraits in such a miniscule scale on a hard metal surface."
(Fight for the Future Book 1)
By Carl Wildrick
Published by CreateSpace Publishing. 2017
The Amazon description of the book is as follows:
Carter Owens was leading a charmed life, devoting his time to soccer, the game he loves. Academically and athletically gifted, popular at his middle school, and blessed with a loving and happy family, things couldn’t be better for Carter, until suddenly his world is torn apart by tragedy. His younger sister disappears without a trace. His family life begins to unravel, and things swirl further out of his control, after his grandfather passes away unexpectedly. Carter inherits his grandfather’s stamp collection. As he examines it, he discovers some seemingly common stamps have shocking technology hidden within them that might be the key to finding out what happened to his sister. Join Carter and his closest friends Alex, Vic, and Ellery as they discover the world of philately and go on some amazing adventures. Along their journey they encounter dinosaurs, soccer legends, witness the birth of the United States, and finally begin to reveal the secrets surrounding Carter's missing sibling and an ancient, far deeper conspiracy. A must read for philatelists, the Carter Owens trilogy is highly entertaining for readers both young and old, whether they are stamp collectors or not.
Some short extracts:
'His grandmother smiled at him. “Carter, I had been thinking of asking you to clean out the shed while your mother and I worked in the house”. Carter groaned but managed to keep it inside. “however, I had a better idea”. Carter prayed the new idea would not be a worse one than the shed. “I know your mother will have a tough time paying for your education later. You’re a talented boy and we can keep our fingers crossed for a soccer scholarship, or better yet, an academic scholarship, but one never knows how it will turn out. If you add the hours up, your grandfather spent years of his life up in his workroom with his stamp collection. You can see from Mr Black’s actions, its clearly very valuable to some people, but the reality is I have absolutely no idea what it’s worth, or what to do with it. You’re old enough that if you are willing I’ll let you go through his workroom and figure out what he has there and what it’s worth. Later on we can figure out how to sell it and we’ll add the money to your college fund. What do you think?”
“As he thought about it he realized that he really knew nothing about stamp collecting. He envisioned a bunch of boring old men peering through magnifying glasses. On the other hand, his grandfather had been an entertaining and fun guy to be with. Perhaps he would find the project interesting if he worked at it a bit.
From time to time his grandfather had incited him inside his workroom, and tried to show him a few stamps he thought might be interesting to a young boy, but nothing had ever garnered his attention.
[at the funeral] Vic and Alex both said they felt sorry for him. Ellery, always the optimist said, “there are a lot of famous people and places on stamps, many you don’t hear about every day. Who knows? You’ll almost certainly learn something, and it may turn out to be a fun project”. '
Then the fun begins! A book which will entertain both young adults and "boring old men (and women) with magnifying glasses"!
A MILLION DOLLARS AN OUNCE
M. JOHN. LUBETKIN
Published 2018 by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
The story starts at the end of World War II when an American paratrooper takes the opportunity to seize ten million dollars in rare stamps looted by Nazi's during the war.
"Harry has always collected stamps and this is an opportunity to acquite more. he can't remember his age when he first noticed his maternal grandfather placing little pieces of coloured paper in an album.
'What are they?' the little boy had asked.
'They are stamps and stamps tell you stories'.
'They do?' Harry said excitedly for he took his grandfather's comments literally. Standing on his tip-toe he had put his head on the stamp album, hoping to hear a story.
'No', his grandfather laughed. 'They can only tell you stories when you are old enough to read and write.'
'From then on whenever Harry visited his grandfather he would look at the stamps and pick ones he liked. And the stamps did tell stories; about animals, people, geography, and historic events. The stamps whetted the little boy's interest and, as he grew older, he found himself wanting to own stamps of his own.'
Back in New York he soon discovers a problem in that in order to sell the stamps he must use a fence who is closely connected to a powerful and violent new York Mob.
as if this is not problem enough he then discovers that the SS General who masterminded the plundering will stop at nothing to get "his" stamps back.
Published in 2020 by Fulton Books
The publisher's synopsis reads:
The death of an elderly German lady sets off a series of events that leads to murder and links to the historical past.
The key to the events is an international stamp book that C. E. Hall, a fire insurance investigator/philatelist, purchased from a stamp store. The stamp book is a record of a mysterious organization that links back before World War II.
Powerful figures are trying to find the stamp book as C. E. Hall tries to unravel the mystery held within the stamp book. As C. E. Hall goes through the book, he discovers a sinister organization that had possibly tried to assassinate world leaders during World War II."
What makes the book interesting to stamp collectors is that the author is himself a philatelist, and has also studied and taught history. The story is therefore underpinned with illustrations and insights into stamp collecting, whilst the historical context has a ring of credibility.