Philately is fascinating. Find out more about this hobby.

Are you a stamp collector? And are you interested in the subject “Railways”? If the answer to both questions is yes, then surfing the web may help you get in touch with railway philatelic groups around the world. Some groups have an annual convention, a journal, facilities to exchange stamps and even an auction.

The thousands of stamps on the subject will introduce a beginner to the fascinating world of the railways. A challenge a collector faces is being patient and collecting stamps theme-wise to tell “a coherent railway story”.

There was one little unique show held recently that did tell such a story, when a few major railway stations in South India hosted a philatelic exhibition on rails, or as the Railways put it, “on wheels”.

Three air-conditioned coaches had on display a rare collection of stamps and covers that belonged to philatelist Mohd. Mujibullah. He is Heritage Assistant, Eastern Railways.

It's a passion

Mujibullah, a professional footballer turned coach, began collecting stamps from the age of 12. This passion grew over the years till he joined the Railways in 1988. He then realised that a subject he deeply desired to spend time on was the steam engine. So he started off by collecting as many stamps on this, as well as by reading books on steam engines. In 1999, he initiated an exhibition on stamp collection for the railways. At first it was solo exhibitions at Howrah and Sealdah and then one for each of the 45 “Railway Weeks”. Then came the national and international philately shows.

Overseas, he took part in the 14th and 17th Asian philatelic exhibitions in Calcutta and Hong Kong. In recognition of his contribution to philately, he was made the Deputy Sheriff of Arizona by the American Philatelic Society (APS) and Philatelic Rangers, in 2006.

“We all know that philately is dying,” says a rueful Mujibullah. “We used to read comics, collect stamps and coins. Children don't read books anymore. It's just PSP2 and watching comics on television. Letter writing is dead as well. Only email and SMS. This exhibition is to encourage children into taking up this hobby so that it never dies.”

In the coaches are stamps from 157 countries … 3,000 stamps in total, with the single theme of railways. Coaches 1 and 2 have all the exhibits on railways in an alphabetic order. The stamps range from those issued just two years ago to those over 120 years old.

The third and last coach has the exhibits that won gold and silver across world philatelic shows. The stamps trace, among other things, the development of the railroad, the introduction of horse-drawn rail carriages, birth of locomotives, construction of the railroad, steam, electric and diesel locomotives, super speed trains, the facilities and more. — stations, signals, tracks, tunnels, wheels, safety and first aid, railway personalities, and railroad companies.

There are the very rare stamps — the first postal currency stamp issued in 1866, for instance. And there is an interesting story: there was a shortage of stamps in the U.S., and the postal and the mint departments merged and brought out what is called postal currency. The currency came into the market. Within 24 hours, the coin came out as well and all the postal currency had to be destroyed! This postal currency was issued in a way that would be used as a stamp as well. Mujibullah got it from an established dealer in the U.S., and there it is on show … the only piece of its kind in the world.

You can contact Mohd. Mujibullah at mujib.irly@gmail.com

Inside story …

There were a lot of proofs, colour trials.

The idea to have this event was born when Mujibullah had a show during the 155th year of railways (Eastern Railways). When Railway Week was drawing near, Mr. Deepak Krishan (now General Manager, Southern Railway) who knew Mujibullah (when Mr Krishan was GM, Eastern Railway) invited him to exhibit his stamps.

“No one in the world has exhibited stamps this way,” says Mujibullah. “I had to come down once for the modification of the coaches and 15 days later to mount the stamps! The interior had to be redone. If all goes well, this exhibition could travel all across India later this year.”

There have been solo exhibits in auditoria, but never before a show where there is a train with a stamp exhibition on. As a result, this feat will soon find its place in the Guinness Book of World Records — as the first philatelic show on wheels.