‘Unearthing the story behind a stamp leads to a very romantic study'

While we all may know that stamps are a repositories of information, veteran philatelist Sita Bhateja will tell you that the Indian stamps released after Independence alone carry enough information to fill 10 volumes.

She says philately is more than just collecting stamps. She says, “Anyone can go and buy stamps. But they are merely accumulators.”

A philatelist, on the other hand, is someone who studies the stamp and knows everything about it. “Unearthing the story behind a stamp leads to a very romantic study,” she says.

Nuggets of information

Studying the story and history of a stamp not only expands the horizon of one's knowledge, but also often leads to discovery of exciting nuggets of information, she says.

Citing one such case, she describes coming across a postal cover, which had cut marks made by a blade. Intrigued, she traced its history and discovered that the letter had passed through a region which was then affected by plague, and all the letters were cut and smoked to kill germs to prevent spread of infection.

She recalls how once two eight-year-olds had come to her arguing over a stamp. One boy said it was not a stamp, as it didn't have any specifics - price, country, year - mentioned on it, while another insisted it was a stamp.

Joy of philately

Upon studying the subject of dispute, Dr. Bhateja says, it was revealed that it was indeed a stamp, and the only one of its kind left. “Unique,” she says with a mix of pride and amusement. Such chance-discoveries add to the joy of philately, she says.

Dr. Bhateja, who has won many awards for her exhibits, says philately is a “very rewarding and fulfilling hobby.”

She says that while there are stamps important because of their rarity, there are mails which are important because of their oddity.

“Crash mail, balloon mail, pigeon mail...

“There are people who are very passionate about collecting such things,” she says with amusement. Letters which were transported by balloons and pigeons in older days or letters that survived plane crash make for a prized collection, she reveals.

And how many of us know that philately also stimulates the creative part of one's brain? Dr. Bhateja says that preparing exhibits require people to carefully think and decide which stamp to include and why. She gave the example of a man who had exhibited “some very ordinary postcards” in a contest but had won it because of the extraordinary information he had dug out about them and had woven it all around a common theme.

“It's not necessary that the best collection wins. The best presentation does,” she says.

Dr. Bhateja notes that while a decade ago India was “one of the top countries in philately,” the situation was not so bright now.

However, she says Karnataka still fares better than other States in India in philately.

She says the Karnataka Philatelic Society, which meets twice a week, is full of enthusiastic philatelists, who are always willing to help and guide those who are interested in pursuing this “enriching and highly satisfying hobby.”