Collectors meet every second Saturday at philatelic bureau

There are only a few things that make W.S. Krishnamurthy stop looking at his stamp albums. One is perhaps talking about his village in Vandiyur, near Madurai where his friends and family members have “given up” on him. “They say I have wasted all my ancestors' money on buying these stamps,” he says, even as his pride stands out over the three big albums of stamps from almost 30 countries across the world. “I come here once a month to know about the stamps I have bought and buy many more,” says the 73-year-old-man.

Every second Saturday, at the philatelic bureau here, a largely silent crowd gathers to delve into the world of stamps. They include school children, a few college students and many senior citizens. Tweezers are passed around and instructions given on how to handle the stamps very carefully. For these elderly people, the hobby in a way has given a fresh lease of life after they retired from work. There are even distinctions among enthusiasts. “Not every collector is a philatelist. The literature, the information cards and the story behind every stamp are important," says Mahesh Parekh, a philatelist, whose father founded the South Indian Philatelists' Association.

“The number of philatelists is coming down. But the sadder thing is the number of people who have entered it as dealers. They know nothing about the worth of stamps but invest in them, like they do in gold,” says Mr. Parekh. A stamp bought for Rs.3, if rare, can fetch up to Rs.2,000 now but not the ones that are available. “The one released and withdrawn, with cover, attract the best prices,” he adds.

The Philatelic Bureau has been regularly sending stamps to over 1, 200 people across the country, and since most backlogs have been cleared, there is better quality coming in, say officials. The Black Penny issued by Great Britain and the stamp on Gandhi printed in Switzerland in 1948 are the present rage now, say philatelists.

“For a true philatelist, the true pleasure lies in the knowledge he gets out of the stamps he owns,” says S. Visvanath, who has been collecting stamps for the last 55 years. His passion is stamps based on art in princely States across India. “It has helped me appreciate art better. I buy books on artists the stamps have featured and then read about them,” he says. While one might have a huge collection of stamps on blood donation, another's cherished collection might be on holograms. “We also need a dynamic stamp issuing policy. It should not be this focussed on personalities, and that too, on people who are not much relevant to us,” points out Mr Visvanath. “The sheer number of stamps issued by countries like India is also a reason why the collection and preservation become difficult," he adds.

At the end of the day, it is also about being a part of history. “We owe a lot to stamps, had they not been introduced in the 1850s, the communication age would have been very different today,” says Mr Parekh.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012