Philately is reinventing itself, thanks to online catalogues and e-auctions
American president Franklin D Roosevelt was a stamp buff. Prince Rainier III of Monaco, added stamps to the royal collection during his reign. Now, it is French president Nicolas Sarkozy who has revealed his passion for philately. The hobby of the kings, associated with royals from England’s King George V and King Farouk of Egypt to King Carol II of Romania, rose to become one of world’s popular past times.
Now, it is the brave new electronic age. Young people may have never written a letter, let alone use a stamp to mail it. Yet, the Internet seems to have popularised the hobby. Thousands of philatelic transactions take place everyday on eBay and other Internet auction sites. Collectors from around the world meet online regularly, discuss and exchange stamps. J. Jose Gilbert, a Guinness record holder for the largest collection of stamps from most countries (192) will vouch for it. “I was running short of stamps of Georgia, Puerto Rico and Montenegro for my record. I sourced them through my online network of over 40 stamp lovers in the U.K. France, Israel and the U.S.,” he says. Now, he has added stamps of Bouvet Island of Norway, Clipperton of France and the U.S stamps such as Wake Island, Midway Island and Baker Island to his collection. To update his knowledge, he frequents websites such as ( www.askphilately.com), www.rpsl.org.uk (the Royal Philatelic Society, London) and that of American philatelic society. Says the bio-technology student. “When I was searching for stamps on renewable energy, I discovered information on hydrogen production through biological roots. Now I am pursuing my PhD at IIT, Kharagpur on the same topic.”
Pravin Bell, who works for a software firm in Pune, says “What you learn is a slice of history.” Pravin’s collection includes stamps of British India and British Common Wealth till 1952.
Serious collecting requires a method, based on a theme. “For instance, if you choose roses, collect stamps on roses from all over the world,” says Professor V.S. Yalvigi. He has an exhaustive collection of stamps on Mahatma Gandhi (the only personality to have 350 stamps printed from 140 countries). Rahul Deshpande, who took to the hobby from his father, finds stamps on Antarctica, Astronomy and birds fascinating. “Websites such as ( www.bird-stamps.org) is a complete guide on bird philately. It gives a complete list of stamps on birds released by nations across the globe,” he adds.
Pravin says for any collector, online catalogue available on websites such as (ww.stanleygibbons.com) is the Bible. They pack a lot of information right from the history of stamps (from penny black the first stamp printed in 1840 to the stamps available today) and classifies them under specific topics. And, they can be ordered online. “It is important to study stamps and learn about the antique value attached to it to realise its rarity,” says the collector. His community ‘British Empire Philately community’ on Orkut has a growing membership. “On any given day you will find an average of 1,500 listings of stamps on eBay,” he adds.
Stamps also double up as an investment. “Stamps on veteran actor Sivaji Ganesan, a sheet of 40 stamps released with a value of for Rs.1, 000 shot up to more than Rs. 40,000 in matter of two years. Theme based collections fetch good money. Sourcing buyers is made easy with Internet auction sites,” Jose explains.
Software engineer Sa. Vejeykummar from Chennai, who has to his credit philatelic blogs on Charlie Chaplin, Popeye, Laurel and Hardy, Marilyn Monroe and Indian scented stamps is collecting stamps on ‘Gymnastics in summer Olympics’ to exhibit at Olympex 2012 in London. “I have collected 5,000 stamps,” says the philatelist, who is the proud owner of a first day cover signed by Fidel Castro, which he sourced through eBay.
“Collecting stamps is like nurturing a relationship. And, you get possessive about it,” Jose sums up.K.JESHI