The London Philatelist

by Jennifer Flippance, London 2010 Project Officer

The BPMA Search Room holds many old journals, which can make fascinating reading. Among the many periodicals available to view is The London Philatelist (the journal of the Royal Philatelic Society London). Published since 1892, it gives an absorbing insight into the world of stamp collecting over a century ago.

Past issues are an intriguing mix of philatelic news, reviews, essays, adverts, auction and exhibition reports, warnings about forgeries, new stamp issues (from the British Empire and beyond), obituaries and accounts of meetings.

In volume IX, covering 1900, there are a number of curious articles including an appeal for help in locating a man, described as ‘age about 40, grey mixture jacket suit, bowler hat, heavy moustache, rather dark, otherwise clean-shaven” who was accused of stealing a book of old German States stamps from Messrs. Bright & Son.

Another article relates a report from the Daily Mail on how it had been found possible to spread tuberculosis through stamps if they had been licked by a carrier.  Child collectors were cautioned against placing any stamps near their mouth to moisten them and it was advised that foreign stamps were disinfected in a solution of carbolic acid.

There were several reports on the efforts of the Philatelic War Fund Committee, who raised over £1500 for the Boer War through a combination of sales, auctions and donations. One meeting was held the day after the relief of Mafeking. Perhaps not surprisingly, much interest was also given to the postage stamps used during the siege.

By 1914, the nation once again found itself at war and The London Philatelist considered the effect this would have on philately, speculating that the loss of Germany’s colonies would see an end to the large number of overprinted stamps they produced. No great loss, the author implied patriotically, as they were of little interest to any collectors outside Germany.

Then, as today, international stamp exhibitions were significant and much anticipated events. The very first issue reported on the 1890 London Jubilee Philatelic Exhibition, at which Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh and second son of Queen Victoria, displayed a considerable portion of his own collection. This tradition continues to this day and parts of the Royal Philatelic Collection will be on display in the Empire Mail exhibition at Guildhall Art Gallery during the period of the London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition in May 2010.

Browsing the competitive class list for the 1897 London Stamp Exhibition, the differences are very striking. In one class, competitors faced no restrictions on how much material could be exhibited, unlike today where even top international exhibitors are limited to a maximum of 128 album pages. In 1897, individual entries could consist of several thousands stamps.  One entry numbered over 20,000 stamps in 24 volumes.  I certainly don’t envy the judges of that class.  Another class, no longer held today was ‘For Philatelic Accessories and Appliances for use by Collectors.’

However, despite the huge changes philately has seen over this period, some things remain the same. The October 1896 editorial discussed the challenges of attracting new young collectors, a subject still very much of concern to philatelists today.

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