Philately for the queen and commoners

Do the young people collect stamps nowadays?
In my youth philately was a fairly popular hobby and it often connected generations when sons grew up with the father’s or a grandfather’s collection and wanted to start their own. I had an album called Stamps of the World, not a very expansive or a specific one despite its grand title, but just right for a schoolboy who liked to look at colourful stamps and imagining what those countries may be like. My interest waned after school but was revived with my wife’s busy correspondence with her family and friends in Finland in the days when letters were still written by hand.
Having a large pile of current stamps available, I finally visited a shop in London dealing in stamps and coins and bought an album specific for Finnish stamps. After that, the shop in Rautatienkatu, Tampere, became a regular stopping point on our holidays. I was also lucky to come across some stamps from old letters and cards found in my in-laws’ cupboards from the time in the late 1800s/early 1900s when their families were living in the USA. In those days the letters from home were so precious that they were kept and even brought back when the families returned to Finland.
In April/May this year Tampere was a dream destination for philatelists, with the Post Museum at Vapriikki having an exhibition of some rare, early stamps from the Royal Philatelic Collection and then a large international exhibition at Tampere-talo.
We were lucky to obtain tickets via the Finn-Guild to the opening of the Vapriikki exhibition and, for me, it was an occasion to savour. I had lived all my life in London and never even got near the Royal Philatelic Collection but, within five years of moving to Finland, there I was face to face with some of the earliest stamps in the world and examples of some of the most legendary and valuable stamps even non-philatelists have heard about, not to mention rubbing shoulders with the Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection and Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Finland who were there to open the exhibition.
I visited the Tampere-talo exhibition twice and found it quite overwhelming. It was impressive to see some proper, expert collectors making their way around the displays obviously knowing what they were looking at. I found some of the envelopes on show, addressed to individuals in the USA, Australia, South Africa, China etc., really moving. It was amazing to think how few lines of address were sometimes needed although the letter was going to the other side of the world. I imagined a remote mining village or a logging camp and the letter sent by a relative or a sweetheart making its slow way by a ship or maybe by the early form of air mail by frail aeroplanes hopping from point to point to the country, then onwards to reach its recipient by some local delivery system, perhaps by the famous Pony Express. The Mail must get through!
What is the state of my Finnish collection now? I’m afraid I’ve lapsed with the technology bringing me a more immediate access to the world’s wonders. My album is very incomplete as far as the more recent years are concerned. There is a bulging folder of stamps saved by my wife from letters and cards and from time to time she points out that it takes a lot of room in the cupboard. Inspired by the exhibitions I have taken the first step by ordering the appropriate pages for my album but have not heard anything from the shop yet, which is a good excuse for doing nothing.
Philately will probably become an increasingly rare hobby because hardly anybody sends stamped letters these days. We use email, text messages, social media and goodness knows what the future will bring – I’m wondering when telepathy will become the normal form of communication. Mind boggles at the possibilities for confusion and “misdirected mail” that could cause!
It looks like the days of the postage stamps are numbered. I may still be around when the last stamp in Finland is produced. Perhaps by then I’ve updated my album and will be able to honour the passing of an icon by attaching the last of its kind to the final page.

Paul Dockree


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