There’s more to stamps than gummed hinges

By Charlotte Hofton

Published on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 14:00


THE VIEW FROM HERE AN imaginative initiative by the Footprint Trust, which is asking for donations of old stamp collections as a fund-raising boost to their work in promoting the benefits of sustainable living.

Ray Harrington-Vail, spokes-man for this thoroughly commendable Island charity, says that although most collections are not worth much, "for a charity, all these small amounts can add up to a decent amount of money."

It seems, too, there are plenty of old stamp albums around, simply mouldering away.

"Many people, such as myself, were hoping our children might take up our hobby but they have shown no interest," says Mr Harrington-Vail.

His words would have Stanley Gibbons weeping into his gummed hinges. And if the name of Stanley Gibbons means nothing to you, the tragedy is compounded.

Mr Harrington-Vail’s children who, he laments, would rather "go on computers than collect stamps", have probably never heard of Mr Gibbons. Neither will they have thrilled to the acquisition of a Penny Black, nor soaked holiday postcards in a bowl of hot water.

This latter exercise eventually resulted in a soggy bit of paper floating off, which, when dried out, could be added to one’s album, perhaps on that exotic page reserved for "Helvetia." I bet the Harrington-Vail kids don’t know where Helvetia is.

They wouldn’t, because Helvetia is a stampy secret, with other arcane mysteries of philately.

At this point I have to confess I’m floundering a bit, because I never actually collected stamps. My elder sister did and about once a year she would graciously let me look at her collection.

She’d make me stand at the far side of the room and then she’d hold up her album, shrieking at me if I advanced one inch or, worse, pointed my grubby finger in the direction of her precious stamps.

Terrified that the accumulated dirt and ink on my mitts would somehow transport itself across the room on to her pristine pages, she would snap the book shut and that would be it for another year. I’m surprised I know where Helvetia is.

Still, I got a vague grasp of stampy mysteries, notably that the most deprived countries produced the biggest, blowsiest, nicest stamps of all. Some were even triangular.

The most valuable stamps were actually quite boring. My sister once let me have a nano-second’s look at her Penny Black. I had to stand at the far end of the garden for this special occasion but even at that distance it was a tremendous letdown. I longed for a stamp album but my fingers were deemed too mucky to cope with gummed hinges. Now I’m hoping the Footprint Trust’s appeal will enable me to acquire one at last.

It needn’t contain anything valuable. Those gorgeous flowers on huge triangles, produced by countries ruled by corrupt dictators and riven by war, will do just fine.

I shall stand on a Helvetian mountain top and flash my collection at my sister, whom I shall position at a safe distance somewhere at the far end of the M6.

Mr Harrington-Vail might even sex up his appeal by giving punters an insight into Stanley Gibbons, a man who is known almost solely as an eminent stamp dealer.

More interesting was his penchant for women. He had five wives, the first four of whom died young and in possibly questionable circumstances (trained as a chemist, he had an expert knowledge of poisons.)

His fifth wife managed to outlive him but he left his estate to a sixth woman whom he described as a "dear friend".

Sex, death, maybe even murder. All, no doubt, engendered by the priapism and dark thoughts brought on by sticking little bits of paper into an album.

Come on, kids. Leave your computers and hurry along to the Footprint Trust’s sale. Wicked.

Island might still win Gentleman of the Year

I am disappointed to report that my quest to have the Island represented in Country Life’s Gentleman of the Year awards has not been entirely successful.

The winning chart of 21 names does not feature a single Island resident, which is a very poor show, particularly as David Beckham came second and Grayson Perry 11th.

Are all our IW footballers yobs?

And what about Grayson Perry? He’s the artist chap who does a flamboyant line in cross-dressing. I’m pretty certain there are plenty of men on the Island who like to wear frocks from time to time.

In fact, I have very strong suspicions about several of my own acquaintances. Next time, boys, up your game and tell Country Life you not only know how to put on a petticoat but you hold your knife and fork properly.

However, all is not lost. David Dimbleby, who came first in the competition, will be with us tomorrow, firing the starting gun for the Round the Island race, in which he will also be competing.

Strapped as we are for celebrities, we cannot afford to let this one go. Indeed, by the end of the day I think we can reasonably claim that he actually lives here.

Excellent. I always knew we’d win that Gentleman of the Year award.

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