In my previous blog I had mentioned that the F. A. Bellamy library was bought by Albert H. Harris (not to be confused with H. E. Harris of the US). This blog is about the man who was a philatelic literature dealer, writer, and proprietor and editor of various stamp magazines.
Albert Henry Harris was born at Croydon on 13 September 1885. He became interested in stamps at an early age. Party educated in Paris, on his return, Harris started The Enterprise Stamp Club in 1902 with two friends. This grew into the City of London Philatelic Society in October 1906 of which he was a member till his death.
Harris' initial career was in the advertising business but he gradually veered towards the stamp trade, in particular dealing in philatelic literature. His interest in journalism led him to cut his teeth as a junior in the editorial offices of Ernest Benn Ltd., then amongst the leaders of magazine publishers. Hence it is perhaps not surprising that, on 1 March 1911, Harris launched a new monthly magazine - the Philatelic Circular - for one of his other early enterprises, an exchange club called the Modern Collector's Club. After acquiring two other magazines and after 58 numbers, its name was changed to The Philatelic Magazine. In July 1919 the magazine became a fortnightly. Down the road, Harris also acquired the venerable Alfred Smith's Monthly Circular (1922) [Note 1], The Record of Philately (1936), and perhaps the most prestigious, Stamp Collectors' Fortnightly (1958). From 1914 to 1937, Harris also brought out 13 edition of Who's Who in Philately in book form; it was later amalgamated and published in Stamp Collector's Annual.
Harris' firm, Harris Publications Ltd., became an important supplier of philatelic literature in the 1920s and they maintained that position well into the 1940s. Apart from the Bellamy library which purchased in 1938, Harris also purchased many other important libraries like those of Hugo Griebert as well as considerable portions of the Edgar Weston stock. It may be pertinent to mention here that Weston traded under the name 'Victor Marsh' and was the biggest philatelic literature dealer of the early 20th century.
In his Introduction to the reprint edition of The Standard Index, Chapman gives a brief but remarkable insight into the man. He describes Harris as imbued with a devotion to good philatelic practices and having an "eagle eye" for empty "puffs". He was a hard taskmaster (which perhaps contributed to Baker leaving) and strict in his deportment. He was always ready to do wield swords in print, aware of but not intimidated by the laws of libel and working just within them. His battles with Stanley Phillips, the editor of Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal, which tended, "a little pompously, to consider itself the voice of British Philately" and the more down-to-earth Hugh F. Vallancey, the editor of Stamp Collecting, and Harris' main rival in the philatelic literature business, "kept Harris alive and well!" Finally, he was also a good businessman always looking for cost cutting and labour-saving; for example he used a Dictaphone for writing letters thus keeping the typist fully employed while he himself had extended lunches with friends and he introduced modern accounting systems replacing the "old-fashioned Dickensian monstrosities."
Harris died suddenly on 29 November 1945. His only child, Captain H. Gordon Harris was then serving with the Army in Burma and the business was carried on by Tom Morgan and Vera Trinder [Note 3]. Harris Publications was reorganised sometime later changing policies and premises. While some valuable philatelic literature titles were sold by auction through R. C. Jacombs in 1946, the rest of the stock, excepting current publications, was purchased by Vallancey in January 1947. Thus ended the philatelic literature reign of one of its greatest dealers of all time [Note 4].
Note 1: The Monthly Circular was published from January 1875 onwards. Its predecessor The Stamp Collector's Magazine was one of philately's earliest journals having been published from February 1863 to December 1874. After taking over the Circular, Harris renamed it as The Stamp Collector's Monthly Circular (later Journal) and published it from Spetember 1920 to August 1922. However he amalgamated it with the Philatelic Magazine in September 1922.
Note 2: The Index's genesis dates back to 1904 when Harris, as Honorary Secretary of the Enteprise Society, prevailed upon three members to index the society's library; the attempt failed. After many previous attempts had been scrapped, work on the Index as in its present state began in 1923. However it was only after Baker joined in April 1925 that the work started seeing progress. The work indexes handbooks of the entire world but journals of the Brtish Empire only.
Note 4: To complete the story, Harris Publications was sold by the Harris family to Urch Harris & Co. (no relation) of Bristol in 1967. Two years later, Stamp Collecting Ltd. took it over. The latter went into voluntary liquidation in July 1984. The two titles, The Philatelic Magazine and Stamp Collecting were bought by Stamp News Ltd. which then published a magazine of the same name. Stamp News itself ceased publication in October 1986.
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