The 1948 issues of Mahatma Gandhi can be said to be the most popular and collectible stamps of modern India. Further, these stamps overprinted "Service" for exclusive use by the office of the then Governor General of India, C. Rajagopalachari, are known for their elusiveness being one of India's rarest stamps. Finally it is one of the most expensive post-World War II stamps in the world!
The definitive book on the subject is Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Issue of 1948 by Pradip Jain. Published in 2014 and authored by a well-known Gandhi collector, it is the last word on the subject. As per Jain, just 76 copies of the Rs 10 Service exist. Details are as follows:
In Jain's book the strip of 4 is shown through the courtesy of Stanley Gibbons. In Apr 2017 it was widely reported in the philatelic and popular press that Stanley Gibbons had sold (the same) strip to an unnamed Australian collector-investor* for £500,000. Earlier in Sep 2013, the auctioneer David Feldman had sold the finest known single copy for €168,000 (including buyer's premium) while in 2016 Gibbons had themselves sold another single to a collector in Uruguay (of all places!) for £160,000.
* While the identity of the Australian collector is known to many, he perhaps desires to remain in the background and hence his name is not being researched or disclosed.
While attending Stockholmia 2019 in late May, I visited Spink's stand. Spink, founded in 1666 and headquartered in London, are one of the world's leading auctioneers of not only stamps, but also coins, banknotes, medals, wine & sprits, etc. At the stand, the same strip of 4 was on display for sale for £550,000. A small booklet advertising this and a few other stamps available under Private Treary was also kept on the counter for anyone interested to pickup.
I just have two observations:
** Since the collector is an Australian, if we consider GBPAUD exchange rates, things change but just a bit. It was around 1.70 AUD per GBP then implying a cost price of AUD 850,000. Currently the rate is approximately 1.83 implying a possible sale price of AUD 1 million.
Pictured here is M. S. Ramu of Bangalore (right) with Geoff Anandappa, Director - Client Services, Spink at Stockholmia 2019. Ramu (not the new owner) is holding paper worth close to Rs. 5 crores or $700,000!
I am thankful to Ramu and Pragya Jain, two well-known Gandhi collectors and dealers, for going through this blog post and providing me their valuable inputs.
In the last few years of the 19th and the first couple of decades of the 20th century, The Philatelic Society of India (PSI) was the premier society in the British Empire outside of the UK or even London. It members consisted of the top most Anglo-Indian philatelists of the day many of whom were also members of The Phillatelic Society, London (later The Royal Philatelic Society London). Efforts to form a pan-India society had been on for many months before and PSI commenced its activities in the beginning of 1897.
However the first General Meeting of the Society took place only on 6 March 1897. This date is usually taken to be the one when the Society formally came into existance. The minutes of the meeting were recorded in the April 1897 issue of The Philatelic Journal of India (PJI); the PJI having being published from Jan 1897 itself. It must be an unique occassion when the journal of a society started before the society itself was formally constituted!
This piece is to clarify on the issue of how many members of the Society existed in the beginning. Common lore has it at 50. This myth has been perputated in all later writings. The editors of the PJI, C. F. Larmour and F. N. Schiller, are to be blamed when they report in Vol. 1 No. 1 that the PSI, "...commences its existence from the beginning of this year with just fifty members"
I am not sure why this number is mentioned since on the reverse of the very page a list of all the (initial) members are given! And a simple count totals to 49. Perhaps 50 is a round number easier to roll off the tounge than 49? However as a historian I would rather be precise and set the record straight, 122 years later!
Further support comes from the Feb 1897 issue of the PJI which has the list of new members added. It clearly says that the current membership is now 60. A count of the new members works out to 11 and this is a further confirmation that the number of initial memers were 49.
After many suggestions and discussions, eight stalwarts (of the 49 invited) met exactly 150 years ago on 10 April 1869 at 93, Great Russell Street and formed The Philatelic Society, London.
The Society managed to tide over the difficult years of the early 1870s and is now the oldest surviving philatelic society in the world; some earlier societies such as the French and American ones having faltered. It received the prefix "Royal" on 28 Nov 1906 from King George V, an avid philatelist himself.
Apart from being the oldest, I would say it is the most vibrant and, very importantly, the most diverse philatelic society with approximately 2400 members from 80+ countries. With its move later this year to its new premises at Abchurch Lane, the future of the Society have never looked better!
P.S. Those interested in the history of the Royal may want to refer to the above books brought out on 50 and 100 year anniversaries of the Society.
The Society is also publishing two catalogues on the occassion of the Sesquicentennial.
Volume 1: The Exhibition Catalogue
Volume 2: The Library Catalogue
More information including the table of conents of the two volumes is available on the exclusive website pertaining to the catalogues.
A few days back I bought, off eBay UK, a copy of Beech et al's New Zealand and Dependencies: A Philatelic Bibliograophy. The edition was shown as bound in bright red cloth and thank to Brian Birch's magnus opus, The Philatelic Bibliophile's Companion, I immediately recognised it to be the British Philatelic Trust's version - one of the 16 numbered copies. I could not believe my luck and placed a rather high bid; I was fortunate to get it for a decently low ball number.
I wrote to Brian mentioning my acquisiton and that it was numbered 5/16. Brian maintains a record of all limited edition bibliographic philatelic books and in his records this number was shown as belonging to the British Library in London. Both the Library and I sent Brian photos of the copies in our possession. It turns out that we both have ones numbered 5 (the British Library has another unnumbered copy as well) and there has obviously been an error in numbering. Possibly there is a 4 or a 6 missing in the world.
When I inquired from the eBay seller, he mentioned that this book was part of the Francis Kiddle library. Kiddle was, of course, the past librarian and President of the RPSL and a philatelic bibliophile. Brian says that Kiddle, who was also Chairman of the Trustees of the British Philatelic Trust, was responsible for publishing the Trust's edition. He mentions in his Companion:
It was originally intended that the British Philatelic Trust would publish this book on behalf of the compilers. However, there were serious disagreements between the compilers and the Trust on policy and editing of the book so that the agreement on publication of the book by the Trust was eventually terminated and the compilers published it themselves. Since the Trust had expended a considerable sum of money on the publication, it produced a small edition of sixteen copies in order to recoup at least some of the money
The authors self published their own edition a year later in 2004. The Trust's edition has great production values - a very high-quality buckram covered hard binding with rounded spine and impeccable gold lettering. The authors' own version is also quite good considering that it was meant for widespread distribution (published at N$ 80) and hence possibly costs needed to be controlled. I also speculate that superiority of the former's bookbinder may have also played a part.
It was sometime in 2012/13 that I started collecting Indian mails going to foreign destinations in the pre-UPU period. The comprehensive book on the subject is Martin and Blair's Overseas Letter Postage from India 1854 to 1876 but that covers only routes and rates and not accountancy markings on, well, the covers! As I struggled with making sense of the markings, I was trying to get hold of other books which would give me some insight.
So it was in Jan 2015 that I got in touch with an eBay seller who had a copy of Jane and Michael Moubray's British Letter Mail to Overseas Destinations on sale for £220. I later learnt that the seller was John W. Jackson, a well know philatelic literature enthusiast. I was not sure if this book* would help me and I requested John for more information. He explained that this was a standard book on 19th century British rates which had won the Crawford Medal and was quite popular with philatelists. The book was published in 1992 and had sold out within a short while and hence was rare and expensive.
At that point in time, the British dealer, Bill Barrell, had a copy for sale for £300 (which sold in the coming months). The German philatelic literature dealer, Phila Books or a.k.a. Burkhard Schneider, was willing to buy copies for €250 and later that year / early next he did list a couple of copies for €400 which sold quickly. Knowing that I was unlikely to find a cheap copy anytime soon and since John's copy had sold in the meantime, I threw in the towel and bought a copy off another eBay seller for £215 + postage**
At the time of buying the book I had no idea that a second edition was coming out soon. It was published by the Royal Philatelic Society of London in 2017 and met with good reception. It was priced at £75 for non-members and £68 for members.
While I ordered the second edition, I find that the first edition's value is falling off the cliff over the past year or so. Obviously those who want a book for its contents would rather buy the second edition with updated information for a lower cost. And there are very very few new collectors of philatelic literature. So the demand-supply ratio has flipped 180 degrees. From £250-300, the average price is in double digits now. I have seen copies not selling for months at even £50-75!
Philately is a science or atleast partly that. It follows that philatelic works are technical and similar to other pedagogical books where earlier editions have few takers. This is completely different from fiction or even many non-fiction works where first editions (rather first prints; the two words are often used synonymously and need to be distinguished) are desired. So unless a philatelic title is a valuable incunabula item your first editions are not worth much, both value and content wise.
* I now know that no one book helps and this is why I have had to assemble a jamboree of them even if most of them contain just a few pages of my interest. Check out my Maritime and Rates & Routes sections.
** Never forget postage when buying literature. It cost me £28!
It is generally recognised that the first journal dealing exclusively with the topic of philatelic literature is The Philatelic Literature Collector whose first (and only) issue came out in the Autumn of 1888. As the editorial says, "With this number, we present to our readers....a new venture in the way of philatelic literature, devoted to collectors of philatelic literature."
This journal's editor and publisher was one Mr. Herbert. C. Beardsley of St. Joseph, Missouri. He was a dealer and collector; in fact in this number he claims to be the only collector in his city of 75,000 inhabitants! While I have not researched on him much, I can glean from the Crawford Catalogue that his initial venture, Beardsley's Advertiser, saw its first and last issue in January that year. The failure of his first two ventures seem to have affected him for a short while only as he is associated with other publications in the mid to late 1890s.
Mr. Beardsley mentions somewhere that while "we don't expect to make any money out of it, we will guarantee every person who sends his or her 10c, four numbers." I wonder if subscribers or future advertisers were refunded back their amounts given that no further issues saw the light of the day!
The issue in discussion is a self-bound work of 4 pp. The first page lists philatelic magazines being currently published in America. The second and part of the third page contains extracts from P. J. Anderson's Notes on Early English Philatelic Literature and is acknowledged as being reprinted from the Philatelic Journal of America; in fact Anderson's article had originally appeared starting from the May 1885 issue of The Philatelic Record, perhaps the best magazine of its time.
The next two pages contain advertisement rates, general notes and titbits on the then philatelic happenings, a small list of literature collectors, an exchange section for journals, and last and definitely not the least, an announcement of an auction sale of 23 different journals. This is possibly the first auction ever held containing exclusively literature lots.
In 1996 was published The Royal Philatelic Society of Victoria Library: A History and Catalogue by Geoffrey Kellow (later an RDP, the highest award in philately) and Russell Turner. The library of the RPSV is perhaps the biggest in the Southern hemisphere. I have written an article on the library which can be found in the Articles section of this website and those interested may want to refer to that.
The Catalogue is perhaps one of the last, if not the last, of the big philatelic catalogues cum bibliographies to be published in printed form. While stamp collectors may be declining, the rate of philatelic output continues to be added at a prodigious rate and hence it is very difficult for printed works to be published and stay relevant for any length of time. The Global Philatelic Library on the internet is an initiative to provide a consolidated listing of philatelic publications, archives, museum items etc. held by libraries; so far 27 libraries have contributed their listings.
Now more on the Catalogue. It is a high quality work published in two editions:
(1) A pre-publication Subscribers' limited, and numbered edition of 75 hard bound in maroon cloth with a matching slipcase.
(2) A Standard, limited, but unnumbered, edition of 75 bound in blue cloth with a matching slipcase.
The information on (2) has been taken from the Auction Catalogue of The "Maharaja", Dromberg & Garratt-Adams (last part) Philateic LIbraries, Sale held 26-27 Apr 1997.
The subscriber's edition is signed by the authors as well as the President of the Society, John Trowbridge, on the Introduction page. It is also numbered (mine is no. 23). However I am unable to find any other difference between the two.
Needless to say any hardcore bibliophile will do well to have a copy of this book in his library.
What is the difference between the two booklets shown here (apart from the fact that the one has the price mentioned on top)? Both are exactly the same except that the one on the left is the first and the one on the right is the second edition of Fred.(erick). J.(ohn) Melville's Postage Stamps Worth Fortunes. This is one of the first, if not the first, book dealing exclusively with rare stamps of great value (Crawford 261).
Melville needs no introduction to philatelic bibliophiles, being the most prolific writer in all of philatelic history (more than 100 books can be attributed to him) Incidentally he published a booklet of 8 pp called Stamp Collecting in 1897 when he was just 15; he was later so embarrassed of his work that he actively hunted for it and destroyed the copies that he could lay his hands upon!
In their book, A "Melville" Bibliography (yes, such a book was needed to just list out the great man's works), the Williams brothers (L.N. and M. Williams) give the story behind the two editions. Apparently the first edition was published on 11 March 1908 in a run of 2,000 copies. All copies were exhausted in one day (!) warranting a second edition to be published three days later, again in a similar sized run. This fact is also printed in the second edition of the work.
Apart from the British edition, a Swedish edition came out in 1910, a Dutch edition in 1911, and an American one in 1918.
The Stamp Collector's Magazine (SCM) is the second journal on stamp collecting or philately ever published in the world. The reason I use the word "philately" after "stamp collecting" is because Georges Herpin had not yet coined the former word; he did so only in Nov 1864, almost a couple of years after the first issue of SCM came out in Feb 1863.
Published over 12 volumes from 1863-74, SCM set extremely high standards of philatelic journalism. It was edited by Dr. Charles William Viner till about end-1866 and thereafter by George Overy Taylor; Viner having left to edit The Philatelist.
Vol. 1 No. 1 was reprinted. In Vol. II No. 4 of The Journal of the Philatelic Literature Society, Edward D. Bacon, eminent philatelist, mentions two variations to distinguish the original from the reprint.
1. On page 15, in the advertisement at the top of the right hand column the letters "lake" of the name "Blake" are in small roman capitals in the original and in lower-case type in the reprint.
2. On page 16 the error of spelling in the words "Just Pubished" (missing "l") above the advertisement of "The Postage-Stamp Collector's Pocket Album" in the right hand column, is corrected in the reprint to "Just Published".
Bacon further adds that the original No. 1 was probably dispatched only in March 1863 since he has seen one postmarked March 4 while the reprint was not made until August 1863.
Note: My copy of Vol. 1 No. 1 is the original.