austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

I've got a hobby: rereading Lady Chatterley

Yes, the World Stamp Championship 2004 is on, and for the first time it's in Singapore! Actually, it's the first World Stamp Championship at all, not merely first in 2004, but promotional materials at Suntec City slightly misstate what they want to claim. Philately's an interesting hobby in that I think everybody who ever received a letter from a foreign country wants to save the stamp, but to collect with any sort of system immediately turns you into Comic Book Guy. There might be in the world someone with a larger collection of 1867 Bolivian ``Condor'' stamps, but I suspect the record-holder was showing his off at this exhibition, which runs to 1 September.

I only had three or four hours in it so (honest) barely explored a quarter of the entered stamp collections. Unfortunately many of the displays were captioned by people who hadn't decided what level of expertise to expect in the audience, so a display explaining lithography from first principles might be adjacent to this sample, which I assume makes sense to those familiar with the field:

New cliché 26 appears for the first time in this setting, having been made as a substitute for cliché 7 which became completely defective and was discarded. (Accompanying this is a pair of what appear to be Magic Squares, only with a 7 in the bottom row, fourth column in one and a 26 in that spot in the other.)

There are also wonderful displays of tactically deployed language like In postal history the Suez Canal area is one of the most important terms in Egyptian philately or Almost certainly less than ten used £ 75 [ revenue stamps ] have been recorded. Well, it's your diorama, didn't you check? A display of Vietnamese stamps honoring various animals mentions the country has ``18 species of cattle-fish'', which sounds like something that yellow3 might have drawn.

There's also an almost spastic lack of thematic organization. We can read several fascinating (to me, anyway) pages on the establishment of the General Postal Union and its change into the Universal Postal Union, renowned for establishing the rather efficient and convenient modern international postal system and for being the only organization to actually use the .int top-level domain; then it jumps into postal systems of the ancient Egyptians. We learn the postal service in Korea was suspended in 1884 due to a coup d'état that broke out at a banquet honoring the establishment of postal service, and then it's off to Zagreb Postmarks Through The Centuries. Part of this is because collectors of course specialize in different topics, and exhibits are collected by what seem to be broad categories of stamp interest rather than historic or geographic continuity. It's still jolting.

There's naturally a detailed description of the postal history of Singapore, which is pretty dull because up through Independence it was just small lithograph engravings of whoever was Regent in England, then an interlude during the Japanese Occupation, then English Royalty again, and then it turns into pictures of fish. One panel featured an amusing-to-me glitch; it was described several times as a set of issues for the 1959 Constitution; every one of the stamps was from the Singapore Sesquicentennial, and showed nice clear 1969 on each stamp.

Sold for a mere S$2.00 is a Philatelic Passport, with blank pages for many countries that have extended postal ... workers, I guess ... who'll be happy to sell you a stamp, paste it into your booklet, and then cancel it. Comes with a free $0.60 Singapore stamp showing the Copperband Butterflyfish. I suppose I don't quite get it, but there's coupons in back for a discount on Lindner, which I guess makes something philatelic, and also for a free waffle cone at McDonald's.

The person selling it to me said I could get it filled up, and then have a keepsake, which kind of reflects my problem with organized stamp-collecting -- even if you do discover, as one exhibitor did, a Major Previously Undiscovered Flaw in Canadian revenue stamps from the early 1900s, well, you're just a guy who's found one point of ink where it shouldn't be on a couple of stamps.

Another stamp merchant had a sign proclaiming ``Singapore 1948 Postal Forgery £ 250''. I asked what that meant; he told me ``Well, in 1948 there was a forgery of some Singapore stamps, not legal issue, and that were forged.'' While intrigued, I had the feeling I'd probably be better off getting the story somewhere else.

Four things particularly fascinated me. First, the 1955 issue of 25 cent stamps -- the first commemorating Queen Elizabeth II -- includes an airplane labelled the Argonaut. This was labelled the Comet until, well, the Comet turned out to have that nasty problem of shredding itself in-flight. Second there also were some stamps overprinted with the words ``Postal Training School'' ... I suppose I always knew postal workers had to learn and practice somewhere, but I didn't think they needed specially marked practice stamps for it.

Third was also the line of revenue stamps, which were pasted to various documents to prove fees were paid. They had exhibits of land titles and such which had a fee proportionate to the amount of sale, so -- there was one document which regarded a land sale of S$352,836 ... so at the 0.6 percent duty had a fee of S$7,058 due on it. And so affixed to it were fourteen S$500 revenue stamps and miscellaneous smaller amounts ... can you imagine having seven thousand dollars in stamps? And in 1961, when that was some real money? I'd be scared to lick them; I have trouble with five-dollar stamps.

Finally, there was a section which I didn't have time for devoted to ``Maximaphily,'' which sounds like something we get into at the Giants Club.

I missed the stamp races and the rhythmic stamp gymnastics. The Stamp Champion's to be declared Wednesday.

Trivia: Until 1925 astronomers reckoned the day as beginning at noon. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, E.G. Richards.

Currently Reading: Rutgers: A Bicentennial History, Richard P. McCormick.


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