Dying art of stamp collecting

Pygmies and pyramids, Orang Utans and tigers, for generations a hobby now seen by many as dull and dusty opened up a new world for young people in the area.

As the Leytonstone and Wanstead Philatelic society celebrates its 75th year I talked to members about their passion and how changing times have lead this once popular hobby to become increasingly obscure.

The Society was founded in 1946 and since then members have met every two weeks at Wanstead House to discuss, trade and buy stamps from every corner of the globe.

In its early days the Society was mostly made up of young people, but since then the average age of members has risen considerably as computer games and television compete for children's attention.

David Pashby, 74, of Glengall Road in Woodford, first started attending the Society in the 1950s. He explained what originally drew him to stamps: “It is the romance of far away places. It is intriguing seeing stamps from these exotic places from throughtout the world.

“Many people collected British empire stamps but I always preferred continental stamps, they had much more attractive designs. There was so much skill and intricacy in some of the old designs from France and Germany.

He said that a number of factors were responsible for the decline in popularity of stamp collecting, and during his time at the Society levels of membership had fallen.

“When I was younger the designs were so much more attractive. There was better craftmanship. Now there are so many produced that the standards have declined. “It is a better hobby for young people than, say, computer games, because you learn so much: you want to find out about the people and places on the stamps.”

Stuart Henderson, 67, of Wanstead Park Road, worked in the stamps division at Phillips and Bonhams auctioneers for 20 years and has been a member of the Society for three decades.

He said: “The Society brings together people from all social backgrounds, all united by their passion for stamps.

“When I was younger there was no television and there were frequent blackouts. You were forced to find your own interests. Now I think children are not encouraged to use their imagination as much. They want more active things now.

“We would learn about the British Empire, about far-away places. I have done a lot of travelling and my wife will often ask me, say, the name of a mountain and I will tell her, when she asks how I know I say it is because I first saw it on a stamp.

He said that part of the thrill of the hobby is in the prospect of finding a hidden gem.

“I remember one stamp was found in an old collection book that would probably have sold for 30 pence in a car boot sale. It went on to sell for £40,000 at an auction.

“It was an a Hong Kong stamp from the reign of Queen Victoria and sold to a collector in the far-east. Sometimes there are these wonderful finds.”