Michael Sefi collected stamps for fun, now he's in charge of the Queen's Royal Philatelic Collection. He tells us how he got the stamps bug.
Michael Sefi is Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection, one of the world’s greatest stamp collections. Here he describes his stop-start love affair with stamps.
Why did I start (again)? As a schoolboy in the 1950s, stamp collecting was a natural hobby – all those far away places shown on stamps one had no expectation of ever going to in those days. But exams (and girls) inconveniently got in the way of such a harmless pursuit and so interest died until my late 30s. Triggered again by a dutiful god-parent giving a starter pack to one of my children, I hauled my old collection out of the loft, and immediately realised just how poor it had been!
In that collection, however, was a page prepared by my grandfather who’d also been a collector, which showed the different sizes of the stamps for the Great Britain 1934 photogravure issue. I wanted to know why, and that started a process of study which has broadened and continued to this day.
For reasons now unclear, I started to examine the Great Britain Downey Head 1911-13 issue of the ½d and 1d values. These stamps featured George V and were based on a photograph by W D Downey. They had the merit of a great number of varieties in printing – changed dies, different papers, wide range of shades of colour – and it was not so expensive to collect (or so I thought!) compared to earlier GB issues, especially in multiple.
What also attracted me to the issue is that it was clearly not successful – within two years new designs for the two values had to be introduced. And so I built a collection which was very specialised, not very well understood in the collecting fraternity, and which I began to display to societies and enter in competition.
The actual display element of the collection amounts to around 250 album pages of about A4 size, but there is still substantial material to be mounted and written up over time – particularly covers showing Downey usage. Apart from the Downey Head collection I do have other collections, some specialised and some basic, including other Great Britain King George V, King George VI and of the present reign, together with small collections of Australia and Kenya, Uganda & Tanganyika.
So, what is it about collecting? The enjoyment stems, I think, partly from possession, partly from involvement in something entirely unrelated to my professional life at that time and partly from active use of the brain in the study of a detailed and complex field.
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