My life as a failed stamp collector


Steerforth recalls, with pathos and bemusement, his brief attempt at being an entrepreneurial philatelist…

When I was 11-years-old I became friends with a boy whose parents were divorced. I’d never met anyone whose mother and father lived apart and I remember feeling quite jealous that he had two homes. In my eyes divorce had a glamorous, film star quality about it and this was compounded when I first met the father, a dashing, ex-army man who spoke in clipped tones and drove a fast car.

Every Sunday he drove us to an army range near Aldershot, where we would scour the scorched heathland for abandoned cartridges, bullets and clips, which we would later assemble into machine gun belts and parade around the streets like Mexican bandits. Occasionally we found live ammunition and once I decided to sneak a few rounds home. Later, in my father’s garage, I placed the cartridges in a vice and prepared to strike them with a hammer. My dad’s unexpected entrance probably saved my life. He was utterly appalled and I’ve always wondered whether this incident prompted him to encourage me to collect stamps.

It worked. I soon lost interest in weapons and became obsessed with my stamp collection, visiting stamps fairs and dealers every week. I kept a meticulous record of my purchases and noted the catalogue value of each item and how much of a profit I had made. I was quite the young businessman.

Then puberty arrived and almost overnight, the stamp collection lost its allure. My albums went into storage and ever since I have been convinced that I was sitting on a small fortune which I could cash in on a rainy day. Recently the rainy day arrived and I dusted down the albums and looked at the stamps for the first time in years.

I was struck both by the futility of stamp collecting and the beauty of some of the stamps. For example, this King George VI stamp from Trinidad and Tobago is a minor work of art:


But what about their value? I decided to check the internet and see how much they had increased in price. After several hours of exhaustive searching and careful cross-referencing I discovered that my great collection, the result of several years’ labour, is worth bugger all.

There seems to have been some sort of Wall Street Crash in the stamp world, or maybe a South Sea Bubble. Either way, many are worth no more than their face value. Indeed I might start using my 1970s mint condition British stamps on normal correspondence. As for the George VI high value definitives, which included the rare 10/- dark blue, I manged to sell them on Ebay for less than a fiver.

What a waste of time. I should have stuck to the bullets.

I could have been a successful arms dealer by now.

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About Author Profile: Steerforth

Steerforth is a gentleman bookseller from East Sussex, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty.

2 thoughts on “My life as a failed stamp collector

  1. Brit
    March 30, 2015 at 18:24

    An amusingly similar thing happened to me and my Dad. I spent weeks sorting his collection of Rhodesian stamps and looking in a book we were convinced they were worth thousands. So we took them to a dealer to be valued and discovered that they were somehow the ‘wrong kind’ of stamp and actually worth…. bugger all.

    Daniel K
    April 1, 2015 at 18:52

    My comics collection suffered a similar fate, with one or two exceptions. I blame huge print runs, stupid gimmicks, most stuff being much worse than it was hyped to be, and the Internet rendering the concept of local scarcity irrelevant/redundant.

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