Stamp Collecting- stories and cartoons by me and bits and pieces of 'interest'
One man’s perspective
The art and science of compulsive behaviour in Stamp collectors.
All you need and do not need to know about stamp collecting and the people who do this for pleasure.
Short stories, cartoons, facts and fiction.
FIRST ADHESIVE POSTAGE STAMP FROM GREAT BRITAIN- THE PENNY BLACK
FIRST ADHESIVE POSTAGE STAMPS FROM GREAT BRITAIN- THE TWO PENCE BLUE
Indeed stamp collectors are now high tech!
What is a stamp collector?
Non-stamp people asking this question usually have pity in their eyes being totally unable to comprehend why anyone would sit for hours (or more truthfully months and years) fiddling about with old bits of redundant postal material. The same pity is awarded to train spotters or those who collect bottle tops (I would agree with them too about such people). In short, anyone who collects with the enthusiasm of most ‘stampers’ (covering all forms of stamp collectors) is destined to be metaphorically put in the stocks to be pelted with excrement., This extends to less restricted pity of stamper’s wives (or husbands and family at large).
The amazing statistics are that when viewed as a hobby, stampers make up massive numbers through out the world. I will not give any statistic here for fear of argument, but it runs into many many millions. The trade in stamps has been remarkably affected by the computer revolution and now eBbay offers easy access to markets. Here we have the good, the bad and the downright ugly mixed up. Various quality scans and photographs can be examined; descriptions can be sceptically read. Of course bargains can be had, but also red herrings caught. The possibilities though have increased the possibilities of more rapid collecting. Selling and buying, or more correctly buying and selling on the dregs, is easy once you have a scanner, and the will to plink files into place. Of course then you have to send the articles, pack them carefully (more on this) and pay the ever increasing postal costs and then nail bite until the stamps reach their destinations. Nevertheless, trading is encouraged and so the interest in stamps furthered. Even the most respected companies in stamps have at last resorted to this means of selling. I am waito ing for the first true re-evaluation of stamps for internet to be borne. The E catalogue then reflecting true bargaining power rather than the current use of the established catalogues which are vastly overpricing stamps. Of course they do account for condition and condition is all in stamps and that cannot be controlled fairly except by returning stamps described as VFU to the seller with a note attached indicating that the dirty, thinned, perforation stressed objects sent do not correspond to the description at all. All this is supposedly catchable when viewing the pictures, but they do tell a thousand lies (sometimes). A general standard of picture should be s established where fronts and backs should be shown and where the magnification should be a minimum. More again later on this theme. Overall the valuation of stamps should be reduced through the Internet trade, but it is buyer beware I am afraid, and the lust of ownership often overrides any practical considerations.
Back to the collector then. The man or woman, a victim of stamps, condemned to a life time of enthusiasm. I shall deal with the consequences of this from many angles involving health and mind; try and eke out the risk factors. The stories are illustrative more of the human condition rather than anything specifically to do with stamps. One man’s football team is another’s penny black.
Story One - The Will
Albert Armitage had a small family and they were all there at the reading of his last will and testament. They had gathered vulturine in the offices of Foster, Gloucester and Simms. Present was his sister, old but canny and wanting the major slice of her brother’s what should be considerable mass of cash; a niece and a nephew, Geraldine and Gerald (a most imaginative brother had Albert); and a couple of hopeful distant cousins who received red hot looks from the sister. One more person attended at the request of the solicitors, a smiling sort of youth who was regarded by the others as something to do with the solicitors.
Mr. Simms began.He blah blah’ed through he official stuff much to the agitation of the sister who was writhing in her chair wanting the relevant piece to be read. How much for her? Finally he did ‘and to my sister Emilina, I bequeath four hundred and fifty pounds the residue of the cash of my estate’. The solicitor paused to see the effect of the proclamation and was not surprised to see the old lady rise and storm out muttering profanities which he believed were entirely reserved for the armed forces in time of war. The others got precious little and it was all furniture. They left too. The youth stayed on though, a little bewildered. He had befriended Albert due to their love of stamps but he was not sure why he was needed, such was his innocence here.
‘And to Brian Southcliffe I leve my chest of drawers labelled AA in my dining room.’
That was it. There was no arguments about the will, apparently the old man was quite mad and must have spent his money on drink and women and whatever there is to spend old man’s money on.
Some time later, Brian was sitting with the chest of drawers, still with their label of AA. He smiled as he remembered the old man and his drawers, always guarding them, always touching them. They meant a lot to him, but they were old. Brian wondered what to do with them since they were after all bequeathed. He tried the drawers but all were locked and there was no key. He wandered behind the drawers then felt underneath on impulse. He felt a key or to be precise 2 keys. He peeled them form the tape which held them fast. He tried one in the top set of drawers and it did not work, but the second did. The open drawer revealed a number of shiny black backed books, stamp albums. Brian frowned as he had not sent these before. He opened he first and gasped. The second and third and fourth albums had Brian almost fainting. Mint stamps from Britain from the beginning. Pages of beautiful penny blacks and 2 penny blues. PAGES!
Surface printed and high values, the magnificent seven were there and again and even again. One pound Victorian, several five pounds. By the time Brian had looked at the entire contents of all the drawers it was almost midnight. Great Britain, France, Portugal, Austrian, Bosnia, Spain, Gibralter, Hong Kong and on and on. Brian was exhausted. In the very last drawer he also found an exercise book. In it he found a message from Albert. As Brian read it he could hear mthe old man speak.
‘Al bet tha a bit shocked wi this lot hey? Ah can imagin thi face and it gi’s mi greatest of pleasure to know that mi stamps ar gooin to thee. Sell sum of the buggars to get straight, house an all that, then enjoy em all . Mek sure no body nasty gets old on em when tha dees’
The first time Brian went to Albert’s grave, he did he took out of his pocket a Perspex cube. In it was a mint Penny Black with initials AA. He bent down and dug a deep narrow hole near the head stone. He put the stamp in and covered it. Brian made himself responsible for Albert’s grave after that and would decorate it with stamp motifs in flowers. The grave became quite an attraction. One day, many years later, he was at the grave accompanied by his young daughter. She asked who Albert was and why they were doing all this grave stuff ?
‘He was a lovely man and he gave me his world, said Brian ‘And in turn he made my world better, OK?’
His daughter smiled and shook her head at her dad.
‘You are funny sometimes Dad’ and ran off to catch a butterfly.
It is not unusual for jealousies to creep in where stamps are concerned.
Story Two - Jim’s Worry
‘Having a collection is like having a family’ Jim said, ‘You have to look after them even when you are dead’.
Jim was boring his mates again in the pub with his stamp worries.
‘Sell the damn things and be done with it’ said Pete.
Jim looked sad. ‘You have no idea of what I am saying have you?’ said Jim.
They had not. Jim spent most of his life on stamps now and had done for many years. He had inherited a good collection from uncles when young and build on them until he now had a very very valuable set of stamps indeed.
‘Get them insured then or sell them, that will settle things’, said the more pragmatic Colin, who after all had been in insurance, albeit of cars.
‘It’s their worth do you see, not the money. All the time and love spent on them.’
Jim had loved his kids too much and when they were both killed in a car accident it almost killed him with grief and did kill his wife a year later. He came out of depression through stamps and a pretty social worker who encouraged him.
Jim was always tidy now,and he ran a clean house, he kept fit, he looked good for his age. He fretted only as to what old happen when he died, when he had to leave his stamps.
‘It’s their worth you see…..’
His friend’s laughed, not because they were trying to be cruel but because of Jim’s foreign concept, the love of stamps. Jim’s salvation through them was a nought. He had to do something.
He had one idea quite suddenly whilst brooding on the condition of a stamp ‘I’ll get an apprentice’. The concept was to get someone who he could train, someone who would grow to love stamps, someone who might inherit his collection one day, maybe, just maybe.
He advertised simply. ‘Wanted, someone to help arrange catalogue and present postage stamps. Must be youngish and enthusiastic’.
His mates taunted him, advised him of the pitfalls, dangers, peoples' minds working. However, Jim persevered and to his surprise he had three applicants. The first was a surley lad called Mick who was only interested in the salary (as he put it), the hours and to finish him off l altogether, the holidays. The second was smarter in dress and head, but rather dull and he could not see him taking to the discipline of stamps. The third was somewhat alarmingly a girl of 19 called Anne. She was open to telling him that although she knew nothing of stamps, she was a quick learner and did like collecting things. Jim warmed to her, though had worries about having a girl in the hoiuse. She had a great smile. Jim was taken with her and she started on the Monday at an arranged sum.‘We will need a trial period’ Jim said, ‘to see how we get on’
‘Oh we will’ she said ‘And anyway works two ways the trial thing does’nt it?’
Jim laughed and she smiled.
After that what can I say? They did get on and the wonderful part without too much detail across the years follows. After five years of stamping they got married, he almost 74 and she 26. The tongues wagged from her side and his. But they were happy and Jim was still a fit man. She had fallen in love with him, which despite the vagaries of that state nowadays, is a definitive statement. They were married at the local registry office, he smart in her choice of clothes and she beautiful. He loved her and she him and they were inseparable, until at 83 he died. She loved him and had taken his heart and his collection to her own.
One happy collection event followed. A new baby was born 6 months after Jim died. Although people talked about its origins, she knew that Jim was the father. At six, Jim junior was an expert in sorting British stamps with his mum and a picture of his first dad as she called him. The second dad was a kind man whom she met when Jim junior was 2. He was not so keen on stamps but very keen on Anne so maintained an avid interest in both.
Story three - Fungus
Stamps are paper and sometimes gum and the collected residues of fingers and atmospheric pollution down the years. They are a history of contamination and microbial exploitation. James Thornton hated stamps, everything about them and more to the point the fiddlers, the man incubators, the collectors and hoarders and sellers and crooks and and … he hated the entire seething world of stamps, he was the first philatophobe.
He had seen his father and mother break up over obsession about stamps, the stamp widow fail and die. He had inherited a huge collection and at first enjoyed the excitement of the chase and sale. A fire and loss of the stamps was to be the start of his hatred. He learned that even though insured for technical reasons carefully explained (it said) in paragraphs 19-45 of the enclosed document, he was not entitled to more than £1000 for a collection worth hundreds of thousands. He decided at that moment, at the end of paragraph 45 to be exact, that he would destroy stamps, ALL stamps.
He studied microbiology and biochemistry, he took classes in polymer chemistry at the local college. He became an amateur expert in all things paper. Incubators, water baths, chemicals, a microscope, deep freezer, test tubes, Petri dishes, and all the etc’s of a working laboratory replaced his kitchen. He worked non stop on old paper, contaminations, brown spots on paper, green spots on paper, paper scrapings, musty paper. He gathered moulds from soil and devise culture media with celluloses and gums as chief constituents. He labelled each success and stored them in clearly labelled cultures. He grew up only those organisms that hated paper, that would facilitate his plan. After two years he had what he wanted, a fungus that gave spores tha germinated rapidly at almost any temperature and low humidity to release the fungus that ate and dissolved paper, turned stamps to mush. He tested his favourites for their drug resistance, he bred highly resistant strains, he bred micro monsters.
He was careful to select the first store for his master plan. His first strike must be dramatic and lead to panic, large enough not to be covered up. The House of Stamps was his chosen target, an auction and investment stamp emporium which had the crème de la crème of stamps, tightly knitted into a building, apparently safe in their humidified chambers under lock and key, under camera surveillance. It as also hundreds of miles from where James lived.
He smiled as he was greeted by a well dressed assistant.
‘I have come into a large amount of money recently, and I see investment in a stamp portfolio as a wise path’
‘Indeed’, gleamed the assistant, ‘I can supply investment figures if you wish, of course’
‘No need, I have researched the field and am confident that I am making the correct decision’
The various stamp portfolios were shown, complete with historical and prospective trends.
He chose to see the best, the very expensive, the flag ship stamps. For this the manager was required and security. ’You understand sir, insurance and all that, we must be careful’.
He was ushered into a small room and two men came in, one the obvious manager, the other a security guard carrying a velvet case. After pleasantries were exchanged, the case was opened. Even James hasd to admire the pristine stamps, almost too new, before him.
‘Mint blocks sir, of the last estate of Sir Clifford Soames, a renowned collector of Queen Victoria.’
The value of the small collection was 2.5 million pounds. James asked whether he could see them closely, since they were behind protective plastics.Te manager frowned.
‘I wish to look at them with my magnifier just to be sure in myself they are a perfect as they seem and I wish to see the backs, the gum’ said James.
He was assured that the stamps had a pedigree which was unimpeachable and that gum was perfect, but he insisted that since he was poised to make a 2.5 million purchase, he might be indulged. The manager reluctantly leaned over the box and carefully extracted the first block. It settled in front of James on an anti-static mat.
‘There’, said the manager, smiling ‘There they are’.
James was just as reverend with the stamps. He took out his magnifier, switched on the light and viewed. As he hovered over the stamps he knew that he was dropping hundeds and thousands of spores of sample 191 onto the stamps. He has proved this in his laboratory, now he was seeding the precious paper below him. He smiled.‘Beautiful, simply beautiful’. The stamps were carefully repacked and more examined. Six blocks in all, in all six contaminated. By now the first seeded would be affected, spores germinating and the fungus seeking the rich veins it loved, it needed, to live on.In the main body of the shop James was discussing the way forward. He idly toyed with his magnifier spreading more of its contaminant into the cool air conditioned air of the shop.
‘I will be back tomorrow and have the necessary administrative documents to buy the stamps, I have to make a few adjustments with my bankers’
This was understood by the shop whose manager was calculating the cut of the profit he was making on the stamps. The job was done. In the night the fungus fed and extended through the blocks, it first weakened the fibres then dissolved them and reduced each stamp to a porridge-like mush. It went on to s dissolve the card which presented the stamps. By morning there was nothing left except a microscopic mass of spores, white spores, unusual and hard to spot. Other brothers of the spores had landed at random in the shop and some had found their meals.
James went back to the shop the next day in partial disguise, a scarf drawn high over his mouth and thick framed dark glasses. The shop was closed until further notice. He managed to attract the attention of an assistant near to the door. ‘Sorry sir ‘ he shouted through the glass’ We have had a few problems with the air conditioning and must close to get this fixed. Inside he glimpsed men in white coveralls. James turned and smiled. His plan had obviously worked. He whistled as he walked back to the small hotel. Later at home he surveyed his laboratory. He decided to dismantle it, to reduce the risk of being questioned, to get back more into society, to be normal since he now had what he wanted and could keep this in a normal household fridge, culture it easily on paper. He smiled again then laughed more maniacally than ever before at the power he had and the power he would use. Stamps are dead, long live the stamps.
Story Four - Playing with Fire
When and how the switch had been made he could not think. At the shop he had held the authentic material. He had mentally drooled at the vibrancy of the colours, the fineness of the margins. They were all authenticated and had an impeccable pedigree. Now he had the stress of the forgeries. He would go back of course and complain. But the shop would surely say that this was not their responsibility and that the forgeries were his. Rediculous. Somewhere they had exchanged the stamps, someone had made a swap and he was angry. He rationalised. He was sad. So he took up his other hobby, the one that had got him into deep trouble in the past.
‘An unusual interest in all things pyrotechnic’ was the state of things.
His teacher’s assessment. This lead to small fires then bigger and finally his being caught trying to set alight a local supermarket where the assistant had called him a lout. After serving his sentences as a juvenile stamps became his mental crutch, his palliative. Now he was re activated.
The fire raged furiously drawing large crowds behind the erected barriers.
‘What a blaze’, said one man near him, ‘All those stamps, just burning up.’
He turned his back on the scene, his scene. So simple.
The man who made the statement about the stamps being burned up thought he heard, across the crackle and snap of albums bursting and the spitting of thousands of stamp gums
‘Worth every penny of twenty thousand pounds.’
Story Five -The bidding
‘I am totally sick of you disappearing for hours with those damn stamps.’ She was venting again, sneering. ‘You think more of those damn things than you do me.’
It was true and although he had heard her raving many times, today he knew it was true.
She stormed off leaving him alone with his interests.
A little later he went into the living room and found a note to say that she had gone for a few days to her mother.
He went to the local hardware store and bought packs of heavy duty cardboard boxes, flat packs. He packed his stamps carefully. He took very little else, he was leaving. He turned briefly after all was done and deposited the key through the letter box. He smiled.
A good while later he was stretched out on a wooden veranda overlooking the sea. The sun was the correct intensity, the quiet only interrupted by the shingle tide hiss. He stretched out a hand to touch his new partner. A woman of his own age, beautiful and caring. Someone who appreciated his needs. The were both very comfortable and the proceeds from most of his stamps made them financially comfortable too.
Story Six - The Grandma
She was a lovely smiling Grandma figure. She welcomed the man in. He said he was looking for odds and ends and that he would give cash.
‘I have some stamps’, she said. ‘They were Grandad’s, then my husbands. I don’t suppose they are worth much.’
The man pricked up his ears at this. He liked the sound of age, it spelled rarity maybe and that spelled easy profit.
‘I can take a look if you like, there is not much going on in stamp market, but I can take maybe take em off your hands.’
She went to a cupboard and bent low. She pulled out a brown box and brought it over to the man who was sitting at a table. ‘It’s a little dusty’ she said.
‘I am used to that’, he said. He opened the box and saw sheets of stamps covered in plastic covers . He lifted them out and spread a few. He tut-tutted a few times indicating that this was not the way to store stamps then looked closer.
He was excited. The black imperforated 1840 excitement. Then the blue 1840 imperforated excitement.‘So old’, said Grandma ‘don’t suppose they are worth much now.’
‘They seem to be the usual crowd’ he said ‘quite the usual common lot I see’
‘I see’ said Grandma, ‘I thought as much’.
‘Maybe I can take them off your hands for a good price though, I’m feeling generous and I am sure you could do with a bit of cash?’
‘Oh yes, cash is nice’, she said. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’
He was trying to open the plastic on one page, he had moved to a George V page where two, yes 2 one pound greens looked up at him, ‘No thanks.
‘They are rather sealed in’ she said ‘that was Albert’s, my husband’s phobia, he said dust was bad for them’.
The man smiled, his heart thumping. ‘Well I can see them all well enough.’ I am interested in these pages. He spread seven pages black and blue and green and red, before him.
‘That’s nice', she said.
‘I don’t know what you have in mind’, he said.
‘Well I do know he had them valued ages and ages ago’
The man frowned. ‘When’
‘Oh many years ago when we wee young things’
The man laughed ‘and what was the valuation, can I ask?’
‘Well they said for the pages you have, which were the best, about £3000, even back then, I think that’s ridiculous don’t you, all that money for bits of old paper?’
‘Incredible, and of course they are even older now the value does go down’, he lied.
‘Yes it must do’.
There was a pause in which Grandma slurped her tea gently and the clock ticked. The man wanted these stamps and knew that there was a gold mine here. Several mint Penny blacks, many lovely 4M blacks, 2d blues and the George lot alone. Pages of very saleable items, lovely.
‘Tell you what, I am a generous man and I will offer you 2000 pounds for the pages, even though there old.
‘Well I can think about it, can you come back later?’
The man was anxious. ‘Sorry I have to be somewhere else this week, only in the area once in a while.’
Grandma smiled, ‘What a pity’, and yawned, ‘Time for my nap’ she said.
‘Look, seeing as your husband got the stamp valued, I am wiling to offer you the valuation price, OK?’
‘Three thousand pounds?’ said Grandma, ‘Do you have such a sum on you?’
‘I do', and he reached for his large wad of ten pound notes, the cash brightener.
Grandma frowned ‘I can see you want them’
‘I do ‘
‘Maybe I ought to get them looked at by someone else since you seem to want to pay so much?’
‘I like you’, said the man, ‘as a good will gesture I will offer all the money I have on me’ He placed the money on the table and counted it out over the next five minutes. ‘That’s 370 ten pound notes, 3700 nice pound for you, today, here and now’
‘Such a lot’, gleamed the Grandma.
Grandma walked over to the cupboard from where the stamps came. She fiddled and fished out a piece of paper.
‘You must sign this if you buy the stamps, Albert said if I ever sold them, I had to get this paper signed.’
The man took the paper and read the smart handwritten text.
‘I have purchased the stamps from Mrs Victoria Pendlebury for …………and am satisfied as to their condition and worth.
The man looked. ‘I can sign this', he said and he took out a pen and hurriedly scratched his signature and date and the £3700 in the gap left. He was anxious not to let Grandma change her mind. Grandma took the money and placed it carefully in a tin and the tin in the cupboard, which she closed with a snap. The man slotted the pages into a folder in his small case and he too snapped the locks with a sense of elation.
‘I’ll be going now’, he said, ‘lots to do.’
‘Sure you don’t want a cup of tea’ she said ‘it will do you good, all this rushing about and hurly burly making a living is not always good for you’
The man could not wait to get the stamps back and rip off the plastic and have a good look at his profits, which tentatively stood at £47,000.
He had gone. Grandma was alone with her clock. She went into her other ground floor room and opened a drop down door. Inside was a computer, the latest wide view screen, a top line colour printer and scanner. She seated herself while it booted and smiled. Photoshop opened and she sought a file on her terabyte hard disc. The image came up, a nice penny black, 4M used. ‘Nothing too outrageous today’ she thought. Just fill up the pages again, dear old Albert’s pages. She expertly sized, textured and printed a copy of the stamp onto matched weight paper which had been discoloured just enough to fool even the most careful observer, let alone a greedy parasite who had just left.
Handy thing a dog
Story Seven -Stealers
He used a simple plan. He would go into a stamp dealers and ask to see rare stamps. This was usually a leisurely affair with good banter and enthusiasm. He had tweezers and an illuminating magnifier. He always bought something. The magnifier had a nice adaption, a camera, high quality and hidden. While he perused he took shots of the rare stamps, close and detailed. He had the high values the high rollers in his power. He returned home and made very presentable copies of the stamps he had just been viewing. He was careful, he matched tones from memory. He had his duplicate.
Back at the shop he wanted to look again at the stamps he had seen, he was keen to own them, keen to pay. The assistant obliged in close attendance but occasionally called away. Anyway there was CCTV. He knew where the camera was. He worked quickly in the advantage seconds gap. He had his own copy in the tweezers and palmed the original in one movement, his hand covering the action away from the camera sight. The assistant came back. ‘It is a beauty,’ said the man and he relocated the stamp with ceremony into the mount. ’Thank you for letting me handle it’
‘A pleasure sir’, said the assistant’.
‘I will have to think more, it is quite expensive’
‘I understand sir’.
Another deal was done. He bought a stamp for £300 and left.
The strange thing was that it took many months for the forgeries to be discovered in the numerous shops where he had plied his craft. Several of the forgeries had in fact been sold to satisfied customers, investors in fact, and still to this day remain accepted as originals locked away as they are in vaults of secreted away in collectors strong rooms.
Story Eight - Cleaning Up
Arthur, or Tom or Norris. It could have been any of these. It started when Ted acquired a short pamphlet entitled ‘Cleaning stamps’ It was tatty and part of a small grubby lot of stamps he had eagerly bought at a small town jumble sale. He was there early, he was the early bird. He was mocked by his sometimes drinking mates in the local. Ted was content though, now he could apply a side hobby to his beloved hobby of stamps. He was always saying that one day he would clean up, find that elusive rarity, and then he would but all the stamps he ever wanted for his collection, a nice house and…. Here was much amusement at this. ‘Tha’ always going to clean up Ted, it’s a dream and that’s nice, but tha’ always going to clean up’. ‘Anway’ said another,’ If tha’ thinks ah’d buy stamps with me stamp money, tha’ barmy, a car, a house and ….
He read the pamphlet as avidly as any addict possessed with the facts and possibilities. He was having his fix, though it would no doubt take a great deal longer than the internalising of chemicals. But chemicals there were in this scheme. He was rather perplexed at the list he needed, peroxide and Tween and even the distilled water threatened him since it was stated sterile must be used. In the current climate of bombings and explosives made from the basic household commodities, he wondered whether he should not dump stamps as a dangerous hobby. He might order then be reported to the FBI, the CIA , Interpol MI5! He decided to bite the bullet so to speak and get all the stuff he needed.
He went to a major chemist in the nearest large town. He thought that he was more likely to get everything in such a place rather than risking the local shop, which although friendly in staff was next to useless at anything les conservative than an aspirin. As he went in he wondered at the other names for such laces in other lands, the Apotheke, Apothecary, the Drug store, the ‘Yes sir’, said a young voice?
He proffered the list to the young girl who frowned deeply as she read it.
‘Ah’m afraid ah’l av to see he manager with this’, she said. Several of the other customers looked his way. He conceded that his was a good idea and slumped down on a chair reserved for shopping husbands when their backs had given in. He glanced round and saw a couple of couples concentrating on a dimly lit area. The chemist’s here had recently unleashed a line of marital aids.
The manager came in, looked around and almost clicked his fingers for Ted to approach.
‘Mr--Mr-- ’, 'Ted'. said Hughes, .Mr Ted Hughes.. It was his name and the famous poet Lauriate would have to lump it. The manager eyed him curiously, the name and the l list together insuring deep distrust.
.Mr. Hughes, you appear to have a longish list of what I can only describe as chemicals of dubious nature and hardly health related in their efficacy towards better health’. The pompous bastard, thought Ted. The message was heard by all in the shop, the couple turned from estimating the balance and general vale of the three dildos on offer to concentrate on listening.
‘I need them to for cleaning postage stamps’, he said hurriedly in an overloud voice to try and retain his credibility as normal and dissuade people from running out of the shop crying bomber, bomber.
‘I am aware’, he added, ‘that the chemicals sought have oxidisable and oxidative properties, but I hardly think that the volumes I clearly define after each one, would hardly provide quantities of explosives sufficient to blow off the top of a coke bottle’.
One of the dildo couples went out at this point. ‘I must report this to the appropriate authorities’ said the manager hose badge denote a Mr. Ralph Sumption’.
‘I have no objection’, said Ted, who wondered who monitored the bleach poured down toilets everyday by the populous.
He had the chemicals.
He also had some frightful material on which to experiment. A blackened mass of blocks of stamps he had discovered in yet another box attached to another buy. The stamps on them could not be distinguished at all. Ted, ignoring all the instructions in the book to ‘start slow’ went head to head with an ultimate challenge. He did a few test patches first. He brushed and washed, brushed and washed as instructed. He tested at each stage until a small black patch appeared in the thick greasy paper in front of him. It was a light into a wonderland, a peak into possibility, it was exciting. He grew more excited still when on shining his illuminated magnifier, he saw the unmistakable square of an early penny something. The corner was imperforate to, an early stamp block and it looked black. His heart beat we4nt up. He was patient. He worked steadily day by day, tiny incremental steps revealing fractions of a millimetre at a time.
After two months he had the final product. A block of stamps, 1840 1d blacks all unused, 20 stamps by 12. He had a block of stamps worth a very great deal of money.
The other blocks were equally wonderful and in a year he was the proud father of a complete sheet of 1d black, all the letters, all unused and all plate 1a.
In the meantime Ted was seldom seen at the local. He received many jibes when he did occasionally have a drink. His eyes were glazed and the others always said he was stamp shocked.
Another six months went by, a car stopped in front of a couple of the mates. It was a splendid car, very expensive. Out stepped Ted. The mates were flabbergasted to see him, in a smart suit, in expensive shoes and smiling.
‘Just thought I’d like to tell you in person lads, I am having a house warming party over at my new house, and you are invited’. The mates recovered enough to ask where. Ted offered a card to each.
‘It’s the old Manor, I bought it a couple of months ago’.
Ted got back in and slid along the leather and started the engine.
‘How did tha’ do it Ted, how on earth did you get the money?’
‘Oh said Ted’ ‘I just cleaned up that’s all, I just cleaned up’.
Maniacal behaviour is common
Story Nine - Collection
He had strayed from the main roads of Paris. A long dirty street faced him, cobbled and rising to a tall church spire. It was still an old street, unmodernised. The houses to his right were untypical of other places, they had sunken windows half peeking at ground level. He moved at his tourist rate, slowly, looking left and right expecting something to unfold, to take his interest. One house caught his eye about half way to the church, at least the large window did. There was a collection of things, old and scattered and obviously untouched for centuries. Pottery and strewn jewelry; crucifixes, a brass pan, even some plastic more modern items. But there was one thing that the man focussed upon, half hidden under some dried flowers was a book, an album if he was not mistaken, thick and old and maybe, just maybe a find. He perked up, and decided to try and get into the shop such as it was. He tried the door which rattled as if about to fall from its hinges. It did not open. He stepped back and looked at the higher windows. He saw a movement of a curtain. He heard someone cough. He waited.
There was a scrape as the inside bolt was jammed backwards and the opened a couple of centimetres. ‘Oui, monsieur?’ came as an enquiry. The man stuttered out his primeval French with enough nouns and verbs to indicate he was interested in regarding des articles. The door opened wider. An ancient face stood above a work coat. The old woman there bright blue eyed him, then nodded her head gently and moved to one side.
‘Mais oui Monsieur, s’il vous plait’.
He squeezed inside into gloom and piles of junk. The old lady went to sit on a stool and indicated by spreading her arms slightly that he should look around.
She answered in broken English. ‘It is my pleasure Monsieur, I get not many person here’.
The man stood like a child I a sweet shop, he had free reign, he had sole opportunity. He moved straight away to the window and pointed to the book.
‘I am a collector’, he said, ‘this book interests me, may I look at it?’
He was suddenly near the book and very excited. Of course you may look’, she said. He took it gently from the dust and surrounding artifacts that had been undisturbed for a long long time. The old lady waved her hand to indicate a small table and chair in the corner opposite her.
‘Sit there Monsieur I will get you the illumination’.
She stood up and scuttled off rather more quickly than the man could have imagined possible as judged from her past pace. He waited to be polite. She came back with a lamp and connected it by its frayed cord to the supply.
‘It is ancient like me, she said, ‘but like me aussi, it works’.
The book was old, it had a green back. It was large too and crammed with pages which bulged. It had a leather stretched clasp which stopped it exploding altogether. It was, when opened, what the man had suspected, it was his find, his moment, his stamp album.
‘The book is in famille for many many years’ she said. ‘It was stated by my many, many ago grand grand parents, I do not even know their names’.
He man nodded though he hardly heard what she said. He had opened the first page only and gasped. The face of Ceres on the first French postage stamps of 1849. The faces were untouched by cancellation, they were clean and beautiful and in abundance and all there, the values in total, every year through and including Napoloen III; the margins immaculate and blocks and then letters with crisp rare cancellations. He turned and almost groaned with the overkill of such a good, nay world shattering stamps. When he nudged over a page into a hand written label indicating Grande Bretagne, he visibly shook as he turned the page, he hoped and feared in the same breath but, yes, oh yes. Now we had the first British postage stamps, of equal rank and clinical beauty. The collection was undoubtedly world shattering. He sat back his hand resting n the book and stared.
‘Are you malade’, she said? He shook a little.
‘No I am well, perhaps a little cold, that is all’.
He was ashamed now as he calculated the value of this dirty book while the old lady enquired of his health.
‘Are you interested in he book, Monsieur I am certain that we can, how do you say this, can fait un arrangement, I give you a bon prix’.
‘I am’, said the man.
‘The old lady suddenly smiled ‘Eh bien, then I shall start the negotiation with a prix of , let me see, comment one hundred Euros?’ She looked at the startled expression on the man’s face. ‘Pardonez moi, Monsieur, I hope this is not too high for you?’
The man could not speak seeing on the one hand stamps worth millions of Euros against the offer of one hundred Euros. He looked at the frowning old woman in her flapping slipper, and the old room and the junk. He sighed.
I cannot bargain for this book’, he said.
Pourquoi pas, er why not.’
‘To be frank, because you have an almost priceless collection of stamps here. Something so precious and beautiful that they should be in a museum.’
The old woman smiled and shuffled away. The man leaned forward and looked again at he first page. Such a glorious collection.
She came back with tea. She placed it on the table after moving the book away onto a shelf.
‘Take tea with me, Monsieur. Please’. She looked deep into his eyes. ‘Monsieur, do you love stamps?’
‘And you obviously appreciate the beauty in the book’.
‘I do’ was all he could repeat.
She reached up for the book and handed it to him. ‘I want you to have the book, please’. She pressed it onto his arm and then into his hands.
‘I could not possibly do this Madame’
‘It would be doing me a very great favour, Monsieur, please take it. I want to find a good home for the stamps, and I know that I have, cest toi.’
The man just looked at the book and frowned.
‘You could have robbered me my friend, you could have given me the one hundred Euros and go away, but you did not’.
The man could only look back at her.
‘So eh bien, in reward for your integrity an n honesty I reward you with the book’.
‘Soon I will die and I want the family treasure to be pass to someone, someone who cares, who loves. I have no one now. I want the stamps cherished’.
‘I assure you Madame that I will cherish your gift’.
‘Hey’ she said ‘I said one hundred Euros, and I mean it’.
The man paid. After several times asking her to change her mind, he was on the step, then back to his hotel the album in a small brown bag which the old lady fetched for him.
Next day, with the book in the hotel safety deposit box, he went back to see the old lady. He would take her out on the town, spoil his benefactress. When he got to the street he could see that her house window was boarded up. A passer by stopped and asked if he needed help? The man indicated hat he had bought something fro the shop yesterday and wished to buy more. The passer by laughed. ‘Mais Monsieur, that is impossible, for the shop has been like this for years and years, it is fini’.
One year later and after the sale of only three items from the album, the bell rang in a shop in the same street in Paris, the same shop where a man was given his new life. The shop which now was old and charming with stamps from the world on show and tables and chairs outside and the smell of coffee drifting from the small kitchen for customers to idle and peruse in peace. The bell rang and the same man who had been given the album came forward smiling.
‘Yes, Monsieur what can I do for you?’
Ordering on line
Story Ten - Haunted
Inheriting a stamp collection was wonderful. Norman’s delight was stamps and his Grandfather’s collection was beautiful to him. Ranks and rows of good stamps, catalogued well, still with his Grandfather’s pipe smell about them. He had always admired them. As a child he always wanted them out, his Grandad showing, his grandson small hand on his, as he pointed, talked about them, told stories about their origins. Norman as he grew, had been shown the way with stamps and was allowed to ‘put a few in’, as his Grandad said. One page though seemed off limits. Grandad was always s concerned at this page, he would fly over it, a thing that Norman when young did not notice, but as he grew, he became more curious. Just before Grandad died, Norman got to see the page. There was nothing sinister about it, in fact it was a beautiful strip of 1d blacks, worth a fortune. Grandad warned Norman then never to touch the stamps, he got him to promise on his mother’s life just to look at them, never to move them, never to physically touch, ‘You promise’, he said. Norman promised, but was thinking more that grandad was more worried that Norman would sell the lovely strip.
Grandad died soon after, a heart attack. The stamps were then Norman’s, duly delivered after the Will had been read. Norman waited a few weeks in respect of his Grandfather then one day thumbed the through the volumes, his old friends now. He hesitated a little at ‘the’ page, but then threw over the previous page to reveal the strip. It was still superb. He noticed for the first time that the strip was mounted within another mount sealing the entire strip. The stamps were cocooned from the air. He decided that this was not good for the stamps and despite his grandad’s warning, he rationalised that no harm could come with just removing the outer membrane which had started to brown and detracted from the displaying of the stamps. He would not have to touch them at all in fact so he was not breaking his promise. He took his tweezers and gently slid them under the outer mount. It lifted along with the contents. He gently again cut the outer skin and slit it along carefully to plop out the mounted syamps inside. The dropped gently on to the page. He picked each up and examined the mount. The transparent cover was also browning and he decided to renew these. He selected he appropriate size and stuck the mounts in a neat line. He then took each stamp in turn and touching only with the tweezers, remounted them. One, two, three and now for four. He had placed fourth stamp ready for mounting and as he approached it with tweezers wide, it moved. Norman blinked and looked again. The stamp had moved. He checked for windows being open, listened for a surge in wind outside, nothing there to explain the movement. He rationalised it away. He approached it again and this time it positively jumped from his grasp and fluttered to a landing some 18 inches away. Norman jerked up, standing and shaking slightly, his tweezers drooping from his fingers. He then made a decision that was to affect his whole future. He decided to drop his hand over the stamp. He moved fast and and managed to drop his hand over the stamp that had risen and was threshing about under his cupped palm like a demented moth. He touched it, he could feel this and it frightened him. He flattened his hand against the movement and with the other squeezed the tweezers to catch the flailing stamp. He positively pressed it hard into the waiting mount then holding it down with his finger, grabbed some tape and ran this along the seam of the mount. The stamp was captured. Nothing now happened. The stamp was quiet. Norman was stunned by this and went into the kitchen cautiously looking back at he album. He came back in and decided for the sake of his sanity not to dwell on this incident.
It was some time before he went back to that page, but being human he had to. When he opened the page there was a change, his heart ticked up, the other three stamps had moved. He put this down to his state at the time and reset them into their mounts. After two days he looked again and the stamps had moved again, this time he could not ignore it.
Norman had started to dream. He saw a man sat at a table. He saw another man come in and creep up behind the first man and then hit him over the head. As he dreamed the same dream again and again the details became clearer. The seated man was in fact fiddling with stamps, sorting them, sticking them into his book. The seated man when hit had fallen arms straight out along the table holding a strip of stamps.
Norman awoke from the latest detailed dream in a cold sweat. He realised now why his grandfather had warned him, something linked the stamps to his dreams.
Constant stress of owning stamps
Story Eleven - The Stamps That Spoke
He was tired. Once again he sought to concentrate his mind through his stamps. He spread the book as he had done many times. Page one, old and older, pretty and in rows and reliable.
‘Are you feeling OK?’
The question startled him, he turned to see who asked it, but he was alone as usual.
‘I am here, below you’, said the high pitched voice.
He looked down slowly ranging the page.
‘You are not going mad’, the voice said, 'I can talk to you. Do not fear me.’
He reached for his magnifier and with trembling hands he scanned the stamps and there it was. A Queen’s head but with movement. The jaws moved, the eyes blinked.
‘See, I am here, I am real, I can talk.’
The man frowned hard and put down his magnifier. He got up and moved back across the room, looking towards the desk where his album lay. He shook his head vigorously, squeezed his tired eyes tight. He would go back to carry on without thinking about what he heard.
‘Come back please’, said the voice.
He did, he sat hard and looked down, would go with this dream.
‘You look terrible’, said the stamp.
The man groaned a weak laugh. ‘Thank you indeed.’
‘I want to be kind to you’, said the stamp ‘You need someone to be kind to you’.
The man sighed. ‘Are you the only one can speak in there?’
No, we can all talk if we need to.’
‘Then ask the others to join you, let me hear them too.’
At this, there was a crescendo of voices, the page alive with movement. Each stamp seemed to be anxiously telling its own story.
‘Wait, wait’, said the man, ‘this is too much’.
He smiled now then laughed at his thoughts. ‘Can you all sing?’
‘We can’, said the original stamp to talk, ‘we have had much time to practice.’
There was a pause when the man let his eyes close, when he thought he was finishing the dream. He opened them though when he heard the most beautiful music rising from the page. The music was perfect and it went to the man’s soul and there it soothed and revived and gave hope. He started to cry softly. His shoulders sank and he went deeper and deeper into relaxation.
He woke up feeling wonderful. His mind was clear. In front of him was the open page of stamps. No sound came from them, no movements.
‘Are you still there?’
There was no answer. He smiled as he closed the book. His comfort seemed complete. He never questioned the truth of the talking stamps, nor did he tell anyone of the events.
Children and stamps do not go!