The 3rd Maynard Sundman Lecture

October 16, 2004

Michael Sefi: The Royal Philatelic Collection: An Inside View

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Wilson Hulme:

Good afternoon. I’m Wilson Hulme.

I’m the curator here at the museum and have the honor of being able to introduce the guest speaker this afternoon. I think most of you, here in the audience, know that to be the Keeper of the Royal Collection is the highest of honors that can be recognized for someone. There have probably been, if I have the numbers right, there is certainly only a handful, I believe the number, there have only been 6 keepers in roughly the last one hundred years for the Royal Collection.

Certainly, Michael Sefi, our speaker and current keeper, was long recognized as a distinguished philatelist before ever assuming that new role. Not only an award winning exhibitor, but distinguished student, notable scholar and active in organized philately over many years. He had formerly been the president of the Great Brittan Philatelic Society and currently serves as chairman of several major organizational components of the Royal Philatelic Society in London.

But, for our purposes Michael Sefi was the key person, from the perspective of the museum, in making this wonderful exhibit of the Queen’s Collection, that we have available downstairs, available to the public. Not only his professionalism, his attention to detail, his many, many, many hours of hard work, but he’s the person that made it happen and we thank you for that.

Following his presentation today, we going to have, we’re going to have some questions and answers and as Kim has indicated to you, we will have a reception following, where Michael will also be available for informal conversation, as you will have a chance to talk to your fellow attendees here today.

Many of you may already know, but certainly Michael has a broad range of interest beyond just stamps and for those of you who can corner him aside, I’m sure you will find out his prediction on the odds that St. Louis will take the World Series. He probably knows more about American baseball than certainly many of us here in this room, certainly myself.

From our perspective, to carry that analogy a little farther however, Michael Sefi has hit a long and numerous number of homeruns as it relates to his assistance and help to the museum. Not only has he hit a homerun with the staff in terms of our enjoyment of working with him and the professionalism that he brought to it, he hit a homerun in terms of the marvelous collection or portion of the collection of Queen Elisabeth’s holdings that he has brought to the museum.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce the Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection, Michael Sefi.


Michael Sefi:

Good afternoon ladies and gentleman. I’m delighted to be here.  And thank you Wilson, for those really rather kind remarks. I think you rather overstate the contribution I made to putting on the exhibit here. Many people here at the Smithsonian made as great a contribution as I was able to do.

I appreciate this afternoon, but there are some conflicts around out there. We have a conflict with a mega event in New York. We have a conflict with some college football games this afternoon, including, I think, the Navy trying to win for the first time in 41 years against Notre Dame and they do tell me you’ve got a Presidential election coming soon. But what we’re here about, and I’m going to leave baseball well aside, what we’re about is the Queen’s stamps.

In the UK, we have some of the finest collections in the world which survive. Some of those are private. Some of those are public. The British Library of which, David Beech, as representative, was here and gave a similar lecture last year. We have our own Postal Heritage Trust which was formed by Royal Mail, which is what our post office is now known as, which was set up with a charitable body earlier this year and has taken responsibility for the very major stamp collections which our Postal Heritage have. And of course, we have the Royal Philatelic Collection, the Queen’s collection. That is a private collection. It is not a public collection and there is no guaranteed public access. The collection is restricted to Great Britain and the Commonwealth.

Well now, where did it start? Conventionally, we talk about King George the Fifth as having been the founder of the collection, before he was King George the Fifth. And indeed one of the complexities is knowing exactly who one’s talking about at various times and it’s always the same person. He was originally Prince George of Wales.  On his marriage, he became the Duke of York. Queen Victoria made him the Duke of York. When his grandmother died and his father came to the throne as King Edward the Seventh, he became known as the Duke of Cornwall and York and survived in that role for some nine or ten months when his father was then pleased to appoint him Prince of Wales. Then finally, in 1910 he became King George the Fifth.

So, from my perspective, in terms of my eye to detail, to which Wilson referred, one has to remember that every stage in the process, who he was when whatever it was happened.

But even earlier than that, he said, we have this in the collection. I’m sorry the color has gone somewhat. This is a slide that was photographed some years ago. In fact, the stamps concerned should be a mauve color. But the important bit about this is the inscription there. This small sheet of six pence postage labels, because that is what stamps were known as in those days, is the sixth part of the sheet which was printed in the presence of his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, later to be Edward the Seventh and his Royal Highness, Prince Alfred, eighth of April 1856 and then it is signed by someone called Joseph Coggins, an officer of Inland Revenue, because at that time the Inland Revenue was responsible for the production of postage stamps and indeed continued to be so for many, many years later.

The importance of that piece is that it is the earliest acquired item in the collection. It’s not the oldest item in the collection but it’s the first to be acquired. This particular item, there were two of them; one was given to the future Edward the Seventh, that hasn’t survived. I’ve not been able to find it.  That one was given to Prince Alfred, late Duke of Edinboro, a notable sailor of the nineteenth century and it was he who got the future George the Fifth interested in collecting.

In those days, collecting was very much, certainly in the United Kingdom and I think here in the United States, on a one of everything basis, i.e.; you took the catalog and you wanted one of those and one of those and one of those, and one of those.

At that time, the European and particularly French method of collecting, was slightly differently focused and I suppose, of the major United Kingdom collectors, George the Fifth, although at that time Duke of York, was the first to engage in consideration of the origination, design and production of stamps. How they were printed, by whom they were printed, where they were printed. He was interested in perforations and perforation oddities. And he was interested in plating which was not something in the United Kingdom or indeed the United States at that time, and we’re talking the 1880s and 1890s, were involved.

But it was the French or Continental approach and the collection very much reflects George the Fifth’s interests in those aspects. Curiously, however he had no interest at all in watermarks and there is very little in the collection of watermark varieties.

He also had very little interest in postal history although he collected later on in his life early airmail material and also bisect material, official and unofficial. He had very little interest in what we now know as routes and rates or postal history. And I suppose the collecting fraternity, both in the United Kingdom and abroad, must largely thank the late Robson Lowe for the interest that developed in recent years in postal history. Perhaps not so recent years, but certainly since the Second World War.

Now this talk focuses on rarities and certain other aspects and what I plan to do is to go through fairly swiftly, slides, not all of them are good. I have to tell you that photographers seem not to have the greatest eye for a straight line, very similar to an electrician. If any of you have had work done to fit new light switches or power points or whatever, how often are they not quite straight? Well photographers seem to have the same habit.  So some of these slides I apologize for in advance

First up is this. Now it’s a pity the light levels can’t dim. This building is so old. I think the switches don’t have dimmer switches, so we’re stuck with it as it is. This is something that caught Wilson’s eye when he came to London. It’s one of the Treasury Essay entries and you will see in the booklet that you've been handed, when you get to read it, that discusses the postal reform in United Kingdom in the 1830s and 1840s. One of the ideas was to have a booklet from which the user could tear out his stamp and affix it to the letter, letter sheet or envelope. And of course very, very far in advance of it’s time. And in fact, not that you are going to be allowed to do so when you see this, because it’s on exhibition here, if you actually flip through the pages of the booklet you can see that the, well I was going to say artist, but you can hardly dignify the man who drew those as an artist. Some more of those attempts of portrayal of the Queen’s head.

This however is not downstairs. Postal stationery actually came before the postage stamp. When members of Parliament learnt that their right to free postage was going to be abolished there was a riot, a very low key riot you understand, but never the less, it was sufficient to have Roland Hill, who was the architect of the postal reforms, hurrying down to the House of Commons to say to members “it was alright, don’t worry, we’ll have some special envelopes for you to use”. And so for use only by members of Parliament, these envelopes came into use before stamps actually appeared and the upper one of those is actually signed by Wellington, Duke of Wellington. I don’t think you can see it too well, but that is Wellington’s signature. So that’s an autograph and that’s another collecting area but we don’t normally encourage that in the collection.

This item is in the collection. It’s one of two watercolors. The other one is in the Postal Heritage Trust in London, that Roland Hill had prepared to present to the Chancellor of the Exchequer early in 1840 to reassure the Chancellor of the Exchequer of what the new stamps were going to look like.

This is one of my favorite pieces in the collection. The original concept of the soon to be Penny Black, although you’ll see that those are in blue, had a different engine turning beside the head, around the head and a different way of showing one penny that is black on a white background. And actually I prefer that and there are a number of examples of proof pulls in various colors of that particular design. But for one reason or another, the authorities thought that wasn’t good enough and they wanted a new dye and the lower strip of five shows a revised engine turning and a rather darker background and in fact, as you will see, the letters would then become white on black or white on blue in the case of the twopence. So you will see that downstairs. And you will also see this which is an imprimature or registration copy of the first Penny Black plate.

You will also see downstairs this marvelous block of the first plate used for the Twopenny Blue. There is this conception, that the Penny Black was the first stamp in the world. It was and it wasn’t. It was one of the first stamps in the world because the Twopenny Blue happened at the same time. It was just that people, for some reason or another, have focused on the Penny Black. A very common stamp. People often say, “Oh, it must be the most valuable stamp in the world.” It isn’t. You can buy a very good used copy in London, any day of the week, for thirty or forty dollars.

Twopenny Blue is a different story though. There were very few of those produced. That is the largest surviving block of plate one of the Twopenny Blue. Plate two, which was put to press a bit later, there is of course a surviving four bottom rows of that printing, which every so often has come up for sale at a heroic price. We haven’t bought it, by the way.

This is a novelty, the Penny Blue. That’s not in the display here. It’s not quite known how this came to be and there are about three surviving copies and that’s the nastiest of them. So we’ll pass on.

One very scarce plate of the Penny Red, and you can’t see that, and I do apologize, and I wish it were brighter, is plate 77. We do have an example of plate 77, of the letters in all four corners. Penny Red, perforated Penny Red, that’s an extraordinarily rare stamp and every time one comes up for sale, again goes for an heroic amount of money.

This, on the other hand, is a little easier, although unique. It’s a block of 72 of plate nine of the 1870 Halfpenny. That value stamp was introduced to cover postcards, essentially, which were able to be sent at half the rate of standard letters. That stamp is sometimes referred to as the Bantam because it is half the size of any other stamp and indeed is the smallest stamp issued in Great Britain.

Plate nine was a reserve plate and very, very few printings were made from it and so the stamp itself is extremely scarce. To have a block of 72 is, dare I say, unusual and indeed unique, and that’s a very special item in the collection.

Running on a bit closer to the start of King George’s reign, there were other rarities. For a brief period towards the end of, and I’m sorry about that one as well, for a brief period, towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and the start of King Edward’s reign, it was decided that, I think for accounting reasons more than anything else, a number of state departments, of which the Board of Education was one, the Inland Revenue was another, the Admiralty, Army, Government Parcels even, to, I think, monitor how much usage the Postal Service was being made by those various departments. They had stamps especially over printed for use in those

departments and of course collectors got to hear about that and by 1904 quite a market had developed in these overprinted departmental stamps.

The government didn’t like that. They couldn’t charge people with fraud because what was happening was that civil servants were helping themselves, but exchanging them for stamps of equal value without overprint. So far as the revenue was concerned, they weren’t losing out.

But a healthy market developed and indeed some act of Parliament or other criminal activity was decided upon and indeed, I’m not sure, a couple of people weren’t sent to prison for trading in this material.

Well, one of the scarcest stamps in British philately is this one. The 1904 Inland Revenue six pence. There are three unused copies in the collection, including a pair. There is only one copy, which I believe came from the block which our three unused once formed part, in private hands. There is only one in private hands. There are about five in Dublin for reasons I’m not clear about, in the government collection there. Postal Heritage Trust has an almost complete sheet and I think there may be one or two others in official collections. But so far as this stamp is concerned there is only one unused copy in private hands. There may be one or two used copies. That’s a used copy. I’m afraid I couldn’t find our photograph of our unused pair.

And then of course downstairs we have this; the 1910 Twopenny Stamp was a new design. For reasons with which I won’t bore you, it was decided that they needed a new Twopenny stamp. There was a paramount of experimentation of what color it should be. Tyrian plum was decided upon. I’m not terribly sure what Tyrian is in connection with plum but I think it has something to do with dyes. And so a printing, an expensive printing, was made of the Twopenny stamp which was in considerable use. Unfortunately, Edward the Seventh got ill and so they held up the issue of the stamp. And then Edward the Seventh died so they decided to scrape the issue of the stamp.

Now at that time, his son, who was then at that time, George the Fifth at that time was the Prince of Wales, was receiving blocks of four of every stamp, Great Britain stamp, prior to issue. When I tell you that we had in collection only three unused copies, although we did sell one in 2001, and the fourth seems to be missing and then one sees that here’s a letter bearing a stamp, that stamp, dated coincidently the day before Edward the Seventh died, and arriving addressed to his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, one does quite wonder exactly what happened.

When the Duke of York was here in June, he turned to me and said “But surely that was illegal.” Well I thought the polite thing to do was say “yes sir”. In fact I don’t think it was illegal but was it was certainly contrary to regulations and should have been postage due if you understand the expression, but I would have thought it would have been a brave postman who asked the just accessioned King for twopence to cover postage due.

In the King’s own reign, as a known and noted philatelist, he was of course going to be very, very interested indeed in the stamps that were going to bear his effigy, his head. Effigy is a word you talk about something bearing somebody’s head, one has visions of Charles the First, but that’s another story.

This is a drawing by a man called Bertram Mackennal, a noted sculptor of the day and is his final drawing of what was to be the penny value. Known in wide circles in the philatelic world as the Mackennal Head, these stamps, totally misnamed because the head, which you’ll see there and probably see better, there, this three quarter profile, is in fact a head engraved by a man called J. C. Harrison from a photograph by a firm of photographers called Downy. Mackennal was responsible for the frame and the overall design of the stamp but he was not responsible

for the head. So to describe these stamps as Mackennal Heads is actually false. This happens to be my specialist area and I can wither on about them for some time.

But look at this. Look at that very closely.  Look at the previous block very closely, doesn’t come out quite so well. There is something fundamentally wrong about those two blocks and I have a small prize for somebody who at the end of this, for the first person to tell me what is wrong with that and what is wrong with that. There is something fundamentally wrong with both those blocks. They are unique and I’ll say no more about them.

However, this so-called Downy Head issue was a disaster. It was grossly criticized in the public press. The King hated it and had his private secretary write a strong letter to the Post Master General deploring the stamps and so the post office and the Inland Revenue who was still responsible, worked hard to arrive at something different and the King was much more pleased with that, so much so.

This is a photograph of a plaster cast by Mackennal. I’m surprised that they continued to allow Mackennal to work but he was a friend of the King, so I suppose that’s understandable.

Mackennal did a completely revised drawing for the penny value and made a plaster cast of it. That’s a photograph of the plaster cast and the King liked it so much he signed and initialed his approval to it.

Interestedly we have very, very little in the collection which is signed or initialed or written by the King. Virtually nothing. His writing as you can see is not of the finest, one might add or might say and therefore he relied on his, and I always get this wrong, I say relied on his keepers, but that has overtones of a mental institution. But what I mean of course, is his keepers of his collection whose handwriting was rather better than his. I have to say things have taken a downward turn since my appointment. My writing is certainly no better than George the Fifth.

I would like to have shown you in some detail what some people consider the finest designed stamp for Great Britain, known as the Seahorses. Unfortunately someone borrowed my nice slide and I’ve never got it back. He now denies he’s got it so that’s a slight problem. But that’s a page in the collection of color trials that were prepared to consider what colors the high value stamps of 1913 should be. So you can just about see it.

Perhaps you can see more clearly this however. In 1929, the Universal Postal Union held a congress in London. They needed to finance the congress and so the Post Office had the brilliant idea, oh dear, of preparing a one pound stamp, partly as a souvenir for the delegates to the congress and partly to raise some money to finance the congress. And of course, as far as the United Kingdom was concerned, the first occasion on which philatelists began to grumble that they were being taken advantage of by the sale to them of high value stamps for which there was no obvious postal use.

Well, be that as it may, we have two pages and that is one of them, of color trials that were prepared to decide but boringly, they went to a black stamp and that is the registration sheet for the P.U.C. Pound which we have in the collection.

However, you would probably not forgive me if I just stuck with Great Britain, although that is my specialist area. So what about other rarities? Well, again I apologize, the lighting is not of the greatest, so that doesn’t really show up too well, but that is actually a watercolor by the artist Corbould which was used as the basis of the design for a number of Colonial issues. What is amusing about that and actually, however well this was projected you wouldn’t see it, but in very, very, very faint pencil it says that he asks that other artists who are more skilled than he should finish off details, such as the toe nails. And if you look at it very closely, we haven’t brought it here, but if you look at it very closely, you will actually see that the toenails and various other minor pieces have actually been unfinished.

Another rare stamp in the collection is the India Four Anna Inverted Head. This is a classic example of photographer’s art of not getting things straight and we will see a few more. A scarce stamp. D. N. Jatia, a past president now deceased sadly, the late D. N. Jatia, wrote a book on the Four Annas which was published shortly before his death in which he records the number of this stamp with the inverted head that survived and it’s not many.

And another scarcity which people may well recognize. Western Australia, I won’t go into the technical details, but Western Australia had a print of its famous black swan but unfortunately one of the vignettes had the frame inverted for some odd reason and it took a while for it to be discovered. And so in theory there should be quite a number of these around, but there aren’t many. But that’s one of the better ones.

I think which we, something we also ought to understand, is that stamps were becoming, as one got into the twentieth century, perhaps even earlier, more than just stamps for the use of postage. They were becoming propaganda tools in some cases. They were certainly becoming souvenirs of events. They were becoming a portrayal of remote places, of fauna, of flora and sometimes even they were advertisements. As I say, in the Twenties and Thirties, these elements came much more to the fore and whereas one would have rather boringly key plate head designs, colonies particularly started to experiment in arranging to have some really high class printings featuring different elements of their countries or events that took place and one which actually never happened.

Jamaica commemorated in 1921, now why 1921 should have been significant I’m not terribly sure, the abolition of slavery. But slavery was still an extremely sensitive issue, even then, and the issue was suppressed. It never happened. But at that time and continuing to today, the Crown Agents, who were responsible for the production of stamps for the British colonies, always sent a block of every stamp to the collection, usually before issue and therefore, before the decision was taken to suppress the issue, this lot, along with the rest of the issue, was sent to the King. And it was going to be a brave person who asked for it back. So we’ve still got it.

And another one, just as an example of a commemoration of events, this is from Saint Helena, a remote island somewhere down deep in the Atlantic. That artwork, that you can see there and that was celebrating their centenary in 1934. The reason I like that is it actually portrays all four monarchs covering that hundred years.

One could go on with the kaleidoscopic view of events before the Second World War. The pattern of the use of stamps went far beyond their utilitarian purpose. Stamps had become something of a mirror of history, social, factual development. They also caused a change in manufacturing processes. Think about it. Back in the nineteenth century stamps weren’t expected to have a survivability of more than five or ten years. Just for the period of their validity. But once countries cottoned on to the fact that people actually might not collect them because they were Philatelists but collect them because they were illustrative of things, people or places, they were actually designed to have a greater durability and of course today whatever one might feel about the enormous range of commemorative issues that one has from every country in the world, including this, dare I say, never the less they do have a life going way, way beyond the original expectation.

You know, the stamps to me, and my age group, were a window on distant places. Places which at the time one had no ambition, well perhaps one did have the ambition but we certainly didn’t have the means, to go to them. And until the advent of jet engines and mass transportation, it really wasn’t feasible.

For example, just in the last eight years and not just on collection business, I’ve been apart from Europe, where I go to quite frequently. I’ve been to Borneo, Russia, South Africa, China,

Cayman Islands, United States frequently, East Africa and next year I should be going to New Zealand. Now if you think back fifty years, 1950s, the idea in eight years of doing that was inconceivable. And therefore the stamps from those places were attractive in their own right because they were showing things that one had no expectation of seeing in real life. And this was before of course, you had Discovery Channel and television showing one things again, which in the 1950s, one had no idea one would see.

But for a more somber aspect, consider this. In 1940, some of you may recall that Great Britain was in very dire straights. France was even direr in the position in which it found itself and shortly before the fall of France, Winston Churchill offered to the French the idea of a constitutional merger of our two countries. How the hell he had got it through the House of Parliament I have no idea at all and how the King might have agreed to it, I don’t know, and the French turned this down by the way.

Discussions got to the stage that they had actually commissioned the preparation of stamps for a joint issue to commemorate that event. There are examples of these in Postal Heritage Trust in London and also the Queen’s Collection has some examples.

That’s 1940.

However, as we know, the war got worse. America had its tragedy at Pearl Harbor and all the events in the Pacific that took place after that. Britain was affected. Singapore was lost. Hong Kong was lost.

At that time civilian employees, workers in government, were thrown into camps as well as prisoners of war, military prisoners of war, but civilian internees were thrown into camps and they had even fewer rights than the military did, not that that seemed to make a lot of difference.

One man, in Stanley Camp in Hong Kong, was sufficiently optimistic in 1944, actually to prepare a design for a stamp commemorating his release and the return of the colony, Hong Kong, to British rule. And this drawing was done by him on rice paper in 1944 which is an illustration of a phoenix rising. If he’d been caught and if that had been found he would have probably been put to death. He persevered, he survived and the next year he did one in color and there it is.

Actually he may have done it towards the end of 1944, before freedom was certain and you can actually see just there, I think, that 1944 has been erased and a 5 put in instead. And many years later those two drawings were presented to the Collection and we carry them with pride.

In 1946, every British Colony and Great Britain had what is called a Victory Issue stamp which features the House of Parliament. Every colony, that is, except Hong Kong. Hong Kong adopted, with permission from London, the phoenix rising design and as I say, those are the two drawings which have survived.

Moving on but still staying with the war theme, this being perhaps a bit more philatelic, in 1964, the Falkland Islands had an issue of stamps commemorating the battle which was fought in their waters in 1914, the fiftieth anniversary. The stamp series, I think there were four values in the set. That’s two of them, the twopence halfpenny and the six pence. Look closely at the ships; look very closely at the ships. Because there’s the six pence with the ship but in fact is on the twopence halfpenny. One sheet of stamps like that with HMS Glasgow on the six-penny stamp was printed by accident.  A sheet of stamps, because it was a two color printing process, a sheet of stamps with the ship vignette somehow or other slipped into the other ships, the Kent ship was then put through a press to have the six pence.

It is thought that that sheet of sixty stamps was sold to a new issue dealer, whose prime customer base was in the Midwest of the United States. And certainly, I think, all the surviving copies of which there are, I don’t know, a dozen or so, have come out of the United States.

There are no used copies known so there must be another forty plus surviving in attics and basements in the Midwest of the United States. Now don’t all rush to the door, but I think many of those collections have been thrown away long since as children have gone off to college or whatever but there must still be some out there.

Just staying for a moment with the pictorial in some ways nostalgia for persons of a certain age, if you can see that, that art work, we have quite a bit of artwork in the collection. That is artwork of 1936, but there is something rather special about that or peculiar about that. Those of you with a remembrance, if not actual remembrance of the time, but some historical knowledge, will appreciate that in 1936, the United Kingdom had a bit of constitutional crisis. And following the death of King George the Fifth, King Edward the Eighth came to the throne, King George the Sixth’s older brother and for various reasons found it necessary to abdicate at the end of 1936. Of course when he came to the throne, naturally all countries and printers started to look at the ideas of the new stamps for the new reign. And indeed an issue of very plain stamps of all values, featuring Edward the Eighth, appeared in the United Kingdom, Great Britain. And as one might expect work was going on various printers prepared issues of stamps for the colonies.

If you look very closely at that artwork you will see that it features the head of Edward the Eighth but the stamp was never issued and indeed as far as I know, no production of any stamp got to a stage of printed essays or proofs and so all that survived, and very little of it, is artwork with the head of Edward the Eighth. But all hope is not lost in terms of the stamps themselves because what they did with many of the designs was to substitute the head of King George the Sixth for Edward the Eighth and many of the colonies then first issued stamps for the new reign in about 1938.

Material continues to be acquired. I haven’t got photographs of the most recently acquired material but I can show you a couple of things and there are a couple of features about them. First of all, Gambia. This is after 1952. These are color essays, color proofs and you’ll see that beside each stamp is a cross or a tick and at the bottom the tick means approved and the cross means not approved.

Now it is the case, the design for every new issue that features the head of the monarch, either fully or in silhouette, is actually approved by the monarch, today the Queen. That work actually is not as a result of the monarch approving or disapproving those stamps, it’s a case of the crown agents deciding whether or not those stamps are acceptable. Usually because the colors are slightly wrong or the designs are slightly wrong. But we do have a large amount of that material both from the King George the Sixth reign and the present Queen’s reign and there’s an example for North Borneo, where you will see that those essays, five of the six were ok but they had to redo the sixth.

But we do still acquire and the final slide I shall show is of the 1976 Great Britain Roses issue. We don’t have too many very, very, scarce varieties of Great Britain stamps. But in 1976 there was a problem with a printing plate and a piece of copper was traced over the value of the stamps, one stamp in each sheet. They very quickly realized that it had happened but three stamps managed to escape into public hands. Quite legitimately incidentally, they weren’t printer’s waste, they actually were sold to a post office in Kent. And of the three missing value copies of that stamps, two unused and one used, the collection has one unused copy and the only used copy.

So, the Collection continues to live. It grows apace and with modern issues of stamps and the volume of them it is going to be a lifetime’s work to try and accommodate and put that material into some sort of displayable form.

Indeed, in the United Kingdom we talk about something being a bit like the fourth bridge. Now the fourth railway bridge, near Edinburough, is a huge metal structure. Absolutely vast those of you who know it, and when they finish painting it, they have to go round and start again. So when you talk about a task being a bit like the fourth bridge it means it’s never ending. And that is what the collection is like.

There are three of us, all part timers, who work with the collection and our tasks involve reviewing possible acquisitions, because we do from time to time buy material for the collection, as well as receiving it from our post office and from the crown agent, documenting acquisitions, completing mounting.

For 50 years no mounting was done of material from the George the Sixth reign and although that was very short reign there was a vast range of printings that took place through the 1940s and early 1950s. For a variety of reasons none of that material was mounted for 50 years. And it was only in about 1994 or 1995 that any attempt was made to start mounting the King George the Sixth material. We’re about three quarters of the way through.

Conservation is an important issue. One of the concerns that one has of coming to an exhibition of this sort, bringing material which is going to be on display for nine months, is light. Light is cumulative in impact and therefore one has to worry. Particularly where nineteenth century inks are involved one has to worry about light levels. And so there has been quite an effort by the people here to make sure that the light levels are satisfactory value. Equally, heat and humidity are also other issues, but they aren’t quite as important as the light one.

But conservation, for many, many years the collection was in no environmentally controlled conditions at all. They were just in bookcases, in a stamp room, which the King used. More recently, from the mid Seventies, the area where the collection was held was at least had forced ventilation and it’s only in the last five years now that we have a totally controlled environment in which the collection is kept.

A lot of time is spent in preparation for exhibitions at home and abroad. And Wilson mentioned that many hours were put into this exhibition and it’s true. Enjoyable hours but never the less the hours were there. And with future exhibitions, in a museum context including New Zealand next year there is a lot of work to be done.

And I suppose the other major task we have is helping researchers. We are prepared to see researchers. We don’t particularly care for the kind of people who say they want to come and see the collection but in fact you realize that all they want to is to visit the palace. Well, those kind of visitors have actually declined somewhat when we tell them we are not actually in Buckingham Palace, we’re in Sir James’s Palace, they tend to lose interest.

But nevertheless, we do have serious researchers who sometimes spend a lot of time with us. One of my assistants describes it as babysitting. It’s actually a bit more than that. One’s often helpful in identifying for them things that they might have missed and we are seeing perhaps two to three researchers a week at peak times.

Well this concludes an all too brief survey of the collection. There is so much more. If you have access to a copy and have an interest in the collection there is of course the monumental work by a previous keeper, Sir John Wilson, in the early 1950s. But I must warn you it’s not bedtime reading. It will crush your chest if you should happen to take it to bed with you. But, but and forgive the commercial, “The Queen’s Stamps,” written by a non-philatelist, Nicholas Courtney, published this year and available in the shop downstairs is actually a jolly good read, non- philatelist have told me. And some philatelists who have no interest in Great Britain and Colonial stamps have also told me, including one Norwegian about how he had been absolutely fixed by it. So that’s available downstairs and recommended.

You’ve all been given a copy of that, which I certainly commend, written by Thomas Alexander; it really is a very good read, particularly where it relates to what happened in the United Kingdom in postal reform to what happened here in the United States.

And finally downstairs is a copy of a thing called “The Queen’s Stamps,” which was published in 2002 in connection with the traveling exhibition we had in the United Kingdom in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and this has a brief history of the collection, illustrates some pieces from the collection, some of which are downstairs, some of which I talked about and some of which we haven’t covered.

So there is the commercial, the bookshop is open.

On a serious note, my heartfelt thanks to the museum here, to Allen Kane and all his people, too numerous to mention really, individually, for the opportunity to show items from the collection to a larger public. Some 300,000 people, it’s expected, during the nine months of this exhibition, will have passed through the museum. The attendance here in the National Postal Museum, I understand, is up about nineteen percent against last year, which is an extraordinary increase and it’s felt that the exhibition here, that we have been pleased to bring, has accounted for part of that.

My thanks too to the Sundmans for sponsoring this lecture as a tribute to Maynard Sundman, of whom we heard earlier and of course I should thank Her Majesty the Queen for allowing some magnificent material to come over here to the United States for you all to see.

Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

About Michael Sefi

Michael Sefi headshot

Michael Sefi has been the Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection at Buckingham Palace in London since January 2003. He was previously the Deputy Keeper of the Collection, beginning in 1996.

He has been a member of the Council of the Royal Philatelic Society, London, since 1990. He is currently the Chairman of the Society's Publications Committee and the Chairman of RPSL Ltd., the company responsible for the activities of the Society's Expert Committee.

His specialist collecting and study interests are in the early stamps of the reign of King George V, in particular of Great Britain. In addition to other earlier awards, he won a gold medal at international exhibition level in 2001 in Copenhagen for his exhibit of material of the period. From 1998 to 2000, he served as President of the Great Britain Philatelic Society, the premier society in the United Kingdom devoted to the study of the philately of Great Britain.

Michael Sefi previously worked as a chartered accountant and was at one time a partner in what is now Deloitte & Touche. He is married and has three children and two grandchildren.