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Never a dull moment

George Rupesinghe

Will Covid-19 be the death knell for 180 year old postage stamp? Post-corona era would hasten widespread digitalisation leading to e-learning, e-payments, e-mail, e-newspaper etc. and working from home (WFH). Already one can pay postage on-line in the United Kingdom (UK) from the comfort of one’s home. (Fig 1)

Fig. 1

Philately is the hobby of collecting postage stamps. Few do it as investments, just like with paintings. The rarest and the most expensive Ceylon/Sri Lanka stamp is the Queen Victoria 4p “Dull Rose” issued on 23rd April 1859. Just 7000 stamps were released into circulation. A mint condition “Dull Rose” was sold for US$71,875/- at an auction in January 2008. Only about 10 mint condition stamps are thought to exist each valued between GB£70,000/- to £100,000/-. May be one of them is hiding in your grandma’s attic. Who knows you might end up an instant millionaire?

Stamp collecting was my first choice hobby in primary school, and I collected every stamp that came my way. Every day I went to school with 25cents, from which lunch was bought for 12c, 5c was put in the donation till and the balance invested in myriad ways. One such was purchasing foreign stamps from a dealer outside the school gate. At the beginning, we pasted the stamps on used exercise books with cashew resin, but changed to prescribed stamp hinges later. As I grew up, it was time to graduate from old exercise books to junior stamp albums, local, imported or both. (Fig 2) Albums had pages with feint graph, countries in alphabetical order with capital cities and their currencies. Stamps tell stories about their countries or the world at large. When I moved to high school, studies took precedence. I continued to collect stamps, but they remained in boxes.

Fig 2

Sir Rowland Hill is credited with introducing the postage stamp. It was the “Penny Black” issued in England on 1st May 1840, and a 1p Queen Victoria stamp. The first British Ceylon stamp was issued on 1st April 1857. In recognition of UK’s contribution, by consensus it is the only country which is allowed to portray the reigning monarch instead of printing the country name. Sri Lanka is the only country in the world that prints the country name in three languages. Damaged or defaced stamps have less value or no value at all. Therefore a collector needs a tweezer with no serrations and a magnifying glass of suitable size and focal length to handle stamps. I arrived at Leprosy Hospital, Hendala in 1978 and had much free time which was put to good use to study for MRCOG Part 1 examination which I passed in 1979. Thereafter, I once again earnestly attended to my stamp collection paying particular attention to Ceylon/Sri Lanka issues.

About this time I discovered Oriental Stamps Service at Chatham Street, Fort. This dealer had published an illustrated Ceylon/Sri Lanka stamp album 1947 – 1978 and I purchased a copy. Thereafter, I became a regular visitor to this dealer. I moved to Kandy as a SHO/Obstetrics & Gynaecology in December 1981. Six months into the training programme a significant offer came my way, of all places from South Africa.

I travelled to Transkei, now part of Eastern Cape Province on 26th June 1982. The grand plan of Apartheid regime was to settle all the black people of South Africa in ten homelands namely, Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda, Ciskei (TBVC states), KwaZulu, QwaQwa, Lebowa, KwaNdebele, Gazankulu and Kangwane. TBVC states were nominally independent and issued their own postage stamps (Fig 3), otherwise everything else was South African including currency, the Rand. Cumudinie joined me that October. On 27th April 1994 we were privileged to see apartheid dismantled and black majority rule established under Mr Nelson Mandela.

One of the first acts after settling down in Transkei was to register with the Philatelic Services of South Africa. I placed a standing order for blocks of four mint stamps of South Africa, Transkei & South West Africa (Namibia} issues. (Fig 4) I have all the releases of Transkei well mounted in an album. Transkei, as a stamp issuing territory, existed from 26th October 1976 to 27th April 1994.

Fig 3

Fig 4.

The advent of laser printers gave me an idea to make my own Ceylon/Sri Lanka stamp albums. Using 120gsm A4 size cards, I made the first two whilst in South Africa and completed the project comprising six volumes in all, in 2016 after permanently resettling in Sri Lanka. (Fig 5)

Fig 5

I keep some of the 19th century Queen Victoria (1857 – 1901) and a few early 20th century King Edward VII (1902 – 1910) & King George V (1910 – 1936) stamps in protective folders.

Fig 6

I wish to correspond with anyone who would like to exchange or share extra Ceylon/Sri Lanka stamps with me.

WhatsApp: +94 763693344

All the above pictures (in jpg format) are owned by the author.

Disclaimer: I have read the terms and conditions of the website retired.united and agree with them. The thoughts expressed on philately in the above article are those that of the author and the historical incidences and dates have been verified. The Sri Lanka albums have been created solely to be used by the author for his collection and not for commercial production.


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