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Home Art & Culture #NationalPhilatelyDay: The charm of stamp collection that was, and is

#NationalPhilatelyDay: The charm of stamp collection that was, and is


New Delhi

Away from the Capital’s busy life, a group of veteran stamp collectors used to meet every month, in RK Puram, and discuss about and all things philately including their collections that have lakhs of stamps. Then, Covid-19 struck, and hit hard by the pandemic, this club not only halted their meetings, but unfortunately, also lost some of its members in the fight against the virus. Calling the demise of his club members as a “big loss to the philatelist community in India,” west Delhi-based philatelist Vinod Sabharwal awaits with hope in his eyes, for the day when he can reunite with the remaining members of this quaint little club, and get back to exploring and studying stamps, which is already “a dying hobby”.

“Usage of postcards, inland letters and stamps got affected by the coming in of internet and instant messaging,” says Sabharwal, as he sits near almirahs and drawers, full of stamps. The love for these tiny papers, which have long and intriguing tales behind them, took over him in 2005 when his children expressed interest in the hobby. And soon he started collecting stamps, postmarks and maxim cards from all over the world!

“I used to diligently scan the lanes of the famous Sunday book market at Daryaganj, with my brother, at the spot where stamps were sold along with old and new books,” says the 63-year-old recalling how he used to juggle between his newly found passion and a job in the medical field. “After working for 16 years and my retirement, I have several almirah full of stamps of all kinds; their number and value running into several lakhs,” adds Sabharwal.

One of independent India’s early stamps from 1957, priced at one and a half annas.

Most serious philatelists build their collection according to a theme, which could be anything ranging from the Mount Everest to the first-ever stamps issued after India’s independence (75 years ago), or even stamps on religions or Indian saint poets or iconic figures such as Mahatma Gandhi. It all depends on what catches their attention and interest! Take for instance Avtar Singh Banga, another member of this club, who born in Lahore, undivided India. “One day while walking back home from school, I found a matchbox on the street that had Iranian stamps on it. I remember coming back home and showing it to my elder brother. Uss raat main soo hi nahi saka. Later, I asked my father to get me cancelled stamps from his office because to be able to buy even a one paisa stamp was quite a costly affair in those days. Ek paise ki bhi value thi tab… ghar ka ration aa jata tha ek paise mein! So why would anyone buy stamps with that money? Hence I started collecting used stamps initially, and that’s how my interest in them grew from there.”

Today, Banga’s collection is much coveted one for any lover of this long lost hobby. Ask him the total number, and he quips: “Itne hain ki 10 saal mein scan nahi honge! Stamp collection has been the most interesting chapter of my life… But none of my children are interested in philately so I’m trying to quickly sell off most that I have.”

There are some middle-aged Delhiites who have also been bitten by the bug to collect stamps. One of them, Hemant Kumar Godhani, 48, shares, “My uncle used to collect it, so I got interested in it, as it led me to know more about our culture and history. My stamps are now running over three lakhs in number, and have been collected according to themes like plants, dresses, temples, monuments and Gandhi. I have exhibited some of my stamps as well.” And Parminder Singh (Bikku), 52, is another stamp collector who has been fond of this activity since he was in class X. “Now I have more than 10 lakh stamps including miniature sheets and mint stamps, from all over the world. I even have tickets of British India, Germany, USA, and other countries.”

Two 19th century Victorian stamps from the collection of Parminder Singh (Bikku), priced at one anna and four annas.
Two 19th century Victorian stamps from the collection of Parminder Singh (Bikku), priced at one anna and four annas.

“But due to Covid, there’s no money left in the market. Stamps have gone down in estimated value, even halved in price. Now, I have marked the value of each stamp on each folder, so that my children don’t sell it for less after me,” informs Sabharwal, adding that his club had resorted to virtual meetings due to Covid-19. “But these online meets lack the charm of physical meetings; where we could in person touch the stamps and talk about them for hours while sipping numerous cups of chai. It was fun to rearrange collections while sitting at home during the many lockdown phases, but how many times can you do that? All the members miss our in-person meetings, and we might resume them when the risk of infection subsides a bit more. Many of us have taken the vaccine shots, too.”

Author tweets @siddhijainn

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