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The Strand Stamp Fair

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by Nick Huxsted (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Shoreditch, frequently commenting on life in London; from coffee, to pubs, food, science and anything new and interesting.
Published July 2nd 2014

For the last 8 years my friends and I have undertaken the monthly ritual of trying something new. Born out of frustration from living in London and being too lazy to experience all it has to offer, we decided that every month we'll all get together and one person will pick something new and hopefully interesting to try. The only rule is that you can't moan. Everyone should approach the day with childlike enthusiasm and fake nods of agreement for whatever lays ahead.

I almost broke the rule last week when I heard that we were visiting The Strand Stamp Show. After dabbling with parachuting and almost maiming myself with a water jet pack, stamps seemed somewhat tame. Seeing the slightly befuddled look on my face I was quickly reminded of the rules and told to stop pouting like a toddler without his dummy. Wise words indeed. Everything has the potential to seem interesting the more we learn about it. The Tour de France used to bore me to tears, a group of cyclists doing the same thing for hours on end seemed infinitely dull. But once a friend explained to me all its intricacies, the subtle tactics and intense rivalries, I grew to love it and now never miss it. So, with an open mind and a healthy dose of optimism, I headed over to the Strand for my first dalliance with the world of stamps.

The first thing I noticed was that people who like stamps, really like stamps. It was actually a rather nice thing to see, anyone who has a passion for something should be applauded and commended in my book. Unless of course your passion is murder, which should certainly be frowned up.

Much like a market there was a lively atmosphere to the place and the numerous dealers were all very open, welcoming and keen to impart their years of knowledge and wisdom. After explaining to them my relative stamping inadequacies, I was told to stick with it (not sure if this was a philately joke – yes I did learn a new word) as it can be a very relaxing hobby. This seemed to be a recurring them throughout the day. It was often referred to as calming, soothing and a nice way to unwind after work. Stamps appear to hold some form of zen like quality!

Confused with the wide array on show and absolutely no idea about what was going on, some of the enthusiasts took pity on us and explained the basic principles. What makes a rare stamp, how to look after them, how much money you can make and which individual stamps people were looking for to build up their prized stamp albums. Some of the more interesting stories were actually quite funny!


Stamps can be used on record players
Bhutan (a region near the Himalayas) once issued a stamp that also served as a record. I don't know how this worked but apparently on the front was your usual image, and on the back was a phonographic record that could be played on a record player! Sending mail and native folk songs all in one day.

Stamps are made on the moon
During the Apollo I space mission in 1969, as Neil and his friends touched down they made us of a pre-made die to make the very first impression of a moon stamp. This impression was then used to create all the other US 10 cent airmail stamps.

Cats were once used to deliver mail
Apparently in 1839, the quirky Belgians decided to use cats to deliver mail throughout the town of Liege. Enticed with delicious bowls of milk, a post force of 37 cats had little bags strapped to their backs and would wander from house to house, efficiently delivering the mail while slurping on their cream. It didn't work. They were rubbish.

Great Britain have stamp privileges
Great Britain is the only country not to have its name on our stamps. Something to do with us being the first to use stamps, we now have special privileges.

Stamps are the most expensive items in the world
On the 18th June a rare British Guiana Stamp set a new world record and was sold for £5.6m. It's the most expensive item by weight in the world.

So there you have it. After a couple of hours trying something completely new, I now have a new found understanding and respect for all things stamps, and I didn't even moan once.
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When: See website for upcoming dates / Opening hours: 9am - 4pm
Where: The Galleon suite at the Royal National Hotel - Bedford Way - London, WC1H 0DG
Cost: Free
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