GALLERY: Collectors keen to ensure philately isn’t stamped out
- Credit: IAN BURT
It was once one of the world's most popular hobbies – but these days some Norfolk stamp collectors fear their favourite pursuit will be swept aside in a digital age of emails, text messages and computer games.
Those attending the 63rd East Midlands and East Anglian Federation of Philatelic Societies convention in King's Lynn might have been forgiven for thinking differently.
There were thousands of historic stamps, envelopes and postcards on display, including the distinctive 18th century Lynn handstamp and collections from Europe, Asia and South America.
However, even as dozens of eagle-eyed buyers hunted for bargains to increase their collections, stamp dealer Richard Lewis was clear: 'Probably, it will die out.'
Mr Lewis, of Front Road, Murrow, near Wisbech, started collecting British stamps and Commonwealth stamps at an early age.
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'As children, before computers came along, it told you the place where the island was, what the currency was and it gave us information,' he said.
'At the time when this was done, television didn't exist and your comforts were radio, reading and collecting something.'
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Geoffrey Wareham, mayor of King's Lynn, added: 'I thoroughly enjoyed stamp collecting as a youngster. It was very informative and it told you a lot about the world.'
Mike Kentzer, vice-chairman of King's Lynn Philatelic Society, which hosted Saturday's event to commemorate the group's 75th anniversary, agreed.
'Forget school – a lot of people learned their geography from collecting stamps,' the former headteacher said.
'It's about the fun of the chase, not just for the material itself but the information it can give you.'
Technology is certainly not causing the postage stamp to face extinction, he said.
Countries like Britain and Germany are producing many more varieties of stamps today than customers actually need.
In some cases, the modern age has helped stamp collecting to thrive – although stamp shops are virtually non-existent now, people can buy from eBay and other internet sites.
'There is a question about how long countries can keep producing stamps of real meaning,' Mr Kentzer admitted, instead of commercially-motivated varieties.
However the real problem is getting the younger generation into a hobby when there is the iPad and the Xbox 360 to distract them.
Mr Kentzer said: 'It is dying out because people now are not into stamp collecting.
'They have got other interests.
'The danger is that the age profile of stamp collectors is very high. A lot of people are dying off and their stamp collections are being sold.
'There is plenty about but the problem is getting the younger generation into collecting.'
His society has visited Guide and Brownie groups recently to give them presentations and show them displays of stamp collections in the hope it will garner their interest.
He has encouraged young people to perhaps have a theme for their collections that matches their interests, whether it is butterflies, trains or fire engines.
Mr Lewis said: 'I will sell them something at a lesser price than I would an adult,' as he is so keen to get them collecting.
However, Mr Lewis admitted: 'You've got to get them through the door in the first place', and that the only way to do that is through their parents.
One parent who is trying to get his son collecting is Henry Bellingham, the North West Norfolk MP.
As he opened the event at King Edward VII School, in Gaywood Road, King's Lynn, he told gatherers: 'I started collecting stamps when I was eight years old and I fell in love with it.
'A few years ago, I did dig up my collection and I'm trying very hard to get my young boy of 13 to take up stamp collecting despite the distraction of computer games.'
Maybe, however, all is not lost.
Mr Lewis' very specialised collection of between 200 and 300 items is worth, he thinks, about £6,000 in total.
It may take a lifetime to build up but today's youngsters might do well to remember that a good stamp collection is certainly a lot more valuable and historically significant than a pile of PlayStation games.