The London International Stamp Exhibition, originally scheduled for the spring of 2020 and then postponed for two years due to COVID19, recently concluded. For two American revenue collectors, Will Csaplar and Michael Mahler, the extended wait was well worth it – as Csaplar’s and Mahler’s exemplary exhibits were each awarded a prestigious 2nd international large gold medal. That their twin achievements took place in England made it all the more memorable and significant.
For stamp collectors, England represents not only the birthplace of their hobby, it is the place where philately has historically been most highly appreciated, enjoyed and respected. It is home to the world’s most venerable “stamp club”, the Royal Philatelic Society London (est. 1869). The Society counts among it’s membership the world’s most distinguished collectors, notably Queen Elizabeth II (see Figures 1 and 2).
Steeped in history, the London International Philatelic Exhibitions, which have taken place roughly every ten years since 1890, are widely regarded as the world’s “largest philatelic stage” and not just in the figurative sense.
The 2022 edition featured a whopping 588 exhibits from around the world; exhibits at all levels and in a wide range of collecting categories or classes – demonstrating that philately, at one time referred to as “the hobby of kings” (in large part due to the fame King George V achieved as a collector), is now avidly pursued among people from virtually every country around the world – and people from all walks of life.
The Penny Black
It was in England, in 1837, that Sir Rowland Hill, KCB, FRS (see Figure 3) first proposed to Parliament “A bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash.”
Hill, an English teacher by trade and part time inventor, is best known today for his tireless dedication to social reform. At the time when he proposed an adhesive stamp, England’s system of postal rates was complex, confusing and, to the majority of the country’s citizens who were of limited means, perceived as unfair if not unjust.
The rates were based upon the number of sheets in the letter and the distance the letter was carried. The crux of the matter is that the cost was paid by the recipient – not the sender – often resulting in unpleasant surprises and, in extreme cases, even financial hardship.
Hill published a booklet titled Post Office Reform; Its Importance and Practicality in February of 1837 (see Figure 4). In the booklet, Hill made the case for a relatively low, uniform postal rate to be paid by the sender. Hill’s proposal caught the fancy of the general public and an epic campaign ensued which attempted to influence the government to adopt this new system. It was an adhesive stamp that would make Hill’s plan logistically possible and, therefore, practical.
According to the British Postal Museum, “A parliamentary Select Committee was formed under Robert Wallace MP, a long time campaigner for postal reform, and a low uniform postage rate was recommended. This eventually became law in 1839.”
The vignette or central image of the first stamp design, was based upon a silver medal created by William Wyon commemorating Queen Victoria’s visit to London in 1837. Wyon was, by all accounts, extremely gifted and was the chief engraver at the Royal Mint from 1828 till the time of his death in 1851. The medal featured a bust of Queen Victoria in profile (see Figure 5).
English artist Henry Corbould was then commissioned to sketch the medal and the sketch was used by Charles and Frederick Heath to engrave Victoria’s head onto a metal die for the purpose of printing the stamps. Two different values were to be printed; a 1d in black and a 2d in blue.
The 1d black was put on sale first, on May 1, 1840 and it became valid for use on May 6; the stamp, known by collectors as the “Penny Black” thus became the world’s first adhesive postage stamp. The “Two Penny Blue” was put on sale a couple of days later, on May 8 (see Figures 6 and 7).
Stamp Collecting and The Royal Philatelic Society London
The two stamps were widely admired by the general public and the hobby of stamp collecting soon became “a thing” after they were issued; by 1860 the hobby had spread across continental Europe, the European colonies, the United States and around the world. With it, a new profession arose, “stamp dealers” soon began facilitating the buying and selling of stamps among collectors.
It was in the office of one of these dealers, J.C. Wilson, that the Royal Philatelic Society London was formed. At a meeting of collectors and dealers on April 10, 1869, the first officers were elected. Originally, and for the balance of the 19th century, the club was known as The Philatelic Society, London. It was in November of 1906, that King Edward VII granted the Society the privilege to use the “Royal” prefix.
Several members of the royal family were among the world’s first stamp collectors, starting shortly after the two stamps featuring Queen Victoria were issued in 1840. Prince Alfred is said to have been the first member of the royal family to pursue the hobby avidly. He eventually sold his collection to his older brother, Edward VII and he, in turn, gave it to his son the Prince of Wales, later to become King George V (see Figures 8).
George V greatly expanded the “royal collection”, making several notable purchases including the finest example of the Mauritius Two Pence blue for a world record £1,450 in 1904 (currently valued at over (£2,000,000). His extensive collection is famous for filling 328 “red albums” each containing 60 pages (see Figure 9).
The First London (International) Philatelic Exhibition
The first London Philatelic Exhibition was organized by the Philatelic Society, London to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the world’s first stamps being issued. The Exhibition took place primarily at the Portman Rooms on Baker Street in London from May 19-26, 1890 (see Figures 10 and 11).
The Portman Rooms site was the original location for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum (including the infamous Chamber of Horrors) at the Royal London Bazaar from 1835 to 1884. When Tussaud’s moved to their current location on Marylebone Road, the location briefly became the Baker Street Picture Galleries for the sale of paintings on consignment. It was named the Portman Rooms in 1886 and, after an extensive remodel in 1889, became well known as one of London’s best venues for dances, concerts and events – including many events promoting women’s suffrage.
The first London Philatelic Exhibition has become important to philatelists as the occasion upon which the Duke of Edinburgh announced to the world that his son (to become King George V) was an avid stamp collector. The revelation gave the relatively young hobby a great boost in credibility and would help pave the way for stamp collecting to become the number one hobby in the world during the 20th century.
By the time George V was done collecting, the Royal Stamp Collection was the best in the UK, lacking only the unique Guiana 1c magenta to be complete for all British-issued stamps and certainly among the very best in the world.
After George V died, his son George VI took over the Royal Stamp Collection and continued to expand it in his own distinctive “blue albums.” After George VI passed in 1952, the collection was left to Queen Elizabeth II. While Queen Elizabeth has continued to expand the collection in her own “green albums”, her greatest contribution to philately unquestionably has been her willingness to share the Royal Collection with the world – making it available for loan and putting it on exhibit for all collectors to appreciate and enjoy (see Figure 12).
The Royal Stamp Collection has now been passed down for five generations and is currently valued at £150 million; it continues to awe and inspire philatelists around the world. As for the “Penny Black”, it is now a cultural icon of the UK, along with James Bond, the Beatles, Fish and Chips, Football, the Queen and Royal Family, the White Cliffs of Dover and a relatively recent addition – Harry Potter.
London 2022 International Stamp Exhibition
The 2022 edition of the London International Stamp Exhibition was held February 19-26 at the Business Design Centre and Exhibition Venue in the district of Islington. It is one of the venerable exhibition venues in the UK and dates back to 1862. It was extensively remodeled and opened in its current form in 1986 (see Figures 13 and 14).
There were so many collectors desiring to show their exhibits at what was originally supposed to be the 2020 International Exhibition, that initially the organizers were faced with having to turn away most of the applicants. A series of high level meetings took place and then a bold and logistically difficult plan was unveiled: in order to accommodate the most exhibits possible, the exhibition would be divided into two (shorter) halves – with roughly half of the exhibits shown in each half.
This would necessitate an unprecedented amount of organization and planning and an enormous amount of manpower (virtually all of it by volunteers) in order to set-up the first half of the exhibits, judge all of them in half the normal time – and then take them all down, secure them safely in the “Bin Room” and repeat the effort in order to get the second half set-up and judged. All available space that would accommodate exhibit frames would be utilized and, in many cases, the frames themselves would be set up in a zig-zag or “U” configuration (see Figures 15, 16 and 17).
This would have been very difficult, as originally envisioned – prior to COVID19. In 2022, in the middle of the Omicron surge, it was flat out crazy. There was very little in the way of professional help available and the volunteers went way above what was expected of them to pull this off. However, at the end of the day, it all worked out (see Figure 18 and the short video which follows).
In my opinion, this was a tremendous feat and yet another example of where humanity has been able to overcome tremendous adversity to not just persevere – but to to enjoy our lives to the fullest. From everyone at Waterfowl Stamps and More, kudos and our heartfelt appreciation to the the Royal Philatelic Society London (RPSL), the organizing committees, the volunteers, the commissioners, the judges and all of the participating exhibitors for staying the course in the face of COVID and making this event possible.
Will and Michael are Awarded their 2nd International Large Gold Medals
There was some unexpected last minute drama: storm Eunice and it’s high winds reaching 122 mph battered England on Friday and prevented many of the exhibits from arriving in time to be set up prior to the scheduled first day of the show, Saturday, February 19. This necessitated they be set up on Saturday and delayed the opening of the already shortened first half of the exhibition by one day – making the judge’s job even more difficult than anticipated. I was told the exhibits, in some cases, were literally being judged as they were being set up!
Fortunately, the American west coast Commissioner, Akthem Al-Manaseer, had arrived earlier in the week with Will’s and Michael’s exhibits and they were set up without delay (see Figure 19).
For the American contingent in the first half, representing the collecting areas of Postal History, Revenue, Postal Stationary, Open, Modern, Post Cards and Youth classes, the exhibitors had worked hard for many years to finally reach this point – the London International Exhibition being, arguably, the pinnacle in organized philately.
Everyone held high hopes, albeit tempered somewhat by the expectation that the judging would be strict in London, the birthplace of the adhesive postage stamp and the bastion of organized philately.
The judging lived up to expectations, with only six of the American exhibits in the first half being awarded large gold medals – including Will Csaplar and Michael Mahler. Will’s exhibit received a final score of 95, one point less than it received in Bangkok in 2018, where it scored highest in the revenue class. To see the current version of Will’s exhibit (as it was shown in London), click here.
The London medal was a replica of Wyon’s 1837 medal (see Figures 20 and 21).
In London, only two revenue exhibits scored higher than Will’s; one by one point (96) and one by two points (97). Delightfully, the 97 was awarded to my close friend Michael Mahler’s fascinating exhibit, U.S. Civil War Era Fiscal History Panorama.
Postage stamps paid for a service (the delivery of mail). Most revenue stamps did not, instead simply paying taxes on various classes of objects. Michael Mahler’s exhibit focuses on documentary taxes of the Civil War era, imposed on a wide range of documents in everyday use, designed to raise funds to support the Union war effort. They continued on a broad scale for years after the war’s end, until 1872, to help retire wartime debts. Nearly every piece of paper that changed hands was taxed, and survivors provide a fascinating “slice of life” as it was in those days.
Michael received a special silver medal, very similar to the one which served as a model for the world’s first adhesive postage stamp 182 years earlier (see Figures 22 and 23). To see Michael’s exhibit in its entirety, click here.
My Take-aways from London 2022
Will and Michael were very happy with their fine showing in London. As for myself, I experienced an interesting series of emotions; relief, joy, satisfaction and, ultimately, excitement:
Relief. When Will last showed his exhibit, in Bangkok, it was cresting a long wave of success that began, nationally, at Westpex in 2015 and then internationally at World Stamp Show New York 2016. Will’s decades of supporting a hobby that he and his wife Abby had deeply loved and believed in had resulted in, arguably, the finest collection of waterfowl stamps ever formed. The appreciation for their exhibit had been growing steadily in the world of organized philately. All the accolades and gold medals it earned – especially the large gold in Bangkok – served to shine a bright light upon our niche hobby (see Figures 24 and 25).
Then came COVID19. Along with all of the angst and uncertainty it produced for all of humanity was a near two-year postponement of the London International Philatelic Exhibition, originally scheduled for May of 2020. While everyone involved waited patiently and tried to remain confident, personally, I worried a bit about the eventual outcome.
I knew the judging would be strict in London and, to a lesser extent, had a sense that with stamp exhibiting (much like sports), momentum can play an important role when one is hoping and praying the stars will align. Therefore, when I learned that Will’s exhibit had received a second large gold medal in London – my initial reaction was relief (see Figure 26).
Joy. Will and Michael are two of the most dedicated people I know when it comes to working tirelessly to advance the field of collecting revenue stamps. We share a similar passion and I feel fortunate to count them among my close friends for over 30 years. I was so happy for both of them, personally, and so my second reaction was pure joy. I immediately called Will and Michael and shared the fabulous news!
Satisfaction. I must admit, that after 30 years of philatelic exhibiting – as both a participant and a consultant – this was a new feeling for me. It seems that for virtually this entire time I have been working in an effort to get organized philately to grant “equal rights status” to revenues in general and waterfowl stamps in particular.
When I first began this quest, a long-time judge told me that it is often a difficult road for a collector in any philatelic specialty area (read: non-postage; non-postal history area) before reaching the point where a consensus exists among judges in which they “see your material close to the way you do.”
For Will to win a second large gold medal for his exhibit of waterfowl stamps in London, of all places, and prove that Bangkok was not a fluke – felt like validation for our hobby and all of the time and work that everyone has put in, starting with the pioneer fish and game collectors like Vanderford, Lebo and Pruess and continuing up to Will And Abby.
For a relatively brief but wonderful period of time, I felt satisfied with our collective accomplishments – and it felt good.
Excitement. After Akthem returned to California, Kay and I drove down to pick up Will’s exhibit on his behalf. Akthem informed us he had requested feedback on the exhibit from Chris Harman, the London Exhibition Jury President. Harman is a revenue stamp collector, himself, and a recognized expert in the field.
Not only had Harman graciously agreed to share some of his very limited time with Akthem, he then proceeded to provide him with some of the finest constructive suggestions Will has ever received. He explained not only exactly why the exhibit’s score had dropped a point since Bangkok – but specifically what Will could do (remove one or two featured items that did not exactly match the exhibit title; expand and improve the section headings and provide a better case for the exhibit’s importance to world-wide philately) that would not just allow the exhibit to earn the lost point back – but gain an additional one or two.
The exhibit received a score of 95; no other exhibit in the entire exhibition received a higher score than 97 – and Akthem had just told us that the Jury President explained how Will could add 2-3 points to his score… now that is truly exciting! After sharing this news with Will, he has already started implementing the changes.
Next year, in 2023, after seven years of showing his exhibit overseas, Will will bring it back to the United States. While he has his sights set on securing a Grand Award for our hobby and participating in the Champion of Champions (C of C) – more importantly, he will be fulfilling another of the goals that he and Abby originally set – to make the exhibit available so that as many people as possible can appreciate it and enjoy it in person.