John Lennon, Amateur Philatelist


He’s known for creating some of the greatest music of the 20th century, and changing the face of rock and pop forever. He was also a kid who avidly collected stamps.


1.JPGLennon had a difficult beginning in life; his father was a merchant seaman who was away for months at a time. He went missing without leave when John was 4, and though he returned later that year and offered to fulfill his financial duties to the family, John’s mother (who had found another partner) refused. John’s aunt Mimi took him in, and though his father once tried to take John and emigrate to New Zealand, the child ultimately stayed with his aunt in Liverpool. His cousin Stanley, who was 7 years older, lived nearby, and often took John to the movies.



2.JPGWhen John was about 10, Stanley gave him a partially-filled stamp album that he had been working on. John studiously erased Stanley’s name and began filling the empty spaces in the album. (In true boyish nature, he also drew facial hair on the images of Queen Victoria and King George VI on the cover of the album.) John removed the stamps from letters that came in from New Zealand, America, and other countries, adding them to the appropriate pages.



4.JPGWhile the stamp album is still incomplete, it’s not hard to picture the future musician as an isolated child, sitting with his stamp album and dreaming of visiting the countries the stamps came from. None of the stamps in the album are particularly valuable in themselves. Former National Postal Museum curator Wilson Hulme commented to Smithsonian Magazine, “Typically, young boys aren’t interested in rarity,” he said. “They tend to concentrate on geography and colors. If they come back to collecting when they have more time and money, that’s when collections become exceptional.” Of course, as a Beatle, John Lennon did tour the world, and not only visited the countries represented in his album, but was himself eventually featured on stamps around the world as well.


(All images from Smithsonian Magazine, used by fair use.)

Encased Postage Stamps

During the Civil War, a shortage of supplies forced people to take strange measures. The shortage extended to gold, silver and copper, which people hoarded for themselves. And many people did not believe that paper money had actual value.

In response, the government passed a law in 1862 that allowed people to use postage stamps worth less than $5 to pay off debts to the government since these gave evidence of having paid for postage. Usually the stamps were worth 1 to 10 cents, used to make exact change.

But it was immediately clear that fragile postage stamps might be more trouble than they were worth. The questionable lasting nature of paper made stamps difficult to use as currency.

That’s where a man named John Gault comes in. Gault was an inventor and entrepreneur who created a solution to this stamp problem.


Gault proposed a “New Metallic Currency” that held stamps in a less delicate holder. These coin-shaped holders held a familiar coin shape that prevented stamps from being torn, bent or lost. The holder were originally made of silver so they looked more like real coins, but these quickly proved too expensive, so he made the holders out of brass instead.

Gault knew that he could make a profit from his invention. He sold the cases to stores and, in a clever marketing plan, used the back of the holder for advertising. One of the most prevalent advertisers was J.C. Ayer, a medicine business.

The stamp holders only lasted so long. In 1863 the government issued fractional coins that helped with the coin shortage, and stamps were no longer needed. Gault didn’t produce encased postage long after that as there was no demand for the postage anymore.

These encased stamps are quite rare today because most were torn apart to get to the stamp inside. Mint condition cases can sell for up to $4000.

Who Makes Scented Postage Stamps?: The Stamps of Bhutan

There are some odd postage stamps out there – but the source of the weirdest, most interesting stamps is probably Bhutan, a country in South Asia.

The country had no established mail system before 1955. Mail would simply be sent through mail runners or passing travelers.

But in the 1950s Bert Kerr Todd, an American, visited Bhutan a number of times with his family. Eventually he made friends with the king, and he suggested stamps as a method of growing the country’s economic welfare.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Bhutan executed many “firsts” of philately. Among these include:

Bhutan scented stamps.

Bhutan scented stamps.

  • The first scented stamps, showing flowers and smelling like roses
Bhutan 3D stamps.

Bhutan 3D stamps.

  • The first 3D stamps, using lenticular printing to show 3D views of animals, plants and more
Bhutan steel postage stamps.

Bhutan steel postage stamps.

  • The first steel and silk stamps
Bhutan working record stamp.

Bhutan working record stamp.

  • The first working record stamps, which actually work on record players and play Bhutan’s national anthem, folk songs, or a short history of the country.

No country has been as innovative as Bhutan when it comes to stamps, which is especially impressive considering Bhutan’s disconnect from the rest of the world — the isolated country legalized TV in 1999, the last country to do so.

Which of these stamps is your favorite?

The Rare Mauritius “Post Office” Stamp

Among the rarest stamps in the world, the Mauritius “Post Office” stamps have some of the most rumor surrounding them.

Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean, has made a name for itself in the world of philately. And this name started with the “Post Office” stamp of 1847.

The orange-red one penny stamp.

The orange-red one penny stamp.

It all starts with a stowaway on a ship. At age 22, a man named Joseph Osmond Barnard left his home in England and stowed away on the ship Acasta to Mauritius.

Barnard had luck on his side – he was allowed to disembark and live in the capital. As it so happened, Barnard specialized as an engraver and painter.

Barnard designed the stamps for Mauritius based on the Great Britain stamps at the time that showed the profile of Queen Victoria. They printed the stamps in two colors of one penny red brown and two pence blue. They are characterized by their primitive design.

Postage stamps were still very new at the time.

The printer made five hundred stamps of each value, printed in 1847. The wife of the Governor of Mauritius used many of them on invitations for a ball.

A set of two cancelled Post Office stamps, with the penny red brown and the two pence blue.

A set of two cancelled Post Office stamps, with the orange one penny and the two pence blue.

These stamps had the words “Post Office” printed on the left side. On the next printing, however, “Post Paid” replaced the phrase, making the stamps with “Post Office” rarities.

One particular legend says that using “Post Office” on the stamps had originally been a mistake. The book Les Timbres-Poste de L’Ile Maurice claims the mistake, and rumors surrounding the tale expanded to say that Barnard was a half-blind watchmaker and a forgetful old man who forgot what he was supposed to print on the stamps.

The two pence blue stamp.

The two pence blue stamp.

Anyone who pays attention knows that this can’t be true, since Barnard designed the stamps at 31 years old.

In 1864 the wife of a Bordeaux merchant found some of the stamps in her husband’s collection. She traded them with another collector, starting the ball rolling on the fame of these increasingly sought-after stamps.

In 1904 King George V paid roughly today’s equivalent of $190,000 for an unused two pence Mauritius stamp. And in 1993 a cover with two of the stamps sold for about $4 million, the highest price ever paid for a philatelic item.



Engraved memory


Hawaiian Missionary Stamps

Hawaiian Missionaries are some of the rarest stamps in the world.

We’ve written about rare stamps before, but the Hawaiian Missionaries have a particularly intriguing past.

These were the first postage stamps of the Kingdom of Hawaii, issued 1851.

Why are they called “Missionaries”, you ask? These stamps were usually found on the letters of missionaries working in Hawaii, hence the name. Only a small number of the stamps have survived to this day.1-4

In 1920, new Missionaries showed up on the market from someone named Charles Shattuck, who said that his mother had connected with a missionary family in Hawaii. The stamps were sold to a dealer for $65,000. But in 1922 a court case deemed the stamps as forgeries. Since then, numerous studies have been done on the stamps, but no one has quite agreed on whether they’re real or not. Someone even published a book in 2006 titled The Investigation of the Grinnell Hawaiian Missionaries by the Expert Committee of the Royal Philatelic Society London. If you’re feeling kept in suspense on the investigation’s results, know that the Society has declared the stamps as counterfeit — though some may still disagree.Two_Cent_Hawaiian_Missionary

One of the most peculiar tales surrounding the stamp seems like something pulled straight from a crime novel. A wealthy man named Gaston Leroux was found murdered in his home in Paris, and the police could think of no motive – until they found a 2-cent blue Hawaiian Missionary missing from his collection. The police contacted every stamp shop, but no luck; they then contacted Leroux’s friends and found that one, Hector Giroux, was a stamp collector who happened to own a collection of Hawaiian stamps, including the 2-cent blue. Giroux confessed to offering the buy the stamp from Leroux, and when he was refused, killed Leroux in a fit of rage. Giroux was hanged for the crime — a crime committed all for a single stamp.