Some Experiences of a Lady Collector

I was certainly not more than seven years of age when I began to take an active interest in the collection of postage stamps. I was an only daughter, and had eleven brothers nearly all of whom were older than myself, as my name Decima will show. My second brother, Charles, was a very great collector of everything, and his room was always to me a source of infinite wonder and delight. There were collections of walking sticks in a stand especially made for their display; of riding and driving whips (though he rarely rode); of musical instruments of all kinds, from penny wooden trumpets and Jews harps, to enormous drums that made the hours of eventide anything but hours of peace. There were of course collections of books and pictures, theatrical programmes, and numerous other articles that seem now to have escaped my memory. But the collection with which I had greatest sympathy, was the Stamp collection.

I can see it now – in fact, the book (minus most of the stamps) is in the cupboard of my bookcase at the present moment. It is an oblong “Lallier,” bound in green cloth, and when about the year 1866 my brother sold the greater part of its contents at a huge profit, and presented me with the book, I was indeed a proud little maiden. I must say here that the book was given to me with the strict injunctions that I was never to part with it! This instruction was regarded by me as most solemn and binding, and though sorely pressed during ten years of school life, I clung to that book through thick and thin, though many were the offers made to me for it. Butter Scotch, Fondants, Cocoanut Rock, etc., were all tried in vain!

In those days we used to dine at 5, and have tea at 8; a regular substantial “sit-round-the-table” tea, but immediately tea was over, the saucers were requisitioned to soak the paper off the backs of the stamps for my brother’s collection. Sheets of blotting paper were laid about and I always believe that it was my enthusiasm and delight in this rather messy operation that gained me the present of the old Lallier.

My dear father and mother took very little interest in all this; and unless the stamps were brand new, my mother wouldn’t glance at them; whereas I was early taught to look on a very dirty and burnt Swiss stamp as a marvel of beauty; but at any rate, our parents regarded our pastime as a harmless mania, not likely to produce any ill results, but which in fact might be beneficial in diverting our pocket money from the confectioners to a less injurious mart.

Well, my brother’s stamps disposed of chiefly to enthusiastic local collectors (I believe he gained something like 35 pounds on his sales), I set to work to ‘fill the book.’ At that age I need scarcely say that was my one idea – I do not like European stamps, but I will acknowledge that I have always looked kindly on ‘Belgians,’ as that was the first page that was accurately and honestly filled.

I can remember a few rather trying circumstances connected with my life as a collector. When I was about eleven years of age, a boy, one of my brother’s schoolfellows, took a great interest in my collection, so great, that he insisted on giving me his! It was contained in two copy books, and in it there were some very rare stamps – old Spanish and Portuguese especially – but one of my brothers (not the collector), thought he would like some of them, and so in return for introducing this boy to me, it was arranged between them that he should have alternate choice; the result may be guessed. He was sixteen, I was eleven, he was my pet brother, and of course he took all he wanted, for I had scarcely arrived at years of discretion in the matter.

Time went by, and I never lost my love for stamps, and laid by or put in my book every interesting one I came across.

I married very soon after, I was seventeen in fact, and had the misfortune to lose my first two children. Then while a comparative invalid, unequal to working, reading or music, my husband induced me to look up my “stamp collection,” and procured a large album for me.

This album gave me great pleasure and absorbing occupation, so that I could for a while often forget my troubles. I went to Somerset House, and got a complete set of envelope stamps stamped for me to fill up the large spaces assigned to them, as I was very anxious to have Great Britain complete; and I was successful except for the V.R., and I try to console myself that that was not a regular postage stamp. I daresay it was, but I like to think it wasn’t.

I must pause here to say that if anyone can take a real interest in stamp collecting, there is nothing to beat it for enabling you to forget troubles, pains, aches and losses. Whenever I feel ill or depressed, I get out my boxes of stamps and can while looking over and arranging them, forget all disagreeables, and as each stamp passes through my fingers, thoughts about the country it came from, its perforation, watermarks, etc., so fill my mind, that there is no room left for fretting, the eye and the mind are fully engaged!

I had a present soon after this of another copy book collection, containing some very good stamps. Then a postman, who was engaged to my nursemaid, offered me his collection and duplicates for 1 pound. I took it, but there was no great value in it, and a woeful number of forgeries. A further present of a collection in a Lallier album in 1887 completed this epoch. After this, owing to having to travel abroad a great deal, and to a very busy life, the collection was somewhat neglected, till in 1890 my attention was called to some postal stamp sales being held, and in an evil moment that I have regretted ever since, I placed my book and some of my loose stamps in the hands of an auctioneer, and some of the unsold latter I have never seen or heard of since.