Father collected stamps.
He put them in a leather valise,
and that was his album. He kept his entire collection in there, stamps still stuck to shreds of envelope paper, used stamps with glueless backs, waiting to be assigned to country pages in an album that he never bought, clusters of mint stamps still clinging to neighbours by their perforated edges, and commemorative envelopes, Queen Elizabeth's coronation, Merdeka day, and some other dates that I don't now remember.
He wasn't a serious collector like his neighbour Wang Nawang, who lived three houses away from us, in the same row that looked into the market, but further down to the shore. Wang Nawang stuck his stamps with hinges, in pages of an album that probably bore the Stanley Gibbons insignia. We often saw him sit by his window, looking into his stamp collection, in a cloak of sweet smoke emanating from his pipe tobacco. There he sat, pondering over Monaco triangles, and Ifni birds with smug and quizzical looks perched on long necks, and exotic goats and native people. Where in the world is Ifni now?
Looking into Father's bag of philately I found the name S.A.Latif,
stamped in blue ink on the back of an envelope that came from Durban, Natal, in South Africa. Latif must have swapped many stamps with Father as he had many Suid-Afrika issues in his bag, but Father had postcards too from lands that stood beyond the further reaches of my imagination, and a medal issued during the coronation of Queen Elizabth II in 1953, and here and there were delightful snippets of life in San Marino and Nyasaland and Ruanda-Urundi, thumb-nailed into postage stamps that carried in them more than a faint glimmer of sunshine in a foreign country. Ruanda-Urundi, a land with people I imagined to be constantly dancing in unfettered joy, what calamity touched it much, much later.
But for all those sounds conjured in vivid mental pictures and the alliterative lure of foreign lands,Father's interest was basically local. His bag was filled with Federated Malay State issues, tigers confined in serrated edges, aroused from jungle slumber; FMS stamps with the BMA overprint, and Trengganu stamps with overprints of Japanese characters and the occupying power's own issues showing a farmer ploughing the Malayan land as rays of the Japanese sun shone behind his field.
When I too started to collect stamps, I wrote to S.A.Latif in Natal asking if he was ready for further swaps, but Father must have given more than he had pages in his album. “Please do not send me any more stamps as I have more than I need from Malaya,” he wrote back, but he also very kindly enclosed some South Africa stamps, and then I heard form him no more. My collection expanded very slowly with occasional replenishments from Father's promiscuous pile, but occasionally I bought stamps from a dealer named Lee Cheng Puan in Duku Road, Singapore. Lee sent us stamps in little booklets from which we picked and then we sent back the rest with cash for the purchase that amounted to no more than a few dollars.
Emboldened by that
I looked to further shores and found one as I was scouring through TitBits, a magazine that Father occasionally brought home from the Chee Seek store in Kampung China. There were snippets in there of human interest stories, laughter from my favourite cartoonist Clew, Charles Atlas in his leopard skin underwear urging you not to have sand kicked in your eyes by beach bullies. And then, in one corner, were the good people from the London company of Broadway Approvals.
Broadway said they sent stamps out on approval, so I wrote to them, and – to my surprise - they did: in a little booklet came Ifni and Monaco and San Marino and Helvetica and more places you could hurry to by turning the pages. They were all sent for your approval, for you to take your pick, and to send back whatever you didn't want to Broadway Approvals plus a postal order for your purchase. I took what I wanted and sold the rest to my classmates, and the whole collection, as I recall, cost $15.00 which was probably about £1 15s 3d in old money.
The world spun on a different axis in those days when trust was truly global. Which trader would think it wise now to send a collection of stamps halfway around the world to a child in primary school? I found a Broadway Approvals advertisement recently that was almost similar to the one I saw in TitBits and was touched by this tagline in their copy, “But please tell your parents you are answering this advertisement.”
Broadway Approvals, I have a confession to make after all these years: my parents didn't know.
*I have done further research into Broadway Approvals. They were in South London, at 50 Denmark Hill. In 1956 they brought the Micromodel Company, a company credited with the origination of cut-out models of historic buildings and castles. The man behind Broadway Approvals was George Santo. Thank you Mr Santo!
Labels: BMA, Broadway Approvals, George Santo, S.A.Latif, stamps, Stanley Gibbons, Wang Nawang