Stamps never came under the purview of the Antiques Act, but off late authorities have begun to forbid one from taking a stamp collection abroad. "This prevents a person from carrying his collection out of the country, whether for sale or any other reason," says Abdul Hai of Lucknow, whose stamp collection won him the Vermeil award in London 2010, the decennial international philately event held in the British capital from May 8 to 13. He received a gold medal from the Governor during the UPHILEX show in 2007 and in INPEX conducted by the Philately Congress of India in 2008 in Chennai he brought home the Large Vermeil award. It was a lengthy process through which he could reach his collection to UK and get it back.
"There is nothing unique about stamps...the same stamp could be with a number of persons, so it doesn't even fit the antique bill," he says.
"The criteria in the international shows include, besides the age and value of the stamp, how you have presented your collection. You have to arrange them in a sequence that is termed an 'essay' and if you have interspersed them with references, proofs, etc, it earns you more points," says the collector.
His treasure comprises rare ones bearing images of Queen Victoria and King Edward, dating as far back as 1845, and some of the first Indian postage stamps priced between half-anna and Rs 25.
Known once as the hobby of kings and king of hobbies, stamp collection is hit badly by the onslaught of mobile communication and Internet.
"You hardly receive any post, or even greeting cards now, so children today don't know the thrill of receiving a mail and peeling a stamp off the envelope for their collection," he says.
"In 1966, my father's friend from Meerut, Hafiz Nizamuddin, got me interested when I saw his collection. One Mr Tandon who was an Allahabad Bank employee, used to put up a counter of stamps in the evening at Mr Godin's piano shop in Hazratganj. After I had spent a princely sum of Rs 25 on buying stamps from him, he sensed my enthusiasm and initiated me into the finer points. By 1970, I was seriously into the hobby and like a true-blue philatelist restricted myself to collecting stamps of only 3 countries, instead of from all over the world." The number of stamps issued by independent India and Pakistan was still not very high. He focused on collecting stamps of only India, Pakistan and United Kingdom.
"Unlike what most people feel, a postage ticket which is not stamped by the postal department has more value, for it can be used as long as it is not recalled and its printing is stopped. Similarly, stamps of which only a limited edition is issued, are more valuable than the staple ones.
Upcoming philatelist events are Ahimpex2010 at General Post Office, Lucknow on October 2 and 3 and an international event to be held at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, in February, next year, in which he hopes to exhibit his collection.