More Memories by Robson Lowe
One of the stories reported was “He Loved his Stamps more than his Wife”. Mr A. fell in love with Mrs B, the wife of a collector-dealer. Mr A. offered Mr B. £150 worth of stamps in exchange for Mrs B. The offer was accepted and an agreement drawn up. All the parties were then in prison in New York charged with conspiring to be immoral.
Alexander Sefi, the partner of Percy Pemberton, lost his eyesight through the study of minutiae on stamps. He was the master philatelic scientist and was elected to the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists. He died on 8 October 1934.
At this time I bought one of the last letters written by General Gordon before his death (I still have it). Written in Arabic to the Mudir of Dongola, it was dated 11 June 1884 being received on 23 August. The letter measures 2.5 x 2 inches, was folded and rolled into a cylinder, then inserted in the ear of Mahomed Ahomed. The only example of “Ear Post” that has come my way.
– A letter from Gordon
A letter signed “C. G. Gordon” written in Arabic by his clerk. The message reads:-
“Khartoum and Sinnar are well surrounded. The man carrying this message is Mohammed Ahmed. You have got the news. Show him all the ammunition available, and where and how many enemy soldiers are in Khartoum.
Eight thousand soldiers. The Nile is rising rapidly. When this messenger arrives give him two hundred Majedi Riyals.
C. G. Gordon.”
This may well have been Gordon’s last letter when Khartoum and Sinnar (a district south of Khartoum on the east bank of the Blue Nile), was surrounded by the Mahdi’s forces and Gordon was running short on ammunition. Majedi Riyals were local currency.
Gordon arrived in Khartoum on 18 February 1884. The city fell to the Mahdi on 26 January 1885 after a siege of 317 days. Gordon’s last letters to Cairo were written on 14 December.
There was an exhibition in Paris which I visited. Theodore Champion gave a reception to which I went. My host caused the British contingent to dissolve with giggles when he greeted me affectionately “My dear Robson, where have you been the last year. I owe you an apology, for the past six months I have been mixing you up with that damn fool Lowe”.
One of the tales published was about The First Pony Express in which I interviewed Henry Fry, the son of Jack Fry, a pony express rider who owned a gin shop called “A Hindoo’s Paradise”. I gave this as a twenty-minute talk on 2LO (pre B.B.C.) and had to imitate the accent of Henry, when he answered my questions.
The next edition of The Raconteur came out on Guy Fawkes Day. In this the high spot was my £100 challenge to E.J. Lee, who had made a wonderful collection of Uruguay and founded the famous firm of turf accountants, Joe Lee Ltd. Lee was upset because the judges at the Vienna Exhibition had given the Grand Prix to J.B. Seymour for his collection of Great Britain, Joe having to be content with second place.
My challenge was, should his collection of Uruguay be offered for unreserved sale at auction, it would not realize more than £45,000 gross. I stated that it was the finest collection of any South American country ever formed and that it would be almost impossible to improve its excellence.
However, there were more valuable collections – A.H. Caspary’s USA and Confederate States, Alfred Lichtenstein’s Canada, J.H. Curle’s Transvaal, K.B. Cama’s India and Jimmy Riesco’s Cape of Good Hope. The challenge was ignored.
A neighbour at Wimbledon, Allan Hopkins, had retired from business in January 1933 and he took up philately and postal history of the British West Indies, particularly Jamaica. His toast Good Hunting was appropriate, for I never met a man who became expert in so short a time. His philatelic life was a short and happy one, for he died on 29 September 1934.
On that day, Stamp Collecting held its twenty-first birthday banquet which was a great success, although a few of the guests got food poisoning, and one, Alfred Whitlard, died.
Dr Ernest Solly of Harrogate told me a story about a man and his wife who had a celebration dinner. When the bill came, the husband recoiled. “But we did not have dogs-body in aspic”. “It was there sir, and you could have done “. The diner took the bill and deducted £2 “for kissing my wife”. “But sir! sir! I did not!”. “No, but she was there and you could have”.
During 1934 I bought the Colonel Arthur Bates collection of Great Britain 1839 Treasury Competition essays and his line-engraved. I examined the collection at a table in a bedroom while the Colonel blasted away with his gun at the squirrels that annoyed him. It was a wonderful collection.
The last issue of The Raconteur in 1934 was published on Christmas Eve.
The only Christmas that I was not at home, I was in a wayside establishment in Belgium. The host with his women went out to debauch in a local farmer’s house, locking the cellar door before he went. The previous day I had purchased a large collection and accumulation of stamps so I undid the trunk and started to examine my purchase. Home, family and friends were forgotten as I played with my treasures. It was 1 p.m. when my host returned “Monsieur has not been disturbed?” I told him that I had never had more charming company, and he fumbled to unlock the cellar door, to discover if he had been robbed.
At this time, I was giving societies a show called Westward Ho! based on the novel by Charles Kingsley. There were early covers from the places visited by Amyas Leigh and his crew. I purchased a letter from Francis Frobisher dated 1585; he was the cousin of Martin.
It was an important year to me as I had the collection of Greece classics formed by Colonel G.S.F. Napier as well as his collection of Labuan and North Borneo. His son became a good friend, and I still see his daughter, Sylvia, on her rare visits to London.
Samuel Graveson, another friend to whom I had introduced the charms of postal history, wrote an article “When Letters came by Coach” quoting an advertisement “A Coach and Six sets out as usual from Mr Routh’s with presents, etc., on Wednesday evening, the 22nd of this instant December, to be at the Green Dragon in Bishopsgate Street in London on Christmas Eve, where care is taken that every one shall have the proper present as directed”.
On one of my journeys North, I passed the Ram Jam Inn, and drove down the dip. Another car drove over a fallen branch of a tree and drove it through my offside front wheel. The car crashed into the kerb, slid into the ditch and turned over into the hedge. Out I clambered with my case and collection. Back to the Ram Jam, I hired an old Beverly to drive to Grantham and catch the 10.57 North. Arriving at Newcastle at 3 a.m. I have a busy day until 5 p.m. when I catch the Pullman to Edinburgh. Next day I meet Jimmy Dryden and Andre Brown and buy from the latter a mint sheet of Norway 1856 24sk. At 2 p.m. I catch the Aberdeen express where Dr Imper and his seven year old daughter, Clair, meet me. Clair collected Belgium and Italy. After my display, I spent the rest of the evening with Edmund Bell and James Anderson who parted from me around midnight with the charming “Hist ye back”.
On to Dumfries, where old Drummond died a week ago. He left 110 volumes of stamps which I pack into a hired car for Carlisle where I meet Commander MacCullagh “with foot on brass rail” and have a happy maritime lunch.
The first issue of the magazine in 1935 was published on St Valentine’s Day. Appropriately, we printed a philatelic Valentine.
“Snowy ruffle, satin breechs
A Valentine! The question which is
Going to be the lucky maid
For this risky escapade
Tiny waist, big crinoline
Who of all her beaux and lovers
Will send the sought for stampless cover?”
For some years I have collected Valentines and in 1937 gave a show of them at the Algonquin Club in New York. Dorothy Parker was in the chair and, at dinner later, she wrote on the back of my menu:
“Poets used to sing of passion,
Cynicism is now the fashion
Sentiment, its out of style
True Love, my dear, how juvenile
And that’s the reason, lover mine
I did not send a Valentine.
No use inviting ridicule
But won’t you be my April Fool?”
Attending an auction, I saw a dealer-buyer tear up a B.P.A. Certificate which came with a lot he bought. I asked him why, and he pointed out that when he sold stamps he did not wish to advertise other professionals. I tried to elect in my own mind a professional expert committee and chose Tommy Allen, Harry Harmer, W. Houtzamer, Charles Nissen, Percy Pemberton, Dickie Roberts and F.B. Smith. These seven characters held between them an expertise which was unbeatable.
I went to New York in Spring and bought two of the collections formed by the late Senator Ackerman, “Specimen” and Robert Levy bought the Japan. Also I acquired a grand lot of U.S.A. essays and proofs which pleased me with their beauty as much as those who bought them.
Then came the All Fools Day issue of The Raconteur. We noted that two firms advertised as “The World’s Leading Stamp Auctioneers” and we cited Sydney Homsy as “London’s Largest Stamp Dealer” as he was eighteen stone eleven pounds in his socks.
I wrote and published in 1935 the first one volume edition of the Regent Encyclopaedia of Empire Postage Stamps at 12s.6d. plus 9d. postage. How times have changed.
World philatelic news included the Tuscon Stamp Club in Arizona going on the air every Thursday at 7 p.m. The Anglo-Canadian philatelist, Dr A.E. Whitehead conducted a choir of 2,000 at the Forum, Montreal.
Other well known collections sold at 96 Regent Street included Reg Poole’s U.S.A., a lovely lot which would fetch ten times as much today. On 26 February, I opened the Exhibition of Postage Stamps put on by the Swansea and West Wales Philatelic Society at the Royal Institution. Mrs Sybil Morgan was the President and being both a musician and a philatelist had designed a crest with a pair of stamp tweezers crossed with a tuning fork over “See Gloria Swansea”.
In May there was a party at the Albany with Harry Lindquist (the American publisher of Stamps) and his wife, Emil Breuchig, the King of American Airmails, Eugene Klein of Philadelphia and his wife and daughters, Dr Harvey Pirie from Johannesburg and R.H. Tucker of India. It was a memorable evening. Other visitors that month included T Charlton Henry of Philadelphia, whose collection of West Indies was probably the finest in the world, A.E. Smythies and L.E. Dawson, the Indian specialists from Ireland.
In the same month, we registered a new company, the Regent Stamp Company, which was to take on the publishing activities of the parent company.
The Royal Philatelic Society put on a wonderful show during Jubilee week with a splendid show of British Empire Classics, and on the Sunday morning, His Majesty spent several hours examining the treasures that the fellows and members had put together as a tribute to the Monarch who had such a keen interest in this hobby.
The Philatelic Congress of Great Britain was held in Bath from 18-21 June. Papers were read by Leslie Ray, Fred Melville, Eric Hunt and Percy Seiffert. On the afternoon of the 21st, the playwright, R.C. Sheriff, unveiled a Memorial Tablet to Henry Stafford Smith, the Bath and Brighton dealer who started The Philatelist.
At the ceremony was an old lady in a wheelchair, who turned out to be Henry Stafford Smith’s widow. From her, I acquired the right to the title of The Philatelist with The Raconteur.
In the new volume which started in October, John Drinkwater wrote “The Why and Wherefore of Stamp Collecting”. He wrote “I have no respect for a collector because he owns three stamps each of which can be matched only by two other known copies in the world, but I have a great deal for the collector who can show me an album, in which, by his own knowledge and curiosity, he has illustrated some branch of the postal enterprise that is so vital a feature of our civilization”.
In the same issue, Samuel Graveson wrote on “British Mails in Madagascar” and I described the forged cancellations on the Silver Jubilee issues of Barbados, Falkland Islands, Gambia, Jamaica and Turks Islands. Samuel Chapman wrote “The Value of Expert Opinions and Certificates” and Roy Harker started his first chapter on “The History of British Mails”.
The November issue had an article by Sir Samuel Instone on Empire Air Mails, I wrote A British Expedition to Abyssinia under Sir Robert Napier, 1868. The December issue had a hilarious philatelic play by Bobby Howes, “Christmas Mails 100 Years Ago”, by Nevile Stocken, “Riding Post Haste” by Samuel Graveson, and “Mottoes on Stamps” by L.N. & M Williams.
And that brought 1935 to a close.