In our module of Arts Appreciation at the Young India Fellowship, we were to carry out research (in groups of 6) on a particular form of art, or artist. Our group chose “Postage Stamps” as our area of research and decided to focus not just on the utilitarian aspect but also the aesthetics and process of making a Stamp.
During research I came across an article in Business Standard (http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/the-ticket-collector/445757/) which spoke of the “Indian Stamp Company”, a shop owned by Mr. Rakesh Kumar Gupta, stamp-collector and owner of some of the rarest and oldest stamps. Confirming the address from good ol’ Justdial, I was simply ecstatic! I had not even heard of this shop in my own home town, I immediately decided to visit the shop and meet Mr. Rakesh. It was indeed a memorable visit.
There is this certain feeling of being a tourist in my own land, which often hits me in times like these. Overwhelmed with the idea of having such a shop in a place that was Home for 24 years, I impatiently searched for “Indian Stamp Company” at Chippi Tank, Meerut. And there it was, a humble existence on Begum Bridge:
(it says from Age groups 7 to 77)
A well organized tiny space, maintained with utmost care and love.
Mr. Rakesh Gupta, the owner who has been collecting stamps since childhood, is a gem of a person, who was kind enough to share with me his knowledge as well as glimpses of his collection.
Some highlights from the interview (paraphrasing):
Q. Where do you procure your stamps from?
A. From Post-Office, Importers and Old Collectors who sell their stamps.
Q. Where are Indian Stamps generally Printed?
A. The first press was Security Press at Nasik. The designing, printing and quantity of these stamps has always been regulated by the Government, like a currency. Even if the printing is done in Private Printing Press the same rules and regulations are applicable.
Q. What are the general materials in which Stamps are made?
A. Indian stamps are printed on paper, however there have been many innovations in stamps from other countries. Such as , Wooden and Three Dimensional Stamps from Finland, Gold Foil Embossed and Plastic Stamps from Bhutan. Following are some photographs of the variety, though their true glory is in the tangible form.
Some of these stamps:
This one is a CD stamp from Bhutan. Earlier they had also come up with Record Stamps!
A Blog post about the Bhutanese Record Stamps :http://creativeroots.org/2009/08/1973-record-stamps-of-bhutan/
3D Stamps from Bhutan.
This one was an absolute delight. This a plastic-moulded stamp from Bhutan. These came out in 1972, known as the Famous Men’s Series and covered 6 personalities including John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill.
These Bhutanese stamps were manufactured between 1966-1976 approximately. The CD Stamps came during 2010-2011.
Though he has a huge collection from all around the world, the focus on Bhutanese Stamps is also due to my own bias. The wide variety can be seen in the “Exotica” section of his website. Also according to Mr. Rakesh, Stamps from African countries such as Sierra Leone are also very interesting to look at.
Q. The Indian Stamps that I saw were rectangular only. However there are many stamps from other countries that were in different shapes. Is the reason ease of printing?
A. Yes, it must be printing.
He immediately asked one of his two employees to take out a box and displayed the following:
Notice: The ones from New Zealand are “Self-Adhesive” stamps that are in the shape of the mugs.
This one too comes off in the shape of the image.
Mr. Rakesh also made me look and smell “Scented Stamps”.
You can look at more odd shaped stamps here: (http://www.stampboards.com/viewtopic.php?t=19158)
Q. I saw that stamps come in a sheet and at times they are part of a narrative.
A. Yes, they are called “Souvenir Sheets” :
A “Sheetlet” is the sheet with stamps having same design and a “Miniature Sheet” has 4 different stamps with border:
Q. So what is the price range of the Stamps you collect and sell?
A. It varies from stamp to stamp. I sell them on Market price. From minimum Rs. 10 it can go up to Rs. 1000.
Q. What is your opinion on the spread of this hobby and demand?
A. Though it is present in different parts of India, it has always been maximum in South India.
Q. Stamps are like visual fragments from different contexts, what is your opinion on the content in Indian stamps?
A. The maximum of these are based on Political Leaders, Freedom Fighters, Heritage, Flora and Fauna.
Q. Are contemporary images covered? Such as Metro?
A. No, Railways is there, Aircraft has started coming since last year, but not yet Metro.
Q. How did you gain so much knowledge about Stamps? Are there any books or courses on the same?
A. I was interested since childhood. No there are no courses. There are volumes published annually by Stanley Gibbons in England, which is the world’s oldest firm publishing manuals about Stamps.
It must have required immense passion as well as courage to take up an off beat profession as this. The shop which was established in 1980, and functions for the “sale and purchase” of Stamps has now also expanded to a website called http://www.stampexindia.com/ wherein collectors can place their orders online. The range of his vast collection can be viewed on this website. Being the only shop of this kind in Uttar Pradesh and among the rare ones dedicated solely to Philately, Mr. Rakesh has received customers from different parts of India. He says the work keeps him occupied enough to be wanting to expand anymore.
Q. Any plans for further expansion?
A. No, though demand in Meerut has reduced, It is because of networks outside Meerut that we function more.
Mr. Rakesh also told me about Dr. S.P. Gupta from Meerut who is among India’s most avid stamp collectors!
This visit was heart warming and very informative.
As I was about to leave, I recalled my brother’s childhood collection and procured from him the following sheet of 3D Stamps (Finland). They are brilliant!
ALong with these I got the Tutankhamun and Kennedy’s Plastic Mould Stamps as well, perhaps more to initiate my own journey into Philately than anything else.
Mr. Rakesh, an extremely humble and gentle person, had been kind enough to give me his time and offered to share more on future visits (which are sure to happen). As if I wasn’t already indebted, with an innocent smile he added into my envelope a sweet gift. Two Korean 3D Stamps…
p.s. Mr. Rakesh also shared that during the Second World War due to shortage of paper, there were stamps out of Bank Notes, Maps etc.