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Nov 22, 2009

Stamps of Merit

Photo Credit: Kevin Lim, Singapore Philatelic Museum.
(The Sunday Times, Nov 22, 2009)

Its been over a week since I last blogged about the "Do away with postage stamps" letter by Dr Lim Chong Teck to the Straits Times Forum Page on Nov 10.

Apparently the topic is still hot; as it was featured in the "hot" section of today's Sunday Times. Nicholas Yong of The Sunday Times wrote: "Young stamp collectors may be a rare breed, but the old-fashioned hobby is still thriving".


Undergraduates Sin Tong, 23, Sin Yong, 21, and Sin Yuan, 18, share an old-fashioned hobby passed down by their parents - stamp collecting. While the brothers have garnered trophies for their collections, they are a rare breed among their peers who are more used to e-mail than snail mail.

The appeal of stamp collecting to modern youths is perhaps best summed up by Sin Yong: "When I tell my peers that I collect stamps, they go 'huh?"

Retiree James Song, 59, a member of the Association of Singapore Philatelists, lamented: "When I ask kids, why don't you collect stamps, most will say, so boring."

His own son, who is in his 30s, has no interest in them, he added.

A debate on the culural and historical value of stamps was sparked by a recent letter to The Straits Times' Forum by Dr Lim Chong Teck, who proposed that postage stamps be phased out as a safeguard against counterfeit stamps and to keep postage rates low.

The letter prompted others to write in to praise the merits of stamp collecting. One of them, Professor Tommy Koh, chairman of the National Heritage Board, wrote that as a youth, it "opened my mind to history, historical personalisties, arts, culture and the wonders of the natural world".

The main stamp collectors' associations here include the Kreta Ayer Stamp Society, Zui You Philatelic Society and the Singapore Philatelic Society.

Kreta Ayer Stamp Society has about 500 registered members, of whom only about 50 are active. Their average age is 45. Vice-President Connie Tai said: "It is very hard to recruit younger members."

The stamp-collecting scene here consists mainly of casual collectors. About 15,000 people have a Standing Order Deposit Account with SingPost. This is a special service provided by the Singapore Philatelic Bureau to allow stamp collectors to obtain new stamp issues and stamped stationery through home delivery.

The Singapore Philatelic Museum (SPM) received about 100,000 visitors last year. General Manager Tresnawati Prihadi said: "We often see parents with their children on weekends, buying stamps. Many also come to our open houses."

One relatively young collector is Mr Charles Loong, 34, a credit manager in a securities firm who started collecting when he was in primary school. While he is an active member of the Singapore Stamp Club, he noted that "it is very hard to find fellow collectors around my age". The active members are mostly in their 40s and 50s.

Nevertheless, he thinks the pastime should be passed on to the next generation.

"It takes a great deal of patience, and is a good way to teach children geography and history."

The most he has paid for a single item is $20,000 for a three-cent revenue stamp issued by the Qing dynasty in 1847.

Other collectors such as contractor David Chang, 51, are doing their best to ensure that their children also take up the pastime. Mr Chang spends many hours with his son Johnson, 11, poring over stamps. He has spent about $60,000 on his collection in the last few years and is encouraging his younger son to collect them.

Johnson, who is the youngest member of Kreta Ayer Stamp Society,said: "Stamp collecting is fun. They hyave very nice pictures and I can also improve my knowledge."

The mother of the three undergraduates, Madam Au Yong Keok, 50, who works in the infocomm sector, said she and her engineer husband Sin Sia Bah, 55, taught their sons to collect stamps.

She said: "Stamp collecting helps them in their studies. They learn to be meticulous and it teaches them discipline and how to organise their work."

Sin Yong estimated that their collections combined are worth "a few thousand" dollars. As budding amateur magicians, they have even incorporated stamp tricks into their performances.

The Singapore Philatelic Museum houses the largest collection here, boasting stamps, philatelic materials and postal history artefacts from here and around the world.

Senior curator Lucille Yap estimated that there are about 100 serious collectors here who take part in competitions and exhibitions. She added that there are also many "closet collectors" who prefer to maintain their privacy.

One of the most well known collecors is founder and senior consultant at DP Architects Koh Seow Chuan, who has won prizes at philatelic exhibitions. "Stamps can be the doorway to something much deeper - a new world of discovery and creative exploration," said Mr Koh, 69, who has been collecting for almost seven decades.

Others such as retiree Mr Song, who has brought his collection to exhibitions and competitions here and overseas, estimated that he has spent up to half a million dollars on his collection in the last 50 years. Mr Song, a former stamp dealer, houses his collection in a cupboard equippedwith a special humidity rod to dry the air.

Many declined to put a monetary value on their collections, insisting they were driven by passion. As Mr Song put it: "Once you collect something, you like to keep on collecting."

Even younger collectors such as Sin Yong understand the need to have it all: "Sometimes it gets expensive when you want to complete a collection. But at time, you are driven to do it. It may be just one or two pieces missing from a set, and it's a pity if you don't have it."


I believe this newspaper article will generate more positive interest in stamp collecting; and create an awareness among the uninitiated, to learn about this age-old hobby, amidst challenging competition from other hobbies youngsters find "cool" - such as collection of mobile phones, electronic gadgets and computer game titles.

Unfortunately, there was an over-emphasis on "commercialised" stamp collecting in the published article.

Stamp collecting as a hobby doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Children could get their parents to bring home the used stamps (which would otherwise be thrown away as rubbish) from their office, and then exchange duplicated stamps for different ones with their friends, both locally and overseas.

The school curriculum for primary school students could also include a "Learning through Stamps" programme to make their lessons more fun and interesting. The teachers would also have more innovative ways to tell stories through stamps.



Blogger jadelee said...

To me, stamps are like pieces of miniature 'art drawings'. Receiving a letter from overseas with its distinguished stamps is such a pleasure for many. Keeping the stamps feels like keeping a piece of souvenir from that particular country.
I know times are changing but certain things should remain 'unique' and be left untouched.

November 25, 2009 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger CONNIE TAI said...

Vice-president of Kreta Ayer Stamp Society

I started collecting stamps when I was 12 years old. A good hobby pursued correctly, will never disappoint.

Stamp collecting for kids is a great hobby because it doesn't
cost a lot of money to get started. You can learn the history, keep them busy, value and how to take care of their things.

Recently I received the Bronze Award of my participation in Singapore National Stamp Exhibition 2008 for the Exhibit of Overview of the British Postal System (1834-1899). My main specialize stamp series , is the Thematic Stamps of Children Series, which I have a vast collection.

I am strongly disagree about the
"Do Away with the postage stamps."

December 1, 2009 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Granola said...

My grandfather left me a shelf filled with albums. I am not sure what I can do with them. Any suggestions?

August 19, 2015 at 9:01 AM  

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