Stamped for life

His small bedroom at his ancestral house in Paharganj,just across the New Delhi railway station,is a virtual treasure-house for any philatelist.

Written by Alokparna Das | Published:June 13, 2010 3:12 am

What began as a hobby is now a full time vocation for Chandra Bhan Gupta,who has an enviable collection of stamps,first day covers and postal stationery

His small bedroom at his ancestral house in Paharganj,just across the New Delhi railway station,is a virtual treasure-house for any philatelist. From more than five-decade-old first day covers to stamps and miniature sheets from across the world to postal stationery — the collection of over 50,000 items can be an envy of many a collector. For Chandra Bhan Gupta,it’s a life-long passion.

His most cherished possession is his album of princely states stamps — rare and priceless. His collection also boasts of Meghdoot postcards,mint stamps,stamps with errors,postal souvenirs,commemorative brochures and books on philately.

“I began collecting stamps as a kid,making rounds of the the local kabadiwalla every day and hunting for postcards,envelopes and stamps in the scrap that he collected,” he says. Even though his stamp album got stolen,a young Gupta did not give up his hobby. “Over the years,collecting stamps became an obsession. I would travel long distances and even approach strangers for a particular stamp,” he says. After having retired from the Punjab National Bank in 2000,Gupta turned his hobby into a full-time vocation. Now,both amateur collectors and professional dealers come to his house on Basant Road and he is at the Mavalankar Hall canteen every second Saturday,keenly observing the philately bids.

“Philately opens the whole entire world before you. Each stamp,each postcard tells a story. In the West,it’s an investment and though in India,philately is yet to be considered as a serious investment,there are several collectors,particularly in Kolkata,who are approached by people from across the world,” says Gupta.

“It’s not only the older items that have a value. If the stamp or the first day cover is unavailable in the market,often an astronomical amount is paid to get it. Take the case of the Guru Granth Sahib stamp issued a couple of years ago. It was withdrawn following protests from the Sikh community. The 10-rupee Guru Granth Sahib stamp will now fetch a whopping amount in the international market. It’s a speculative market; there are stamps that are sought after even within a month of issue and there are ones that take 10 years to command a good price. The value of a stamp is gauged by its availability or rather its rarity,quality and printing quantity,” he says.

That explains why Gupta considers his princely stamp album a precious possession. “It’s my way of preserving history. Besides,one can make a complete collection of post-Independence stamps and postal stationery — with some effort and money. But in the case of the pre-Independence era,it’s impossible to have a complete collection,” he says.

He has segregated the princely states into two categories: Convention States,who had postal agreement with the Post Office of India,and Feudatory States,who maintained their own postal services. “Chamba,Faridkot,Gwalior,Patiala,Jaipur,Alwar,Bundi,Orchcha — I have stamps from more than 30 states,” he says.

With the Commonwealth Games nearing,these days people come to Gupta asking for stamps issued during the 1982 Asiad Games and sports-theme postages. “Bollywood is a popular theme,with stamps on Guru Dutt in great demand. Similarly,postage regarding the first war of Independence and Gandhiji as depicted in foreign stamps are also very popular,” he adds.

“I wish they introduce philately as a vocational subject in school,” says Gupta as he gets ready to leave for Dak Bhavan. A dealer has promised to meet his there and show him something rare. Gupta has exhibited in schools in an attempt to inculcate the hobby among children. “We used to read comics,collect stamps and coins. Today,children would rather watch toon channels. Letter writing is dead,it’s only email and sms. Still,I am sure this hobby is never going to die.”

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