What can a stamp costing two-and-a-half tangas (former Indian currency) from 1955 tell us about Mumbai? According to numismatist and philatelist Pascal Lopes, it bears a map of the city, for starters. Printed in the times of Portuguese Estado da India, the stamp was in honour of the islands that Portugal had gifted as dowry to the British in 1661 — the very islands that would become a modern metropolis some 300 years later.
Lopes, 42, is set to speak on the history of Mumbai, as seen solely through stamps, at a virtual lecture being hosted by the Asiatic Society of Mumbai on October 31.
From his collection of nearly 1,000 stamps, Lopes has picked a 100 that cover Mumbai’s architectural heritage, political and cultural luminaries and modes of transportation. “I will be covering the shift from Bombay to Mumbai in my lecture,” said Lopes, who is based out of Vasai.
In recent years, scholars and historians have studied Mumbai through various lenses, such as its maritime history or its Railways, but this is arguably the first time that stamps will be used to trace the city’s development.
The earliest stamp that Lopes will use in his lecture is from 1935, which was printed under the British rule. The half-anna stamp features the Gateway of India and the visage of King George V as part of the staggering number of commemorative items that were produced to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of his accession.
All stamps to be included in the talk were printed in India. Before the country gained independence, Indian stamps had British monarchs and monuments. However, the focus shifted to a celebration of aspects that were seen as “Indian” post-independence, often with Mahatma Gandhi replacing the British royals. “They were able to use technology creatively, making stamps more attractive,” Lopes added.
The talk also includes a postal cover that bears art by a Warli artist from Palghar, Sanjay Parhad, which is India Post’s way of honouring the country’s cultural legacy, Lopes said.
The philatelist hopes that this lecture will encourage people to develop their personal stamp collections into thematic ones. Lopes, for instance, has a special interest in stamps pertaining to Mumbai and Vasai’s histories.
The talk will conclude with fairly recent stamps that are dedicated to the Indian Railways. Lopes plans to include a postal cancellation, one of the more coveted items in philately, which tells the story of a bell that was moved from Vasai Fort to a temple in Nashik. The talk will also feature a stamp dedicated to the magnificent General Post Office in Mumbai.
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