Like many children in the 1960s, I collected stamps. It was a relatively cheap hobby and there was always the possibility that one day your collection could be a treasure trove of rare gems. I still have my album and it is filled with Hungarian stamps (Magyar Posta) commemorating the 1960 Olympic games in Rome, butterflies, and Jurij Gagarin’s space flight; Polish stamps (Polska) commemorating the 1964 Tokyo games, the Grenoble winter games of 1968, and gliders; and Czechoslovakian stamps (Československo) commemorating Gagarin, flowers and birds. I guess I bought the stamps as pick-and-mix bags from the local newsagent. I can’t imagine that the good people of the village where I lived were in regular correspondence with their comrades behind the iron curtain and were passing their exotic stamps on to me.
During my brief term as a miniature philatelist there was one suite of stamps I particularly liked. This was the British Post Office’s 1971 collection of ‘Modern University Buildings’, featuring buildings from the universities of Southampton, Essex, Leicester and Aberystwyth. To my mind they have the same register and tone as the stamps from Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia – they welcome the future with open arms. And, little known to me at the time, it was my future they were welcoming: I spent too many chaotic nights as a teenager in the student union at Essex University ‘partying’ to Iggy Pop, Roy Harper, the Psychedelic Furs (and so on) – not as a university student (I was at the local FE College).
There is something perfect about a stamp: it is a form of money, yet it has only one particular task to perform – the task of transport. For a while the post office used to sell large-scale versions of their stamps as postcards. The postcards even had crinkle cut edges like the real thing. I wished that these postcards didn’t also require an additional stamp for postage, but they did. It never seemed to be possible that you could send the stamp postcard with an identical postage stamp on the back.