The Road to Gold


Alan Sabey

After a good many years searching for suitable material for my British Empire Exhibition 1924-25 collection at fairs and exhibitions, it was finally recognised and so were my efforts when I was awarded a gold medal in the traditional section of the International F. I. P. Exhibition ‘Belgica’ held in Brussels in June 2001.

As a good many of you will probably be aware, I began to get interested in the ‘Wembley Exhibition’ as it is more often known, when the Wembley Historical Society produced a couple of publications, one of text and the other comprising pictures taken from some of their postcards in their archives at the time of the 50th anniversary of the exhibition in 1974. This display was in Barham Park Library near Wembley. I knew of the stadium and remember going with my parents in 1951 to see Dick Whittington on ice in the Empire Pool. When I first saw those photographs taken around the exhibition I was really captured by the whole thing and wished that I could have been around to see it for myself. The 1951 Festival of Britain, which I did see with my parents, was nothing in comparison.

I soon found out that Bill Stitt-Dibden, who at one time lived in Wembley before moving to Leicestershire where he died in the 1960’s, had carried out some work into the philately of the exhibition. His books had gone into the subject a certain amount, but I felt in my bones that there was a lot more which had not been discovered. I began asking dealers what they had got, and frequently the answer was ‘just the two stamps’. I found there was a set of four items of special exhibition postal stationary issued in 1924 and in 1925. Like the stamps, the year on the postal stationary had been altered for the second year. It was only recently that I discovered that the visitor in 1925 had to specifically ask for the 1925 issue otherwise he was sold the previous year’s. I think that this accounts for the scarcity of the 1925 issues of both stamps and the postal stationary, particularly the Three Half pence Post Card correctly used. It was intended for visitors from abroad to be able to send messages home. The sales figures for this item are extremely low and the numbers correctly used are even lower!

Because of my eagerness to find items for my collection, I was soon referred to among the stamp trade as "Mr Wembley". This name has stuck and I now use something similar as my E-mail address. Dealers will note that if one is seriously interested in a subject or stamp issue, the collector will find that items come his or her way. Personally I have found that the trade are keen to help one build a collection, probably because they realise they have a new client! To be fair, they get some satisfaction from knowing that they sold the collector a certain item or collection, which has helped in the building of the collection. I have been fortunate in purchasing, some years ago, a collection of proofs and cuttings from the Post Office Circular, a staff production, which announced the opening of the exhibition in April 1924 and through to the closure to the public in October 1925, and the eventual final closure to exhibitors and staff employed on the site in December 1925. I recently purchased a very last day cover from a well known auction house, which with these cuttings concludes the display nicely. The Judges look for these additional items as being part of the story and will award the exhibitor extra marks for these appropriate yet unusual, if not, scarce items.

The secret of success is to look out for the unusual and rare items. Yes they do turn up occasionally. I was fortunate in being able to purchase items from a famous collector. I was in the right place at the right time, in reality and financially. I have often found that if one dithers as to whether to buy an item or not, and lets it go, the collector is unlikely to get the chance again. Within reason, it is always best to purchase an item when you see it, especially if it will enhance your collection.

Preparation and thought must be taken when putting an entry together as a certain number of marks are awarded for this. Before I complete and return the application form to enter, I write out a sheet or sheets of paper with lines from 1-80 or 128, depending on the number of frames being requested. I then mark these off at every 16 (the composition of the display frame four rows of four sheets) and write down exactly what I intend to show on every sheet. This way I can work out whether my entry will look balanced and more importantly, whether I have sufficient material for all the pages. Nothing looks more obvious than a ‘padded out’ entry and the judges will spot it. I got asked once why I had put a lot of perfins in. My answer was that each of the companies who security perforated the stamps were actually stand holders at the exhibition. Once you have mounted up the items for your frame, you will need to decide which pages are philatelically important and place them in the centre block of four sheets in the centre of the frame as this is the point to which the eye naturally goes. Many people think that everything must be in strict order. It does not have to be, as long as you get the important items in the centre and that if you have say two covers on a page at one end of a row, the same should apply at the other end of that row. Always place your ‘heaviest’ looking items, large blocks or large covers, on the bottom row of the frame so that your display ‘sits’ comfortably on it.

The ‘writing up’ is best done on a computer and the judges will always award higher marks if this is the case. In fact, I believe that computer writing up is preferred even to very neat writing or print. It is so easy these days being able to set up the size of the page manually and thus centering will come easily. One point that should be noted and you will lose marks if you do this , is that entries must not be written up on A4 sheets. Not only does it look out of place but also they stick out like a sore thumb when placed along side entries on proper album size pages. I now use plain ivory tinted sheets obtained from the local stationers. The grill on album pages is unnecessary when using a computer whose printer will print in straight line anyway. It is not difficult to mount stamps or covers neatly and squarely in place. Some computer programs will allow for a box to be printed on the sheet where the item is to go. Some collectors use this method and others, like me, prefer to back all their items with coloured card. When using this method, and there is no hard and fast rule either way, but the border around the item should be minimal, otherwise, if you still use black, it will look as if the item is in mourning! Personally I have found a stock of grey card which is permanently available at an art shop, and I think it complements the colours of the stamps, in my case just two colours. If you are going to use a coloured card to back your items, take one or two different ones to the art shop or stationers and judge how your item will look against this colour. You should also be quite sure that the coloured card will continue to be available as your collection grows over the years! I recently saw an entry where the main items were backed in one colour and what the collector considered rare were backed in red. I consider this to be tacky and feel that all items whether rare or common should be displayed in a similar way. If you wish to draw the attention of the judges to something rare, say so in your write up. However beware of using phrases such as "the only one known". Someone is sure to come up with another, and will delight in telling you so! Try using "one of only two seen" or similar wording. If you know the numbers sold for a particular item, show it in the writing up and the judges will take this into account when assessing your philatelic knowledge marks. Try and include the unusual facts, the ones that others might not think of, and it could be to your advantage. I have done this and was given the ‘Felicitations of the Judges’ for my research for the ‘Belgica’ entry.

© Exhibition Study Group 2001