China Syndrome?

China is very much in the News today. Trade talks with United States. Trade talks with European Union. Trade talks with Britain. The protests in Hong Kong. The treatment of Muslim minorities imprisoned in camps.

How to deal with a major power is always a problem. More so when it does not share our values. The strange relationship between free press and controlled press manifests itself in an Internet where American firms censor social media at the behest of the Chinese government.

In the last week, we have seen an American basketball player tweet support for Hong Kong protestors and the (American) National Basketball Association apologise to China and issue ambiguous statements trying to walk a line between Freedom of Speech and Chinese “sensitivities”.


There is a very simple answer. Money.

Take the covers below which went on sale in the Irish Post Office earlier this month.


The covers celebrate forty years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Peoples Republic of China. Date-stamped 22nd June 2019. Were they actually stamped in two different continents on the same day? Probably not.

Democratic countries have to make compromises when they deal with totalitarian regimes.

But…should we celebrate it?


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My First PostCrossing Meet Up

Saturday 12th October 2019.

A few weeks ago I met “Gordon” at the Portadown Stamp Show. He had a very interesting exhibit on PostCrossing.

Although, I have some reservations about PostCrossing, I accepted his kind invitation to attend a PostCrossing Meet Up at a bookstore in Dublin today.

It was great.

Many of the ten or so people at the Meet Up design and produce their own cards and this is a skill set that I have long wanted. My own attempts to produce “postcards” are flimsy efforts. Where possible, I like a postcard to reflect a stamp issue so even sending a postcard to myself can be more interesting and add texture to my stamp collection.

Many have a rubber stamp with their “PostCrossing” nom de plume.

And a lot of cards were written.

Overall my impression is that this was a very friendly group of people who were clearly enjoying being together and enjoying their hobby.

To some extent, this is a contrast with Stamp Collectors. In a way, a stamp collector is likely to tear a stamp from an envelope/postcard but a postcard collector is interested in the message…it is more “social” and no surprise that PostCrossing has roots in Pen-Palling. Many PostCrossers write messages about the weather, hobbies or whatever. They embrace the whole package (no pun intended) and a stamp is an integral part of the package.

On the train home last night, I was reflecting on my own “collecting” journey over the years beginning around 1962.

1962…a 10year old child who stayed with Stamp Collecting long enough to be a “Junior”

1970…an 18year old who started my first album and graduated to being a novice.

1990…starting to call myself an a senior collector but not always enjoying it.

2000…Giving up in frustration at too many issues and not making any progress with a “wants list”. Discovering the internet and trading unwritten postcards with contacts mostly in USA so that I now have around 900 unwritten postcards from USA,

2012…Returning to Stamp Collecting and spending five years catching up on over a decade of new issues (mint and used) and discovering that postally used postcards (and envelopes) were actually better than mere stamps. Briefly joining PostCrossing but most exchanges and trades are thru Facebook as well as buying genuinely used mail thru Fairs and online.

This Blog was initially set up five years ago to cover my wide variety of collecting interests. Please dont say I am a hoarder.

Toy Soldiers, Football memorabalia and 1960s 1970s vinyl records are largely dormant. Maybe Coins also. But I have neglected writing about Postcards as I tend to concentrate on my first love…Stamps.

But earlier today, I wrote about the crisis in Stamp Collecting and in many ways the “gaps”…a Generation Gap, a Gender Gap…and crucially a Credibility Gap.

Stamp Collectors need to embrace the fact that all these “gaps” can be addressed with good relations with the “snail mailers” and the PostCrossers.

We need each other.

This was my first “Meet Up”. It will not be my last. And thanx to the really nice people I met.



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Stampa 2019

Stampa is the highlight of the year for Stamp Collecting in Ireland. The three stakeholders in the hobby…An Post (the Post Office), Dealers and of course Stamp Collectors.

It is a recurring theme of this Blog that the hobby works best when the three stakeholders work together and one of the stakeholders does not seek an advantage over the other two. Inevitably there is some tension between them.

But Stampa seems like a time when normal hostilities are suspended and everyone is on their best behaviour.

First of all An Post…there is an ongoing debate about whether An Post facilitates or exploits stamp collectors. The Truth is probably that they do both. We need An Post more than An Post needs us. There are probably voices within An Post who would happily shut down the Philatelic Section and others who see it as an opportunity to make a lot of money. The debate will play out over the next few years. As we have seen Iceland will not be issuing stamps after the end of 2019 and it seems that other postal administrations will follow suit.

Dealers...ten in attendance this year. But one was purely a postcard dealer and one is a specialised auction house. Four dealers (two Irish from the only two stamp shops in Ireland), one from England and one from Germany carry top class Irish material. But it seems to me there will be a BREXIT effect in upcoming years. The loss of any one of these dealers would be a major blow in 2020 and beyond.

The other four dealers may not have  top class material but they are perhaps more needed than the “Top Four”. When I started out as a collector almost sixty years ago, little packets of stamps were available in most “corner shops”. Being a stamp collector of sorts was a rite of passage for most boys and some girls. And later the middle-ranking dealer who catered for junior and novice collectors was part of the conveyor belt that allowed advancement into senior and even expert ranks.

Yesterday a Dealer told me how children used to be a feature at Stamp Fairs in the 1970s and 1980s and a fellow dealer considered them a nuisance as they spent hours to spend their limited pocket money. But as the middle aged collectors from the 1970s and 1980s are now elderly, there are very few people following us as we fall off the conveyor belt at the other end.

I was at Stampa on two of the three days. I had planned on buying two stamps from my wants list. And I did buy two but not the two that were planned. Availability and reasonable price is an issue even for the Top Four dealers.

Collectors…well essentially there are two kinds. There is the official collector who is an organiser, a team player and a member of one of the Irish-based societies or one of the two (German and American based) scieties that specialise in Irish stamps. Frankly I have little time for the foreign-based societies as they are out of touch with the reality of how Ireland is in the year 2019. So standing beside old men as they rant about Che Guevara being on an Irish stamp is disheartening.

Of course this is the nature with many old men. There is a cliché that we get more conservative as we get older. I am 67 and probably more radical and “left-wing”  than at any time in my life. But all organisations are often affected by a kinda “group think” where an attitude to life is expected. And I do not like the “group think” in stamp collecting.

Exhibition…I have to say that the Exhibitions and Competitions were excellent. The key is the balance between being “worthy and expert” and being “accessable and fun”

Has Stamp Collecting a future?

I just dont know. The three stake-holders….Post Office, Dealers and Collectors …have painted themselves into a corner. And if there is to be any recovery, then there needs to be a co-ordinated response. People need to be on the same page.

Glimmers of Hope?

Well the admission to Stamps was free and hopefully this encouraged a small increase in visitors.

My own thought is that there is a connexion between stamp collectors and postcard collectors and especially PostCrossers.

There is the key difference that Stamp Collectors are not overly social. They look at the stamp on an envelope, steam it off and throw away the letter. The Postcard Collector reads the message and even within PostCrossing on profiles, people ask “tell me about the weather”, “do you have pets?” or “please use a colourful stamp” etc

Stamp Collecting distrusts the Internet as the “enemy”. PostCrossers have used the Internet much better to promote “snail mail” and recover and embrace the term “snail mail” as a positive social benefit. It is no surprise that  many PostCrossers have a background in Pen-Pals.

We have the ironic situation that PostCrossers are breathing life into Stamp Collecting.

We are in this together.



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“Stampa 2019”: Preview

“Stampa”, the Irish National Stamp Exhibition takes place in Dublin on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week.

It is the biggest event in the year for Collectors. The only other “national” event is “Spring Stampa” which is held in April.

Effectively “Stampa” is an Exhibition AND a Fair. The Exhibition is something I find of limited interest. Often worthy but rarely engaging. The best exhibits are often the simplest.

The Fair…well Id expect no more than ten dealers to be in attendance. This is my annual opportunity to take maybe two or three stamps from my “wants list” at hopefully reasonable prices. When a wanted stamp is the price of (say) a bottle of coca cola, it is literally no big deal. But when a wanted stamp is the price of a pair of shoes, then it is a good idea to shop around.

Two weeks ago, it was the Portadown Stamp Fair. It was ok. Last week, it was the (monthly) Belfast Collector Fair and that was pretty bad. Actually until a few months ago, there were two Collector Fairs within about 300 metres. Sadly one has now closed.

So this weekend “Stampa” will be important for me. I wont be able to go to the annual North of Ireland Show on the next weekend as my wife and I will be at a wedding.

So this week I am preparing. Making lists and checking lists. Hoping for a good “Stampa”.


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New Issues 2019: September

Only one issue in September. Four stamps on the theme “Culture Night”


What is Culture Night? To be honest, I am not really sure. It seems to be an idea that started in Dublin a few years ago. People encouraged to go to musical events, art galleries, poetry readings and so on and now it has gone nation-wide.

A few weeks ago on a Friday I was in County Derry and came home thru Belfast. The train was crowded and I had the misfortune to sit beside a noisy, foul mouthed but cheerful drunk in his late twenties.

I asked him why there so many people in Belfast and without a hint of irony, he said it was “Culture Night”.

I guess Belfast and northern folks are not as sophisticated as our Dublin and southern counterparts.

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Portadown Stamp Show 2009

Saturday 28th September 2009. The annual local Stamp Fair.

In the 1980s, local stamp fairs were frequent. I recall attending shows/fairs in Lisburn, Derry and as far away as Sligo. I suppose it was a season from September thru to March.

Apart from the monthly Collectors Fair in Belfast, there are very few. But the upcoming month will be busy. Yesterday…Portadown.

Belfast Monthly Fair (5th October). Stampa National Show, Dublin (11th-13th October), North of Ireland Stamp & Postcard Fair, Belfast (26th October).

So this is the most intense month of the Stamp Collecting year.

I thought attendance this year was low. Just two part-time “stamp” dealers and about seven part-time “postcard” dealers. Some of these dealers will be in Belfast next week and all will be in Belfast at the North of Ireland show.

I did not buy much. In part, it was a scouting mission. Much of the stuff on view yesterday will be available later.


I bought six commercial mail items from the 1930s and 1940s. Three are shown above. I have several of these already. I like how these small envelopes can add depth and texture to an album page. I tend to change the display on three or four occasions during the year. Note that the stamp commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Easter Rising  (1916) is “upside down” on the envelope. Possibly just an accident or possibly a protest at the subject matter. In 1941, there was still some animosity.

I bought a vintage postcard (1900-1922) posted in 1915 in Newtowngore, County Leitrim. I like these postcards because they are pre-Irish Independence and have British stamps and the postmarks are in English. I now have about 160 of these postmarks and while yesterday’s purchase at £6 was a little expensive, it means that I now have postmarks from all 32 of Ireland’s counties. Over the next few weeks, I will pick up some more.

I also bought 10 “Humour” postcards for just £2. This was a bundle so only the first and last postmark was visible and it looked a bargain. As with buying “a pig in a poke”, it turned out that some cards were not so good eg torn stamps etc so only about five cards were worthwhile. Not really disappointing, merely what seemed like a bargain was just average.


I am not really a fan of Post Crossing…the global postcard exchange club. But this display of “Meet-Up” cards was very good. And I had a very interesting conversation with the guy who organised the display.






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New Issues 2019: August

Three issues in August. A painting by Jack B Yeats is the design on the stamp commemorating the Centenary of the Liffey Swim. This is an annual event when brave and hardy folks jump into the River Liffey in the centre of Dublin and hope to emerge healthy.

Four stamps commemorate Carnegie Libraries. The featured libraries are in Kilkenny, Clondalkin, Enniskerry and Athea. There is no doubt that Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American millionaire was a benefactor of libraries but equally there is no doubt that he was an awful human being.


The final issue for the month is two stamps and a miniature sheet. There is some doubt as to whether this is commemorating the Rugby World Cup which starts in Japan on 20th September or Irish Rugby.

Coach Joe Schmidt and Johnny Sexton (2018 World Rugby Player of the Year) are featured.

The Rugby World Cup was inaugerated in 1987 and only four nations, the traditional big four (New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England) have actually won it. A second tier of European teams, France, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are outsiders.

It is hard to see a winner emerge from outside the eight above. But Argentina, Japan, Canada and Fiji are capable of beating a big team “on their day”.

The remaining eight teams, Italy  Tonga, Samoa, United States of America, Russia, Georgia, Namibia and Uruguay will be making up the numbers and hoping for a surprise result.

The chances for Ireland? Well since 1905, Ireland have played New Zealand on over thirty occasions but have only won twice but there was a ceratin amount of optimism around those victories being in 2016 and 2018 and Ireland beating all the European sides in 2018.

The last year has not been good. Poor form and injuries in a squad that is getting older means we are all pessimistic.

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