The Stamp King by G. De Beauregard and H. De Gorsse

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The Stamp King by G. De Beauregard and H. De Gorsse

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A reprint in facsimile form of a story originally published in magazine format between 1904-05, about two enthusiastic philatelists in search of the world’s rarest stamp
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: December 2009
Publisher: Stanley Gibbons Ltd
ISBN: 978-0852597460

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Set in 1896, this is the story of William Keniss and Betty Scott, two young American philatelists each intent on owning the world’s only complete stamp collection. The rarest specimen of all is one issued by the Maharajah of Brahmapootra but never placed on general sale, although one copy did pass through the postal system, and it is one of only two in the entire universe. The Maharajah owns this one himself - and our collectors are determined to get their hands on the other.

Mr Keniss is the ‘Stamp King’, and Miss Scott is determined to beat him at his own game. Money is no object, and each is determined to go to the ends of the earth in order to procure this precious jewel. Miss Scott and her long-suffering maid Victoria find themselves in a race to try and keep ahead of Mr Keniss, and in the process visits to the world’s greatest stamp dealer in Paris (in other words, not Stanley Gibbons, who was London-based), a call on a master forger, the employment of private detectives to shadow a rival’s progress, and a near-drowning are all part of the tale. Not to mention an exciting moment when Mr Kemiss stands a little too close to an open window in order to inspect the tiny prize he is about to purchase, with the inevitable result. To coin a phrase, it is a cracking yarn, and it all ends happily ever after…

Even in those early days, the writers could not resist a mild complaint about the excessive proliferation of stamp issues, so many obviously produced more with an eye to making profit out of collectors than satisfying a country’s genuine postal needs (they should have been around a hundred years later). In an early chapter the Parisian dealer, M. Moulineau, comments on the vast numbers of commemoratives produced by certain countries for the most trivial anniversaries, calling it ‘shameful speculation’, and its practitioners ‘the parasites of philately’. There is also a rather less than politically correct comment on the ever-open purse of the self-willed Miss Betty Scott, who, being an American, was inclined to believe that money would put everything right.

The book reproduces the entire text as it appeared in the original instalments in Gibbons Stamp Weekly between February 1904 and December 1905, with the original drawings and even occasional advertisements or discussion columns filling up blank space at the end of some pages. It adds to the period feel of the publication, although the font size is rather small, some pages are in rather lighter ink than others, and readers are advised to tackle it in a strong light. I got through it without a magnifier – just!

As a read, anyone who enjoys Edwardian fiction, or anyone interested in stamps, will certainly find it a diverting read, while others will probably regard it as far too dated for them. I would recommend it with reservations, and it is certainly a highly unusual, rather endearing publication.

Our thanks to Stanley Gibbons for sending a copy to Bookbag.

For further reading on a similar subject, why not try Collect Autographs: An Illustrated Guide to Collecting and Investing in Autographs by Fraser's Autographs; or for another facsimile volume of fiction,Aside Arthur Conan Doyle: Twenty Original Tales By Bertram Fletcher Robinson by Paul R Spiring (Editor).

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