I’d decided to take the children to Kidzania – a Siam Paragon top floor educational fun zone for kids aged 3-12. Purely based on a recommendation in the very useful “Bangkok For Kids” publication. I’d not ventured to the top of Siam Paragon; it is impressive with its glittering atrium for the cinema, an IMAX, many cafes, a bowling venue and two huge event halls. It so happened I got completely turned around (though I reckon the map I found in the hall was a mirror image print) and we ventured mournfully into one of the event halls where it looked like there was a massive philatelic view and trade show going on. Not something to enthuse a pair of under twelves but after the fun of a 3D photo lounge I coerced them in just because I was curious. Unlike my deceased grandfather, I have no interest whatsoever in stamp collecting and I explained it as another “marmite” hobby (you either love it or you don’t). Yet the vast rows of letters (with the necessary stamps) from all round the world was stirring my historical bones and I sent the children off to locate the earliest dated missive. This is what they found:
1531 no less! When I said “Tudors” it placed it in context. Fascinating. We began a slow trawl of the displays, avoiding the film crew, finding places of exotic interest, dates centuries old. I started a hunt for Canadian postcards and found them (check the slide show below). There were missives from places like the Death Railway, – check out my earlier blog on that – from Pacific Islands, from South America to the heart of Africa. As I sauntered along I found that what was piquing my interest wasn’t the stamps themselves but rather the letters. The casual expression of calligraphy that everyone had before the invention of typewriters and keyboards. The whorls and twirls, the flourishes on individual letters; the slash of ink on faded parchment. Personality shone through in a way that the font of the computer can never really hope to emulate. Plus there is the frisson of excitement and wonder I have so often looking at historical artifacts knowing that someone else’s hand scribed those words – which are now scant millimetres from my eyes – hundreds of years ago.
What were they thinking?
What did they do next?
What was their mood?
What happened in their lives?
We all would like to leave a remembrance of ourselves behind, a memory if we can, a legacy at best. For hundreds of people, it may have been a single letter in a hall in Thailand, but for a few moments two children born in the twenty-first century saw what they wrote and preserved a faint memory of those people.
Take a look… there is even a Papal letter from the sixteenth century…
My search (on limited time for this isn’t a terribly interesting subject for two kids) located some Canadian missives. Mainly during WWII – you can see some in the slideshow. I discovered that the issue of postal stationery during the reign of George VI (present Queen Elizabeth’s father) is far more complicated than I would ever have ever have guessed. For example, all stationery was released in 1938, with the King facing to the left, the year in the lower right corner. Envelopes were produced either by the Canadian Department of Printing and Stationery (PSS) or the Dominion Envelope Co.. Post band wrappers and postcards were made by the CBN (Canadian Bank Note Co.) and, in 1942, formular airletters (aerogrammes) were issued to provide an airmail service so that Canadians could write to their families fighting in the war. They were issued in 1947 with a depiction of the King.
Where can you find out more? Well, try Webbs Stationery Catalogue of Canada and Newfoundland (7th ed.). Now, neither indulge in rolling of eyes, nor grimace, nor chuckle. I went in there with zero interest in philately, but a healthy regard for history and I can appreciate anyone’s enthusiasm for their chosen topic. The philatelists I saw there were all hard-core; very knowledgeable and you cannot help but get swept along in their enthusiasm for their hobby (which makes a fair chunk of money for those at the top of the game). Even the kids responded. It was an unlikely source of joy for twenty minutes, but a great one. We saw some stamps being sold for well over a thousand dollars, though no (as every UK schoolchild will tell you) Penny Black – that rarest of stamps. Not as rare though as the Treskilling Yellow – http://most-expensive.com/postage-stamp – last valued at $2.3million!
We sauntered out of the Event Hall, heading for Kidzania – more to come on that – stopping briefly at an exhibition of what I thought were examples of the King’s art work. He is an accomplished artist and photographer amongst other things. This is what we saw:
Is this what diplomacy is all about?