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World’s first stamps: Fife man’s incredible collection revealed

Fife man's stamp collection
Some of Geoff's collection, which will be sold next month

The private stamp collection of a late Fife man which charts the history of the world is set to go on sale, with experts predicting international attention.

Geoff Whitehead began collecting stamps aged just 11, amassing a huge collection before he died aged 94 in January this year.

The collection is set to be sold at Cavendish auction house, a world-leading auctioneer for stamps and stamp covers, envelopes that have passed through the mail.

One particular passion was stamps and covers from the first 25 years of postal history, focussing on examples from 1840 – 1865.

Life’s work

The relative scarcity of stamps from the first decades of postal history make Geoff’s collection particularly unique, Ken Baker, who was a close colleague of Geoff’s and is marshaling to sale at Cavendish, explained.

Geoff’s daughter, Jan McVicar and granddaughter Kathy spoke to The Courier ahead of the sale, which they hope will see the amazing collection pass to someone who can appreciate it.

Until he moved from Derby to Leven in 2004, Geoff himself was a consultant and chief describer at Cavendish, responsible for stewarding collections and ensuring they were catalogued correctly for display to buyers.

After moving to Fife he became honorary president of Kirkcaldy Stamp and Postcard Club, where he continued his passion.

Jan McVicar, his daughter, said her dad was collecting right up until he died.

“It was his work for many years, a hobby turned into a job. It really was his life, and he had such a huge knowledge of postal history,” she said.

‘Hobby turned into a job’

Despite his best efforts, Geoff’s passion never caught on with Jan or her daughter Kathy, and now they have decided to sell the collection.

“I didn’t really have any interest, which was a shame. It was always something I knew was there, but until I saw it in this sale and presented in such a wonderful way I never really appreciated it.

He got so much pleasure out of looking at it and sharing it with like-minded people
– Jan McVicar

“He was very proud of it, he kept it at home and my son used to urge him to keep it locked it away because it’s so valuable, but he always said he liked to be able to take it out look at it.

“He got so much pleasure out of looking at it and sharing it with like-minded people.”

Knowing her dad’s passion to share the stamps with other people is part of the reason Jan has now decided to sell the stamps.

Geoff and his wife, Leila, on their honeymoon.

“He always told me to sell, but whilst I feel quite bad I am glad it will go to people to that appreciate it as much as he always did,” she explained.

The collection is estimated to be worth thousands of pounds, with bidding on some of the older stamps expected to start at up to £400.

Geoff’s granddaughter Kathy said she thought that the collection gave an interesting social and political history of the world.

Stamp collection charts world history

“He became really knowledgeable about how the world has changed, and how countries have changed with their social and political history traced through postage history and stamps,” she said.

Ken Baker, who catalogued the collection, explained many of the stamps feature images on rulers of the countries whose political systems would go through changes in later years.

Geoff and his great-granddaughter Eilidh 

Geoff’s collection contains a number of stamps from Prussia, a German state which played a powerful role in the world of the 1800s.

Others include stamps that have an image of Queen Victoria, who was featured on many stamps across the world during the height of the British Empire.

Speaking about his friend’s collection, Ken Baker said: “It took him a long time, it didn’t just happen overnight.

“It’s actually an unusual subject. Stamps first came into use in 1840, and this collection is really focussed on that first 20 years.

Kathy and her grandad Geoff

“That collection of a single subject is very rare because people tend to collect a single country, but this is from where stamps were first issued all over the world,” Ken said.

Ken also highlighted the Penny Blacks, the world’s first adhesive stamp, which he said are particularly popular amongst Chinese buyers.

Jan and Kathy have both planned to head to auction, which takes place on October 5, and potentially meet those who take on the collection.

“We are really excited for it,” Kathy said, adding: “We are both going to London for three nights so it will be a nice time.”

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