When I was 12, my grandfather, who we called Pépère, gave me a forest green binder. To any average 12-year-old, this gift wouldn’t seem very exciting, perhaps more of a burden than a gift, but to me it was one of the most meaningful gestures that I still cherish.

I enjoyed looking at the small, colourful images with their tapered, jagged edges and wondered where they came from. When I received the book, my Pépère sat down with me and softly explained to me what each one meant and where it came from.

He had such an intelligent nature, one that my father can attest to, noting that his exquisite attention to detail and meticulous organization and documentation of the stamp collection exists as a reminder of his character and the person he once was.

Having lost him in January of this year, looking at this book brings feelings of not only sadness for his absence, but joy in remembering the person he was and continues to be in our hearts.

My Pépère did not start this collection. When asking the origins of this mysterious binder my father seems to vaguely recall him obtaining it at a garage sale and then taking it home to organize the stamps by year and numbering them on thin, lined paper.

The binder has a glossy cover with a small white panel on the front and inside are hundreds of stamps, all meticulously organized and documented. Every stamp has a place and every place has a purpose.

Some stamps span a full rainbow of colours while others are just black and white. The variety of stamps is perhaps the most interesting thing about the entire collection. Some stamps are from Canada while others are from countries as far as the Dominican Republic or as historical as Nazi Germany.

My favourite stamp is a Canadian stamp with a bear on it. The stamp is horizontal and the bear is positioned in a walking motion. The details that went into such a minuscule image are stunning. The bear’s fur is a shaded black and gray that looks tufted and the grass below him is a light green blowing in the wind and breaking under the weight of the bear’s steps.

Bear stampThis collectible Canadian bear stamp is one of the largest stamps in the entire collection. With a purchase value of eight dollars, it is also one of the more valuable stamps. Photo by Monique LaBossiere

Looking at the hundreds of stamps really brings into question the origin of not only the stamps within the book, but the history of stamps in general.

Bruce Craw of Bow City Philatelics Ltd. notes that the origin of stamps began when the first postage stamp was issued from Great Britain in May of 1840. The stamp was black-and-white and had the side profile of Queen Victoria proudly printed on the front. Canada’s first stamp was not issued until almost ten years later in April of 1851.

Thinking about the origin of stamps makes this book so much more dynamic. No longer is this forest green binder full of small images all pasted together and never to be seen again, but they are tiny pieces of history complete with complex beginnings and infinite endings.

Although my Pépère did not collect the stamps himself, it is interesting to look back at stamps in general and see how they became such a collector’s item.

John Sheffield, the executive director of the Canadian Stamp Dealers Association believes that the interest in collecting stamps began the day after the first stamp was produced, but it really became popular some ten years after.

Sheffield says that the popularity of stamp collecting has grown over the years and although a common misconception is that stamp collecting is a hobby that has died down, the opposite is true with stamp clubs and associations going strong all over the world.

Some people may question the appeal to collecting stamps with their sometimes expensive price tags, but their value goes farther than money.

Sheffield says stamps allow you to, “Travel the world without leaving the comfort of your own living room.”

StampsNot all of the stamps in the collection are from Canada. Many of them come from countries all over the world, including Vietnam and Mongolia. Photo by Monique LaBossiere

Although some collect stamps for the pretty pictures, stamps can also have some serious monetary value.

Craw says, “Canada’s rarest stamps range from $75,000 to $200,000 depending on mint, usage and the various condition parameters of the stamp,” making stamp collecting a potentially profitable venture.

Now, as I flip through the book I become overwhelmed by how much the small images mean to me. Not at all in their relation to their potential of monetary value, but rather in the memories I can look back on to remember my Pépère. Seeing his writing on the pages of the binder often brings a tear to my eye. I miss him greatly and I feel our connection deepen through this simple book full of stamps.

Inheriting a binder full of stamps can seem like the most boring thing to have to take care of, but it is an incredible experience to realize that stamps can be more than just something you stick on the top of a white envelope. They are little pieces of collectible history that connect me to my Pépère.

Editor: Brittany Willsie | bwillsie@cjournal.ca

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