KOCHI: When a group of senior citizens, gather on a Sunday as part of a religious club, one would expect prayers and communion to happen. The scene is quite different when the members of Religious Stamp Exchange Club (RSEC) meet on the second Sunday of every month.
Their religion centres on stamps, postcards and everything related to philatelic and discuss them whenever they meet up. Founded in 1970, RSEC has over 400 members at present from all parts of India and even expatriates from the United States. Some of the members are winners philately exhibitions held at international level. India has a strong presence in the international community of stamp collectors, says E P James, member of RSEC and founder of the Thrissur Philatelic Club. "Indian stamps are very valuable in the global market, especially the pre-independent stamps," he said.
Not only do these stamp collectors discuss stamps, they also exchange, buy and sell within each other. Guidebooks on philately and the latest copy of The American Philatelist are referred to check the market price of rare stamps that are offered for sale. The collections are mostly thematic, ranging from general themes such as birds to very specific ones such as a particular species of parrots or a famous historical event. As stamps represent culture, philatelists have a vast knowledge of diverse culture and traditions of the world. James mentioned that with the habit of letter writing almost dead among new generations, the interest in collecting stamps has also sharply declined. This can be observed from the absence of young members in these gatherings.
Sadasivan Nair, Vice President of RSEC, opined philately requires a lot of patience. "The younger generations are not used to wait for anything. When messages can be instantly sent across through the internet, they will not wait for things like letters and stamps. The younger people are not patient enough to get into philately,” he said. Initiatives are taken to develop an interest in stamps among the students. Philatelic exhibitions are being held in collaboration with schools and colleges to promote the habit among teenagers and the youth.
Philately is not just a hobby, but can also be viewed as a business. Huge turnover takes place in the online market where rare stamps are usually auctioned off to the highest bidder. With an instant exchange of pictures and secure money transactions, stamp collection has already taken a new form in this digital age. Now, it is up to the younger generation to inherit this rich culture. This was the wish expressed by many of the collectors, some of whom have been practising philately for decades.