THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : Enter the High School block of the St Mary’s Higher Secondary School, Pattom, and one will find a variety of postage stamps and coin exhibits arranged neatly in three of the classrooms.
Inside one of the classrooms, a group of school students are keenly listening to Mathew John who is a teacher of St Mary’s High School and the owner of the rare collection of the exhibits on display.
The teacher hailing from Kattanam, Mavelikkara, had put up the rare coin and postage stamp collection for the benefit of students as part of the school’s Platinum Expo organised recently.
The philately and numismatics enthusiast posesses over 4000 coins and postage stamps . Taking visitors through his collection, he stops at a particularly intricate postage stamp printed in black ink featuring the bust of a young Queen Victoria. “This is Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive postage stamp issued officially on May 6, 1840. Before that there were only seals. The idea for the stamp was given by Rowland Hill who was later knighted as Sir Rowland Hill for his invention of the postage stamp.”
Though Mathew has a wide collection, he takes special pride of the stamps and coins he has from the time of British rule through the 1950s. He also has coins and stamps dating back from the Mughal era, religious postage stamps, those issued as souvenirs or miniature sheets containing two to ten stamps or more. Another of his prized possessions are coins dating back to the Roman empire.
He also has different shapes and sizes of stamps and coins issued from different countries like Ghana, Tanzania, Israel, US, Bahrain, Afghanistan and so on. There are many more thematic postage stamps featuring flora, fauna and different personalities as well. One example is the stamp featuring Nehru’s visit to Bhutan.
The numismatist has been collecting stamps and coins for over three decades now. Recalling that he always had a thirst for knowing more about other countries, he says: “ My father used to work as chief cashier at a German company in Oman and as a result used to get such coins and stamps as souvenirs and gifts. He used to send them to me, some through post and some when he came home. He was the one who suggested to arrange them in an album.”
But it was his grandmother who saw his passion for the hobby and nurtured it, for she was also an avid collector of the rare artefacts. “My grandmother’s brother was abroad. Whenever he came home, he used to bring back rare coins and postal stamps for her,’’ he recalls.Seeing his interest in the hobby, his grandmother gave away all her coin collection to him.
Talking about his granduncle, he also shares another interesting titbit. “It was said that he had been a part of the INA cadre set up by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.”
It was in 2005 that he became a member of the Philately and Numismatics Club in the city. When asked more about how he collects rare coins and postal stamps, he replied: “Most of the time, I get it from people who don’t know the importance and worth of stamps. I also get many from dealers and the Postal Department.’’
He surely knows the value of his prized possessions. “These are very valuable and just a glimpse can brief you about the history of the particular country. I feel so happy to be able to educate students through my collection,’’ he said. He proclaims proudly: “Philately is known widely as the king of hobbies and hobby of kings.”