Stuck on stamps

By Rowena Orejana

Victor Sutcliffe has put his own stamp on philately. His house in Titirangi has stamps everywhere you look - boxes of stamps in his lounge, dining room, kitchen sink and his "operation" room. He has drawers bursting with stamped envelopes and a cupboard full of albums.

He also has a framed collection hanging on the wall. 

"I made that in 1975 when I first came to New Zealand. Drove my wife mad. I did it in the lounge - took me about a week. The whole floor was covered in stamps," he chuckles.

Mr Sutcliffe is the exchange superintendent for the Auckland Philatelic Society. He also sorts, values and sells stamps on behalf of the Baptist Church.

"There are two reasons they come to me: one, because I volunteered to do the work and two, because I know what I'm doing," he says with a laugh.    <inline type="photogallery" id="11406" align="outside" embed="yes" />

His volunteer work is almost a full-time job. It takes him six hours a day to go through boxes and boxes of stamps from churches around the country.

Mr Sutcliffe explains how the stamps people leave in the boxes their churches are sent on to the main centres of Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Hawkes Bay and Auckland.

Once gathered, they all arrive at a central point in Manukau where other volunteers put them in the general categories of Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and other parts of the world.

"When they've done all that, they bring them to me to sort, value and sell," he says.

Every three months, Mr Sutcliffe sorts between 200,000 and 300,000 stamps. Stamps which are still stuck on paper go into water in the kitchen sink. Once they've floated off the paper, they are left on a towel to dry.

Mr Sutcliffe then painstakingly sorts stamps that are valuable from those that have little value. The ordinary stamps are put in a bag and sold per kilogramme.

The others are put in books and priced accordingly. These books are the ones that go to Auckland Philatelic Society collectors who buy them.

"In round figures, around the country, I've constantly got about a thousand books in circulation," says Mr Sutcliffe. "And every three months, I send the Baptist Church of New Zealand a cheque."

Mr Sutcliffe enjoys what he does and is very good at it. He says stamp collection is a pastime for older people.

"You can't find too many young people collecting stamps, simply because there are just too many distractions," he says.

But, for older people who are retired and looking for a hobby, he highly recommends philately.

"You don't need any experience. Our club has a meeting every two weeks. And you can go and listen to people talk about stamps and you can go and buy stamps. If you start it and you are really interested, the day just goes 'woooft'! It slides by," he says.

He says stamp collecting is no longer the good form of investment it once was.

"Unfortunately, nine out 10 collections are worth next to nothing. They are children's collections, you know. Sometimes, you find good stuff. Not often," he says.

Still, the thrill of the chase is always exciting. "I hunt for rare stamps. I always dream of finding stamps that are printed wrong."

Dying breed?

With the advent of electronic mail, a lot of people have predicted the death of stamp collection.

"People are always saying that but in the club that I belong to, we are getting more new members than we are losing," says Brian Marshall, secretary of the Auckland Philatelic Society.

He says people collect stamps for various reasons. "It depends really on what their interests are. Some people collect birds, others just butterflies. I like being able to take the stamps and make an attractive and logical arrangement," he says.

Those who would like to collect stamps for investment should look for pre-decimal stamps or stamps issued before 1967. Modern decimal stamps are not so valuable. Stamps that have printing mistakes would also command higher prices.

- The Aucklander

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