A New Post, a New Passion

11 March 2016

What’s it like to join The Postal Museum? Lesley, Director of Finance & Resources, shares what caught her imagination…

I’m new to this world: I only started working for The Postal Museum in October. Previously, I’ve worked as a Finance Director for a zoo and a theatre – but sloths, scenery or stamps: all just things you account for, right?

Photo of Lesley, Director of Finance & Resources

In my first couple of weeks, I had a series of inductions from different departments, but my favourite by far was the philatelic one. The considered, gentlemanly Douglas (who everyone talks about in reverential tones – I get the impression he’s got a bit of a reputation in the stamp world) speaks with a soft Scottish burr; he takes me down in the steel-clad lift, through various security doors, into the underground world of the archive.

Photo of shelves and boxes in The Postal Museum respository

It’s like the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark – shelves and shelves of identical rectangular flat cardboard boxes (though Douglas looks a tad hurt when I say this – apparently they’re special archiving boxes, not just any old cardboard), containing beautiful sheets of mint condition stamps in a myriad of colours. Many of them are incredibly rare.

National Nature Week issue, registration sheet, 1963

National Nature Week, Registration Sheet, 1963

Some boxes are bigger, and contain things like dies, rollers and metal plates used to print the sheets. Douglas explains how the Penny Blacks had different letters punched by hand into the corners of each stamp on the plates, to try to make it harder to counterfeit them (hope I’ve got that right).

Penny Blacks with check letters

Penny Blacks with check letters

We see original artwork (which has to look good even when reduced in size to a square inch), and designs for stamps that never existed; I imagine Douglas looking wistfully at the ones optimistically lined up – but never used – to celebrate the World Cup Scotland never won…

Proposed Scotland Winners World Cup stamp design, revised, 1978

Proposed Scotland Winners World Cup, revised design, 1978

Back up in the open plan office, I eavesdrop eagerly on conversations about perforations and phosphorous: I walk past George’s desk every time I go to the kitchen (she’s sorting though and cataloguing (I think) lots of historic issues), and am drawn in by the profusion of bumblebees, Spitfires and rainbows of Queen’s heads covering her workspace.

I’m hooked now. The variety and intricacy of the stamps is simply stunning. Apparently every collector has to have a theme: I think I’m just going to collect the prettiest ones. I hope that doesn’t make Douglas wince too much…

– Lesley Kirk, Director of Finance & Resources