This past November, I took over the position of Deputy Head Teacher for a large language school and teachers’ agency in southern Thailand. In addition to overseeing some 40 teachers from five or so different countries and a myriad of administrative duties (i.e., staffing our contracted government-run schools, organizing local English camps, writing course syllabi, etc.), I am still required to teach a minimum of 75 hours per month. Some of these classes are “in-house” (at the air-conditioned, in-a-shopping-mall language school itself) but most are substitute-teaching assignments for the regular teachers when they take ill or need to deal with periodic immigration requirements. These lessons are in very hot (perhaps there’s a ceiling fan or two that actually work) wooden or concrete classrooms jam-packed with an average of 40-50 kids – most of whom couldn’t care less about learning English.
The end result of this workload is that I have had no time to spend with my stamps (or writing about them) since long before Christmas. The month of March – the hottest in Thailand, a country already boiling twelve months of the year – brings the end of the school year and a general slowdown in duties. Most of my in-house young students have gone on “summer holiday” and my business students mostly learn in the mornings or evenings. I don’t have to worry about filling-in at one of the myriad of schools scattered about the island.
I finally have time for stamps once again.
I’m starting slowly with a few eBay bids here and there. I’m still waiting for the stamps I’ve won to arrive but they represent two countries new to my collection (Austrian Offices in the Ottoman Empire and the Indian Feudatory State of Alwar) and a few to bolster my tiny collection of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.
My main collecting focus has shifted a bit. I was attempting to obtain “A Stamp From Everywhere” but found that it was often difficult to pick just ONE stamp to represent an entire stamp-issuing entity. In designing the album pages for my collection, I decided I didn’t like those that contained a single stamp. I am now calling the collection “Stamps From (Almost) Everywhere.
That has necessitated a re-start to my album page design. It is this re-start that have energized my recent boost in philatelic activity. Each stamp issuer will have two introductory pages containing an information box, flag and map, and a one- or two-page summary of the entity’s political and postal history. I’d like to obtain enough stamps from each place so that none of the stamps look particularly lonely. I’ve found that four stamps is the absolute minimum I would like to have displayed on a single page (or one stamp and a postally-used item such as a nice cover or postcard). There are a few countries that I may strive for completeness (Aden Colony and its Protectorate States, for example) but I am aiming for a “representation” in most instances.
I’m printing the stamps onto A4 paper as that’s the standard size available in Thailand. I tried using 150gsm-weight card stock but these jammed in my printer (and the one at work as well) more often than not. I am now using 120gsm card stock which seems fine. I decided I liked a light beige color better than white. For now, I have them in sheet protectors housed in a generic three-ring binder. I’m trying to find a proper binder (preferably with a slipcase) but the shipping costs to Thailand are prohibitive. I have more or less settled on a Lighthouse Classic Grande which I know my A4-sized pages will fit. But I’m not willing to pay US $90 for shipping and import fees. A proper stamp album binder may have to wait until I can visit someplace that actually sells them in the shops. My next planned vacation is one to the United States in the autumn of 2017. Can I wait that long?
For my worldwide collection, I am trying to stick with those nations actually listed in the Scott Catalogue – although a few local posts will eventually be added. To this end, I have been compiling the mother of all spreadsheets which has become a labor of love. I have been going through my 2009 edition of the catalogue page by page – entering stamp-issuing entities in alphabetical order (moving, for example, entries such as the Confederate States, Hawaii, and Canal Zone out from under the United States umbrella) and including columns for years active, volume and page numbers, columns giving information about my own collection (numbers of inventoried, scanned, to be scanned, unlisted or bogus stamps), along with numerous “count” columns. These last columns will include the number of stamps on EACH page of the catalogue for each country (divided into General Issues and the various Back of the Book items such as Air Post, Special Delivery, etc.). I do page by page counts so that it is easier to backtrack if I lose count along the way. I’ve been skipping the “Huge” countries for now and just counting those that only have en or less pages in Scott.
It is a monumental undertaking – I’ve been working on this spreadsheet on and off for about eight months and I’ve only just started on Volume 4 (out of six). I currently have some 4,486 stamps in my collection (the majority of which have been obtained in just the past four years or so) representing 280 different stamp-issuing entities. Of these, I have only entered 1912 into my inventory database (the wonderful but time-consuming StampManage) and there are 1529 stamps that have yet to be scanned. These totals don’t include 210 duplicates and 33 that are either unlisted in Scott or “bogus” (read, counterfeit or facsimile).
It’s a grand-looking spreadsheet and I hope to share it once the “important” pieces are done (namely, the re-ordered countries). In the meantime, if anybody would like to volunteer to count listed stamps (I am counting MAJOR numbers with a few minor exceptions) for particular countries please let me know.
As for the blog, I hope to resume my “Stamp Issuers” series at some point and will continue to report on new additions to my own collection (although probably not in a “Today’s Mail” format – perhaps as periodic wrap-ups). I am looking for inspiration in writing other types of articles but I’m not really sure what aspect of philately I feel qualified to write about (I am intimidated by “How-To” articles and reviews). Time will tell. I just hope I won’t let another four months pass without an update.
Getting back to my stamps feels really good…
LOCATION: One of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, northeast of New Zealand
GOVERNMENT: Dependency of New Zealand
POPULATION: 2,000 (est. 2014)
AREA: 7 square miles
FIRST STAMPS ISSUED: New Zealand stamps overprinted January 1903.
FIRST STAMPS RE-ISSUED: Cook Islands stamps overprinted 7 August 1972.
12 pence = 1 shilling; 20 shillings = 1 pound (1892-1967)
100 cents = 1 dollar (1967-date)
Aitutaki is an “almost atoll” in the Cook Islands group, probably first settled around AD 900. The land area of the atoll is 6.97 square miles (18.05 square kilometers), of which the main island occupies 6.5 square miles (16.8 km²), with a hill called Maunga Pu providing the highest elevation of approximately 123 meters. The lagoon is about 19 square miles (50 square kilometers). Most of Aitutaki’s important features, including a boat passage through the barrier reef are found on the atoll’s western side. There is a small airport close to the northern point and flying boats and in the southeastern part of the lagoon. There are eight villages which are further divided into 19 tapere. The main village is Arutanga and today Aitutaki has a population of 2000.
The first known European contact was with Captain Bligh and the crew of HMS Bounty when they discovered Aitutaki on 11 April 1789, just prior to the infamous mutiny. Aitutaki was the first of the Cook Islands to accept Christianity following the 1821 visit of John Williams, a missionary from the London Missionary Society (LMS); A British Protectorate was declared over the 15 islands of the Cook group on 20 September 1888. On 9 October 1900, Aitutaki became the only one of the Cook Islands to be annexed by Great Britain rather than ceded. All of the islands, including Aitutaki, were transferred by Great Britain to New Zealand control on 11 June 1901.
New Zealand and American forces were stationed on the island in 1942 and built the two-way airstrip that is in use today. This was used as an Allied bomber base during the Second World War. Aitutaki’s lagoon was used as a stopover for the flying boats of Tasman Empire Airways Ltd. (TEAL) during the 1950s on the famous Coral Route. Cyclone Pat struck the atoll in February 2010, damaging 60% percent of the houses and other buildings including a school and a hospital. While there were a few minor injuries, no deaths were reported.
Cook Islands stamps were used on Aitutaki from 1892 until 1903 when overprinted or surcharged New Zealand stamps were issued. Seven of the eight values were placed on sale in Auckland on 12 June 1903 and on Aitutaki on 29 June, with the 2½ pence arriving on 9 November. The denominations were written in the local dialect.
The last of the overprinted stamps appeared in 1920 and were replaced by a six-stamp pictorial set inscribed “Aitutaki” and sharing designs with the Cook Islands and Niue issues. Another set of three Aitutaki stamps were released from 1924-1927. All of the Aitutaki stamps issued from 1920-1927 are worth more used than mint. Inverted centers and double frames are known from printers’ waste. Cook Islands stamps superseded those of the island on 15 March 1932 and were used until Aitutaki became a separate postal entity on 1 April 1972 and resumed issuing its own stamps in August of that year. These were overprinted Cook Islands issues; the first new stamps inscribed “Aitutaki” appeared in April 1973.
My 2009 edition of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue lists some 611 general issue stamps for Aitutaki in Volume 1. Of these, 32 were issued between 1903 and 1927 with the bulk released between 1972 and the present. Some collectors avoid the later issues as they are designed primarily with the tourist and collector in mind rather than serving any real postal use amongst the 2000 residents. In addition, all of the back-of-the-book releases are post-1972 as well; I count 83 semi-postal stamps, six for airmail and 41 official stamps.
I currently have three Aitutaki stamps in my collection although I do aim to add more of the earlier issues. Scott #7 (pictured above) was released on 9 January 1911, a yellow-green half-penny New Zealand stamp overprinted in red with the denomination rendered as “Ava Pene” (half-penny).
On 23 August 1920, Aitutaki released its first stamps inscribed with its name rather than the over-printed New Zealand stamps that had been used since 1903. The set of six engraved stamps were designed and printed by Perkins, Bacon & Co. of London and followed the designs of Cook Islands and Niue. The half-penny value (Scott #27), a striking bicolor design in green and black, depicts the landing of Captain Cook on another island in the group which eventually received his name (he didn’t actually visit Aitutaki). The “Avarua” waterfront depicted on the 1p carmine & black value is actually on the island of Rarotonga. It is this last stamp (Scott #29) that I chose to represent Aitutaki in my A Stamp From Everywhere collection.