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Stamping History: The Pioneers of Philately and Their Lasting Legacy

Philately, the study and collection of postage stamps, traces its roots to the early 19th century, shortly after the issuance of the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, in 1840. The pioneers of philately, individuals who contributed significantly to the establishment and popularization of this hobby, laid the groundwork for what has become a global passion with millions of enthusiasts. Here we explore the lives and contributions of some of these early philatelic pioneers.

Philip Ferrari de La Renotière

Philip Ferrari de La Renotière was a remarkable figure in the world of stamp collecting, renowned for his dedication and unique approach to the hobby. Born in 1922, he became widely known for his extensive collection, which included rare and valuable stamps from around the globe. Ferrary began collecting in his youth and later inherited a vast fortune of approximately 120,000,000 French francs (£5 million), which he devoted to acquiring rare stamps and coins. His collection is considered the greatest ever assembled, and it may never be equalled. Among his rare stamps were the unique Treskilling Yellow of Sweden and the 1856 one-cent “Black on Magenta” of British Guiana.

He purchased the latter in 1878 for £150, and it was sold after his death in 1924 during the third auction of his collection in Paris for 36,000 US dollars. Another notable item in Ferrary’s collection was the only known cover featuring both values of the first Mauritius “Post Office” stamps, often hailed as “the greatest item in all philately.” Additionally, he possessed the sole unused copy of the Two Cent Hawaii Missionary stamp from 1851, infamous for the tragic tale surrounding its previous owner, Gaston Leroux, who was murdered by a fellow collector. His dedication to stamp collecting spanned decades, making him a central figure in the hobby during his lifetime.  Renotière remains an inspiration to stamp collectors worldwide, remembered not only for his collection but also for his commitment to preserving and advancing the art of philately.

Maurice Jean Marie Burrus (1882-1959) was a prominent French industrialist, politician, and philatelist. Born into a wealthy family in Alsace, he inherited a successful tobacco manufacturing business, which he significantly expanded, making it one of the leading tobacco companies in Europe. Burrus was also deeply involved in politics, serving as a deputy in the French National Assembly, where he advocated for the economic interests of his region and supported various social reforms.

However, Burrus is perhaps best remembered for his passion for philately. He amassed one of the most comprehensive and valuable stamp collections in the world, spanning numerous countries and periods. 

His collection was renowned for its rarity and historical significance, featuring many unique and highly sought-after items. He owned some of the rarest and most expensive stamps known, including the 1886 Dominican 6 pence Queen Victoria stamp with a “one penny” overprint error and an 1851 New Carlisle Postmaster’s Provisional on the cover, which sold for €280,000 in 2010. In 1923, he acquired the only known complete unused sheet of 20 of the 1850 “Dreier Sachsen” (Saxony) stamps, previously part of Philipp von Ferrary’s collection, and sold it before the rest of his collection was auctioned around 1964. Burrus had managed to acquire about a quarter of Ferrary’s collection. By the time of his death in 1959, he owned five copies of the Mauritius “Post Office” stamp.

The "Bordeaux Cover", bought in 1934 by Burrus at the Hind auction, with Mauritius 1d Orange-red and the 2d Deep Blue "Post Office" stamps. Auctioned in 1993 by David Feldman.
Cooper on a 1997 stamp of India.

Jal Manekji Cooper was an emminent figure in the world of philately, particularly renowned for his contributions to Indian philately. Born in the early 20th century, Cooper’s passion for stamps began at a young age, and he quickly became a leading expert in the field. His meticulous research and extensive collections earned him international recognition. Cooper was also a  Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and authored several authoritative books and catalogues on Indian stamps, which remain valuable resources for philatelists. In December 1941, Jal Cooper formed ‘The Empire of India Philatelic Society’ (EIPS) and served as its founder-Secretary. 

His works, such as “Stamps of India” and “Early Indian Cancellations”, A “Specialised Priced Catalogue of Indian Rocket Mails”, “Stamps and Vignettes”, “India used Abroad” and “India used in Burma” are celebrated for their detailed analysis and historical insights. He was not only a collector but also an educator, regularly contributing articles to philatelic journals and participating in exhibitions and conferences worldwide. His dedication to the preservation and study of Indian postal history has left an indelible mark on the field. Beyond philately, Cooper was also known for his philanthropic efforts, supporting various cultural and educational initiatives. His legacy continues to inspire new generations of stamp enthusiasts and collectors, ensuring that the rich history of Indian philately is preserved and appreciated.

Damayanti Pittie is a renowned philatelist, celebrated for her extensive contributions to the world of stamp collecting. With a passion ignited in her youth, she decided to delve into a specific subject: the pre-stamp postal history of British India, covering the period before 1854, when no stamps were issued. Her collection, dating from 1780 to 1854, has received the highest 

award, the National Grand Prix. Pittie has also meticulously built an impressive collection that showcases the postal history of Bombay GPO till 1890 and one specifically on the reign of King George V in British India spanning 25 years. 

1809, Letter from Nattore of Rajshahi District to Calcutta, from Pittie's collection

Her expertise is not confined to mere accumulation; she has actively engaged in scholarly pursuits, contributing significantly to philatelic literature. Pittie’s articles and research papers are well-regarded for their depth and insight, shedding light on lesser-known aspects of postal history and stamp design. Her dedication to the hobby extends to her involvement in various philatelic societies, where she has held key positions, fostering a vibrant community of enthusiasts. Pittie’s exhibitions have garnered accolades at both national and international levels, showcasing rare and unique pieces that reflect her keen eye for detail and historical significance.

These pioneers of philately, through their passion, dedication, and innovative contributions, laid the foundation for a hobby that has captivated millions. Their work in collecting, documenting, and promoting stamps has ensured that philately remains a vibrant and dynamic field, preserving the history and culture encapsulated in these miniature works of art for future generations.

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