Postage pursuits

Stamp collectors and lovers get together every Sunday morning at a little shop in Hanoi to enjoy their shared passion.

By LE DIEM on August 05,2019 04:32 PM

Postage pursuits

PHOTOS CUONG NGUYEN & VU HUNG

A corner of Trieu Viet Vuong street in Hanoi has been a popular destination for nearly two decades for those with a passion for postage stamps. Regardless how busy they may be, whether rain or shine, they try to get there every sunday morning to take part in the unique postage stamp market.

It’s called a market but it’s actually just a house at 160 Trieu Viet Vuong, which the owner, retired teacher and painter Pham Hao, opened in 2002 as a rendezvous point for people who share his love of stamps. Most of them have had an attachment with stamps from a decade to half a century. sometimes passers-by drop in out of curiosity and may become a new member. It attracts more and more people every year, including those from elsewhere in Vietnam, making it a regular “market” where collectors can bring their stamps for others to admire and perhaps buy.

A lot of work and patience is needed to acquire a quality collection, though what counts as a “quality” stamp is a matter of taste and may be by country or category, for example. “stamp collecting is a pleasure but some study is needed,” Hao said.

The stamps are usually kept in albums for preservation. Many are still attached to envelopes or carefully preserved in plastic packaging. They are classified into various categories, depicting heritage, plants, animals, boats, landscapes, or traditional customs and festivals, both from Vietnam and overseas. Those that are popular fetch the highest price. stamps are also divided into two main types: used stamps on an envelope with the postmark, called “dead” stamps, and “live” stamps, which have never been used to send mail or have been taken out of circulation by the post office. Prices again vary, from a few cents to tens of dollars of even more. The price of “live” stamps is normally higher than for “dead” stamps, but it’s not always the case.

The most valuable stamps in Vietnam are those printed from 1946 to 1975, including the first ones bearing an
image of President Ho Chi Minh in 1946.

The most valuable stamps in Vietnam are those printed from 1946 to 1975, including the first ones bearing an image of President Ho Chi Minh in 1946.

Some are considered “priceless”, with collectors bringing them in for show but not for sale. As stamps are rarely reprinted, originals are very much appreciated and valued for their scarcity.

The most valuable stamps in Vietnam are those printed from 1946 to 1975, including the first ones bearing an image of President Ho Chi Minh in 1946, according to Hao. Collection and preservation were difficult during wartime, so many stamps are “missing”, which encourages collectors to go out and try to hunt them down.

Printing was also marked by poor quality ink and paper during wartime, making stamps from these times special today for their different appearance. “They are uglier, to be honest, but they are precious for their historical story,” Hao said.

The stories behind the images on some stamps make them more appealing. For example, those from long ago sometimes honor famous victories in Vietnam, such as the August Revolution in 1945 or the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, or were used in propaganda efforts. In particular, some are truly unique, numbered 0K600, 1K000, 2K000 or 5K000, denoting payment by rice (in kilograms) instead of money. In the early 1950s, when these stamps were issued, the price of rice varied in different areas, so the stamps were sold in this way to ensure stable pricing. “More than just a means of payment for postal services, each stamp can tell us about the culture, society, and people during a certain period of time,” said Van Ty, a regular visitor to the market. “They are like a witness to history or a story teller, helping me enrich my knowledge. Collecting stamps is truly an intellectual pleasure.”

Postage pursuits

For many collectors, stamps are viewed as works of art, especially those bearing a printed painting from famous local artist or, even more special, hand-drawn stamps that were issued in limited quantities. Collectors also seek out “draft” stamps that were eventually not approved by Vietnam Post and then ended up who knows where. Visitors to the market come not just for trading but also for discussions about different stamps and the stories behind them. They may also exchange valuable stamps, so a collector can enrich a particular “niche” collection. “When we buy stamps, we usually buy more than one of a certain pattern if possible,” said Ty. “We bring them here to share with other stamp lovers. sunday mornings are an important part of my life, and if I can’t make it here for some reason I really do miss it.”

Visitors used to be older people before, but today more and more young people are coming and also some foreigners, according to Hao. One of them, Tuan Ngoc, a student at the Hanoi University of Fine Arts, became a regular customer after coming with a friend one time. “I found it so interesting, like a treasure of history, culture and art,” he said. “I also want to collect, as it teaches me a lot about detailed work and patience. But my reward is not simply the collection - it’s also a hobby that enriches my soul.”

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