Today’s photo may seem like a bit of a cheat but I have honestly not left my home all day. It does depict an important part of my daily life, however…stamp collecting. After teaching at school every day, something that consumes even my rare days off, most of my free time is spent either working on my stamp albums or writing about the people, places, objects, or events portrayed on these tiny and colorful bits of paper.
This was probably our last holiday until the end of the school year early in April. It’s Makha Bucha (วันมาฆบูชา), the second most important Buddhist festival of the year and celebrated on the full moon day of the third lunar month in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka and on the full moon day of Tabaung in Myanmar. It celebrates a gathering that was held between the Buddha and 1,250 of his first disciples, which, according to tradition, preceded the custom of periodic recitation of discipline by monks. On the day, Buddhists celebrate the creation of an ideal and exemplary community. In Thailand, the Pāli term Māgha-pūraṇamī is also used for the celebration, meaning ‘to honor on the full moon of the third lunar month’. Some authors refer to it as the Buddhist All Saints Day.
It became widely popular in the modern period, when it was instituted in Thailand by King Rama IV in the mid-19th century. From Thailand, it spread to other South and Southeast Asian countries. It is an occasion when Buddhists go to the temple to perform merit-making activities, such as alms giving, meditation and listening to teachings. It has been proposed in Thailand as a more spiritual alternative to the celebration of Valentine’s Day and is designated as a national holiday on which sale of alcohol has been strictly prohibited since 2015. On the evening of Makha Bucha, urban temples in Thailand hold a candlelight procession and circumambulation around the main ubosot called a wian thian (wian meaning to circle around; thian meaning candle). Furthermore, people will make merit by going to temples and by joining in with activities.
In 2003, a parliamentary question was raised by Premsak Phiayura of Thailand’s House of Representatives, requesting a Day of Gratitude, to express the importance of gratitude in Thai history and culture. Uraiwan Thianthong, the then Minister of Culture, felt this was unnecessary, since “there are quite a lot of occasions” in the Thai calendar to express gratitude. However, in 2006, the government of Thailand made an announcement that Makha Bucha should from then on be celebrated as a “national day of gratitude”. This was intended as an alternative to Valentine’s Day, in which Thai youth often aim to lose their virginity. Makha Bucha was therefore presented as a day of spiritual love and gratitude instead.
To what extent Thai people are well informed about the day is in dispute: in 2017, the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) held a poll among 1,250 subjects of diverse backgrounds and found that 58 percent of Thais did not know why Makha Bucha was important in Buddhism, and 75 percent did not know it had been branded as a day of gratitude. However, the Dusit poll showed that 75 percent of the respondents was able to tell that this was the day the Buddha taught the Ovādapātimokkha to his disciples, and 66 percent knew that it was the day that 1,250 of the Buddha’s disciples came together spontaneously.
Back to today….
Originally, I had planned to take a bus trip to the west coast of Phuket island as I have not visited a beach at all in quite some time (at least since before the pandemic closed our beaches nearly a year ago). It was to be my only day off (indeed my last one until April) and I intended to make the most of it. However, an early morning message telling me that my students had cancelled their Saturday lessons — a common occurrence around public holidays — caused me to decide to putter around home today and to do something “special” tomorrow. I had some paperwork I wanted to finish (i.e., finishing computing our assessment spreadsheets having completed marking mid-term exams yesterday and I needed to start creating my final exams).
Having completed those tasks by the afternoon, I turned to my relaxing hobby of stamp collecting. Last month, I purchased a couple of huge stamp worldwide stamp albums; the first volume covers the first 100 years of postage stamps (1840-1940) while the second, just as massive, has spaces for stamps issued between 1941 and 1949. Since these arrived, I have been spending a few hours each week transferring stamps from various storage medium (including envelopes and what are known as stock books in the trade — bound or loose-leaf pages with rows of non-PVC strips to hold stamps and other items) into the albums. I am quite systematic about it, going alphabetically from page to page and recording each stamp on a spreadsheet so that I can find their exact location if need be. I am aided in knowing which stamps I have “hiding” in storage by my habit of scanning each one into my computer when I purchase them. The only problem is sometimes locating them amongst my boxes of envelopes and shelves of stock books.
The stamps, once located, are then “mounted” in the appropriate space in the album. For most stamps, this is done by affixing a peelable glassine hinge to the back of the stamp; the larger fold is then moistened and attaches the stamp to the album page. Since these are folded, one can lift the stamp to examine the back if needed. There are also plastic (non-PVC) mounts that can be used that offer much more protection and can keep the gum pristine on those stamps which have never been hinged previously (post office fresh). I tend to use the latter only on more expensive stamps, either used or unused (mint) as the mounts themselves are much more expensive than hinges and create a lot more bulk to the albums. One has to be careful of the dreaded “album bulge” when there are too many stamps within.
This evening, I have concentrated on Canada and will probably continue through a few more “C’s” before I finish up for the night. I just added my copy of the “Bluenose”, a stamp released by Canada in 1929 that is commonly cited as the most beautiful of all time (Scott #158). According to Wikipedia:
“The Bluenose is the nickname for a 50-cent definitive postage stamp issued by the Canadian Post Office on 8 January 1929 as part of the King George V ‘Scroll Issue’. Scott number is 158 with a perforation of 12. The stamp depicts the fishing schooner Bluenose and the design, by the Canadian Bank Note Company, Ottawa, is a montage of two different images of the vessel, racing off Halifax Harbour. The stamp is considered a classic even though it was issued after 1900. It has been called ‘Canada’s Finest Stamp’ and is a favorite among collectors.
“Three printing plates were made; plate 1 (of 200 impressions) was never used because of defects found, but plates 2 and 3 (of 100 impressions) were used to print 1,044,900 copies of the stamp. The photographs for the engraved stamp were taken by W.R. MacAskill in 1922 and the vignette was engraved by the American Bank Note Company, New York City.
“In 2001 a Bluenose first day cover sold for CAN $3,650. One of two known imperforate sheets of 100 stamps, previously sold in 1970, was auctioned in 2017 for US $52,580 (US$45,500 before buyer’s premium).
“Stamps issued in 1982 and 1999 show all, or part, of the original Bluenose stamp in their designs. The 1982 stamp is a stamp-on-stamp design while the 1998 issue was in commemoration of the naval designer William James Roué of the original schooner.”
It is indeed a beautiful stamp and the combination of detail engraving and color help make it so. My copy certainly is not worth as much as those cited in the Wikipedia article (and a couple of short perforations detract a bit from the overall value) but I am very happy to own a genuine Bluenose. By the way, I am a bit partial to Western Cattle in Storm — the $1 stamp from the 1898 Trans-Mississippi issue (Scott #292) — for the “most beautiful stamp” category. This is a stamp that I have yet to add to my own collection…
By the way, it is very difficult to take decent photos of a stamp you are holding with tongs (“stamp tweezers”) with a smart phone. I must have made 20 attempts before I had one that I was satisfied with. A few of the better “outtakes” follow below:
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