Prashant Pandya is busy nowadays collecting postal stamps on a new theme—milk. The Baroda resident has over the years created umpteen exhibits—frames with many stamps—on themes such as devotional, foreign countries, among others, which he displays during district and state level exhibitions.
Stamps have played an integral role in helping India find its identity as a nation post-Independence. Since the beginning of British rule, a portrait of a British monarch had figured in Indian stamp designs. This came to an end with India gaining Independence.
Three stamps were released post-Independence in 1947. They depicted the Ashoka Pillar—the national emblem—the Indian national flag and an aircraft, according to the department of posts (DoP) website.
How many stamps do you have?
“It can’t be counted,” says Pandya who picked up the hobby of collecting stamps during his school days and founded a philatelic association in Rajpipla in Narmada district of Gujarat around 1979 when he was in class 8.
In 2000, Pandya set up a website, www.indianphilately.net, offering information about philately, connecting various philatelists across the country and even promoting philately by organising activities across cities.
Philately is the study and collection of stamps.
For his day job, Pandya handles back-end operations for a private firm.
“One needs to take out time for hobby. This is my passion. From a hobby, it became a specialisation. Through the website, we aim to make people aware about educational value of philately. We also maintain a database of all philatelists across the country and we get two-three requests daily for registration,” says Pandya.
Pandya has created an online account with India Post to buy stamps, though he hardly uses it as most stamp products are available in local philatelic bureaus or with dealers.
However, not everyone has been able to keep up with a hobby which has seen a steep decline in the era of emails and text messages.
Noida resident Mukesh Bhargava has been trying to open an online account to buy stamps through India Post since the past two years, but to no avail. A stamp collector since his school days, Bhargava, approaching 60, still nurtures a dream to restart his hobby all over again which he gave up after 20 years of collecting stamps due to time constraint.
Bhargava has around 5,000 stamps in his collection which boasts of the first stamp of the Indian national flag in 1947, the first stamp issued on Mahatma Gandhi in 1947, the first Republic Day stamp issued in 1950 and the stamp released on completion of 200 test matches of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar.
Stamps are mainly commemorative or definitive. Commemorative stamps are issued for important events, prominent personalities in various fields, among others, and are available at philatelic bureaus and counters, or under the Philatelic Deposit Account Scheme of India Post. Definitive stamps are used for postal mailing purposes and are available at all postal counters.
Half anna and two anna postages
The first postage stamp of Independent India was issued on 21 November 1947 depicting the Indian national flag. The postal system, established by Lord Robert Clive in the year 1766, was developed by Warren Hastings by starting the Calcutta (now Kolkata) General Post Office under a postmaster general in 1774. For prepayment of postage on letters—copper tickets—pre-paid token stamps of two anna value were introduced from Patna in 1774 by the East India Co. during the period of Hastings, the then-governor general of India.
However, according to the DoP website Indian philatelic history began with the introduction of paper postage stamps in 1852.
In 1854, stamps depicting British India were started. The first design for an India postage stamp was created by colonel Forbes of Calcutta Mint depicting ‘lion and the palm tree,’ but it was not used.
The subsequent stamps were designed and printed in 1854 by the surveyor general’s office. These were blue lithographed half anna stamps with a picture of Queen Victoria.
While the first India postage stamps issued in 1854 bore the inscription ‘India Postage’, the inscription was changed in the same year to ‘East India Postage’. In 1882, this was changed to ‘India Postage’ which continued till 1962. Starting November 1962, a new caption Bharat India was introduced replacing the ‘India Postage’, though three stamps issued in December 1962 and January 1963 carried the earlier inscription.
Philately no longer remains a preferred hobby today.
DoP earned a meagre Rs.39.88 crore from philately business in 2015-16 compared with Rs.32.85 crore in 2014-15.
To revive the age-old hobby, the government plans to promote philately especially among the youth. The department plans to set up an independent company for its philately business to realise its true potential.
In the current fiscal, the plan is to increase the philately business revenue to around Rs.140 crore. There are 88 philatelic bureaus in India.
“The proposed new company (for philately) will be a service-based one which will not only sell its products to existing customers—collectors and philatelists—but also will try to attract new ones. It will focus on promotion of philately mainly among the younger generation,” according to a DoP note reviewed by InfraCircle.
Globally, around $7.5 billion revenue is generated annually from the sale of postage stamps. China earns the maximum with a revenue of Rs.9,000 crore, followed by Brazil with Rs.1,080 crore and the US with Rs.1,170 crore.
Of late, DoP has been focusing to boost philately business through initiatives such as creating revenue heads for the philately division. It has also set up a separate postage stamps website and started sale of philatelic products through e-post office. In addition, it has set up a production and fulfilment centre and leveraged social media to promote philately.
In December 2015, the department started ‘My Stamp’ for business houses. Under the scheme, business houses can get their logos printed on select ‘My Stamp’ themed sheets. Interestingly, one can also get personal picture printed on a stamp.
Bhargava believes there is a huge market for stamps in India but the means to access it has to be improved so that it becomes convenient for everyone. The younger generation also needs to be made aware of the value of stamps which depicts our history so well, he says.
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