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The first philatelists, in the 1850s and 1860s, collected from every stamp issuing country in the world. Why should they do otherwise? The total number of stamps was not great and, apart from a few great rarities, completion for the whole world was not seen as an impossible goal.
Slowly at first and then at an ever-increasing rate the number of issued stamps began to increase. The task of completion began to seem less and less possible. Philatelists reacted by narrowing their interests to a group of countries (the British Empire for example), or a single country or even a period of a single country.
Towards the end of the 19th Century pictorial stamps began to make their appearance. One of the first stamps to show a steam locomotive was this local letter fee stamp issued by Peru to pay postage on letters carried on the railway between Lima, Chorrillos and Callao.
It is sometimes instructive to include a few post cards in a stamp collection, and this one showing the Lima terminus of the electric railway to Chorrillos, although somewhat anachronistic, goes nicely with the local letter fee stamp. In spite of the fact that pictorial stamps had been issued at least since the closing years of the 19th Century, it was not until after World War II that philatelists began to collect stamps according to the design rather than the country of origin. In the United States this method of collecting is usually called Topical and in this country Thematic. The term is used loosely because strictly speaking the term thematic should be reserved for a collection or display of stamps, which tells a story through the medium of the stamps and other philatelic items. Birds and animals and space are obvious topics for a thematic collection but transport themes such as ships, aeroplanes and railways offer enormously greater scope because transport is used to convey the mail. It could be argued that railway postmarks and cinderellas all form part of the railway theme, but here we shall use the term strictly to refer to stamps and other philatelic items which show railways.
Railways on other Philatelic Items
The thematic collector will use his ingenuity in order to illustrate his theme. There are plenty of stamps showing portraits of George Stephenson, sometimes referred to as ‘The Father of Railways.’ His famous ‘Rocket’ probably features even more widely. However a collection which includes this meter mark used in 1948 by the Borough of Chesterfield to mark the Centenary of the great man’s death, will immediately be recognized as being out of the ordinary. Such meter marks are good examples of the maxim, ‘Today’s rubbish is tomorrow’s rarity’.
From time to time slogan postmarks are sponsored to celebrate events or to promote activities. This one, which is advertising industrial sites in Stockton-on-Tees, shows the locomotive ‘Locomotive No.1’ now preserved at Darlington Station. This slogan postmark, used in 1964, is said to be ‘transposed.’ The datestamp covers the adhesive stamp, leaving the pictorial part visible. This arrangement is greatly to be preferred from the collecting point of view, although not so convenient for the Post Office. Special Handstamps
Handstamp postmarks created at the expense of a sponsor to commemorate a particular event are usually used for one day only but are occasionally in use for a period of several days. Some hundreds have been used with a railway theme, many of them well designed but in a few cases the designs are abysmal. Shown here is a skeleton postmark used at the International Railway Congress, which took place in London in 1925. It can perhaps be regard as the forerunner of the many one-day special handstamps, which have flooded the market since then. Booklet Covers
Another source of inspiration for the thematic collector is the booklet cover. This one, which is one of a series of six covers showing aspects of industrial archaeology, shows the Talyllyn Railway in Wales.