It’s not that well known, but inside Stanley Gibbons’ famous stamp shop on Strand, there’s a public exhibition space and there’s a remarkable violin on display.
If a violin in a stamp display seems odd, then be advised that it’s a violin made in a papier-mâché style from 12,000 postage stamps. Made by George Inch, there’s also a guide he wrote to making a whole range of objects by glueing thousands of stamps together. According to the article, the violinist Max Jaffa played the stamp violin and said the tone was “very good”.
The exhibition is mainly the stamp and coin dealer’s archive, so made up of long glass cases full of books that can also be studied by philatelists and numismatists alike, but it’s also a display of the history of the stamp dealer and the coin dealer Baldwin’s, which was acquired by Stanley Gibbons in 2013.
A bicycle in the corner seems to be just a historic relic but was in fact used by the firm for deliveries during the 1971 national post office strike, ensuring that postage stamps would still arrive, even if the letters didn’t.
A selection of stamp and coin books from the archives are open with explanatory texts, such as the 1899 edition of the Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal, the early stamp catalogues, such as one from 1910 with b&w images of the stamps that are available. A collection of stamp related ephemera ranges from children’s board games based around stamp collecting to metallic postcards.
As the company now includes a coin dealer, there’s a smaller space given over to some of their heritage, and rather nicely a glass case shows off a collection of travel tokens handed out long before the advent of paper tickets.
One of the token coins was given to people who had their homes demolished by the construction of the London and Greenwich Railway and granted them free or very cheap travel as compensation. There’s tokens from the Thames Tunnel and the Glasgow Omnibus and even very early stagecoaches.
Something I’ve seen up for sale before – at a painful price – is a solid silver ticket that granted a year’s free travel on the DLR extension to Lewisham.
It’s not many companies that make their company archive so freely available to visit, and you don’t really need to be a stamp or coin collector to appreciate a nice exhibition of historical objects and documents, and I easily soaked up 20 minutes peering at all the items on display.