Not Just Any Beatles Album

John Lennon’s Stamp Album on Display at Postal Museum

Posted October 5, 2005 at 4:03pm

Long before he was a Beatle, international pop culture arbiter and Yoko Ono’s husband, John Lennon was just a Liverpool lad who liked to collect stamps. A lot.

When Lennon was 7 years old, his older cousin Stanley Parkes gave him a stamp album while the two were on holiday in the British seaside town of Fleetwood. That gift sparked a passion for philately in the future co-composer of such songs as “All You Need is Love” and “Norwegian Wood.” [IMGCAP(1)]

“I thought it was a great idea for learning about the world,” Parkes recalled, reached by phone at his home in Scotland earlier this week. “I said, ‘If you start collecting stamps John, it will help you with your geography at school.’ He was fascinated by this.”

Today, nearly 60 years later, Lennon’s schoolboy stamp collection containing more than 550 stamps from around the world (the stamps are grouped by nation), goes on display at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, which recently purchased the album at a private sale in London.

Lennon’s personal touch is evident throughout the 1940s-era hardcover Mercury stamp album. Its flyleaf features Lennon’s signature and Liverpool address. Lennon even created a page for stamps from Pakistan, which was not an independent nation when the album was published, and added blue ink beards and mustaches to the images of British monarchs Queen Victoria and King George VI on the album’s title page.

“This is the true John Lennon,” postal museum conservator Linda Edquist said with a laugh, pointing to the young Lennon’s doodlings during a recent visit to the museum’s conservation lab.

Over the years, hundreds of the stamps, which once apparently numbered 800, have been removed — likely given away or traded, according to museum officials.

“His DNA is all over these [empty stamp] hinges,” Edquist said.

Notably, the album contains several stamps taken from correspondence Lennon’s Aunt Mimi (whom he lived with) received from the family’s New Zealand relatives.

After falling out of Lennon’s possession, the album’s trajectory over the past 40 years has been something of a mystery. According to museum spokeswoman Allison Gallaway, it was put up for sale at least twice previously, including by the prominent auction house Christie’s.

Finally, last spring it was listed by the U.K.-based stamp and autograph dealers Stanley Gibbons, and museum officials, who are currently on the lookout for additional postal-related items from high-profile individuals such as Lennon, jumped at the opportunity to add it to the Smithsonian’s holdings.

Though the album was listed by Gibbons at nearly 30,000 pounds, Smithsonian Institution policy forbids officials from commenting on the price paid for items in its collection, Gallaway said.

Nevertheless, the asking price shocked Parkes, who said the stamp album probably cost “a couple of pounds” when it was first purchased in the early 1940s.

“I saw it in a newspaper,” Parkes said. “I thought, ‘My God, I wonder if that’s my old stamp album that I gave to John.’”

Prior to its display, the album underwent an extensive conservation. Its binding was repaired, and several pages were mended and smoothed, Edquist said.

The exhibit is particularly timely for the museum. October is National Stamp Collecting Month, and on Sunday, Lennon, who was slain outside his New York apartment building in 1980, would have turned 65. Dec. 8 marks the 25th anniversary of his death.

Parkes, who will be in Washington, D.C., for the exhibit’s preview this morning to field press questions, said he hopes Lennon’s stamp collection will help reinvigorate flagging interest in the pastime.

“If his album is put on show and the world gets to know that John Lennon collected stamps, it might encourage the youth of America to start collecting stamps again,” Parkes said.

Asked how optimistic he was that this would actually happen, Parkes paused, before adding with a laugh: “They might do it. The fanatical John Lennon fiends.”

“John Lennon: The Lost Album” will be on display through April 10, 2006, in the National Postal Museum’s stamps gallery. This Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m., the museum will sponsor an open house with stamp collecting starter kits for beginning philatelists. The tribute band Beatlemania Now will perform during the event, which is free and open to the public. For more information, go to www.postalmuseum.si.edu.