The Collections of Thomas Tapling

Thomas Keay Tapling was born in Dulwich, London in 1855 to another Thomas and Ann Tapling.

The young Tapling took an early interest in rare stamps whilst at school in Harrow, and he joined The Philatelic Society which had only recently been founded in 1870 or 1871. (The term 'philately' was probably coined during Tapling's lifetime.)

From Harrow he went on to Cambridge, and planned a legal career, qualifying as a barrister. However his father had made the family rich through a carpet and furnishings business, and the younger Tapling was called away from his fledgling career to run the business when his father died.

The immaculately groomed Tapling was regarded as an enlightened employer, and the business grew, allowing him to pursue his passion.

In 1886 Tapling tried his hand at both sport and politics: Having played cricket as a batsman at Cambridge, he played for the MCC against his old university in 1886.

Whilst he did not distinguish himself (scoring 5 runs across both innings) he was offered the chance to tour India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) with the closest thing to a national side at the time. He had to turn this down, however, due to the illness of a friend.

Also in that year he became a Conservative MP, defeating Liberal MP Thomas Paget for the constituency of Harborough in the general election and took on a position as a member of the Standing Committee on Trade until his untimely death from pleurisy in 1891, aged just 35.

Despite his relatively short life, Tapling played a crucial role in developing the new pastime and study of philately.

Continuing his childhood hobby with enthusiasm, he bought up other stamp collections over the next several years and in 1881 was made Vice-President of the Philatelic Society. Tapling's collection was a key source for their first handbooks.

By 1887, Tapling had one of the two greatest stamp collections in the world, the other being that of Count Ferrary.

After his death, the society created the much coveted silver Tapling medal in his memory, which is awarded to the person who writes the best paper in The London Philatelist. He was also listed as one of their 'Fathers of Philately' in the 1921 Roll of Distinguished Philatelists.

Tapling's collection includes examples of almost all issues of stamps and postal stationery, such as an unused block of six Penny Blacks, as well as most of the rarities issued up to 1890.

Some of these rarities include 2 examples of an 1854-5 Indian blue and red stamp with the heads inverted, a mis-coloured blue 1851 Spanish stamp (1 of 3 in existence) and two 2 cent Hawaiian stamps known as 'Missionaries'.

Mauritius Post Office Two Pence stamp
Post Office 2d
(Click to enlarge)

Tapling also owned two examples of the world famous Mauritius 'Post Office' stamps: a 1d orange on a cover and a 2d blue, the extremely rare first printed stamps of the tiny island.

The 2d blue was the result of a swap with Ferrary - perhaps one of the most remarkable swaps in philatelic history alongside the modern swap of the Z-Grill and Inverted Jenny block.

Unfortunately we do not know for sure what Ferrary received - possibly an Afghan or Kashmir stamp.

Inverted Swan of Western Australia 4d
An Inverted Swan

A few of his other great rarities included: a Zurich 1843 4 rappen (unique strip of five) and the Western Australia 1854-55 4d blue, with frame inversion error (inaccurately described as The Inverted Swan in reference to the correctly positioned central picture).

Whilst Ferrary's collection was caught up in the issue of WW1 reparations and broken up, Tapling's stamp collection was donated to the British Library when he died, and remains intact - the only 19th century collection to be so - though too large to display all at one time.

Its 4,500 valuable sheets are now thought to be worth at least £10m, and will no doubt play a crucial role in the British Library's celebration of philately this year.


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