The Story of... George V, the quiet pioneer of stamp collecting



"The diary of King George V is the journal of a very ordinary man, containing a great deal more about his hobby of stamp collecting than it does about his personal feelings, with a heavy emphasis on the weather" - Harold Nicolson, English diplomat and politician

One-hundred years after George was crowned on this day in history, June 22, 1911, these less-than-generous words quoted from Nicolson's diary are still oft-quoted by historians. He also describes the King as "rather a dull man ... liked nothing better than to sit in his study and look at his stamps."

But little could Nicolson have known that George V was actually not only pioneering the future of stamp collecting, by helping to form one of its most important-ever collections, but was also laying the groundwork for the very future of the British Monarchy.

Throughout his life, George was earnestly devoted to Britain and the British commonwealth. Unlike his predecessor, Edward VII, George was anti-intellectual yet his understanding of the British Empire was unsurpassed.

This extended to the King's stamp collection, with its unswervingly patriotic focus on British Empire stamps. George V's collection was housed in 328 "Red Albums", each of around 60 pages. These lay the groundwork for the Royal Philatelic Collection.


Mauritius Post Office Two Pence stamp

The rare and coveted Mauritius Post Office Two Pence stamp, as owned by King George V

Philately likewise embraced George and, while still Duke of York, he was in 1893 elected honorary vice-president of what became the Royal Philatelic Society of London.

As a gift for his wedding to Mary of Teck, later that year, the society gifted George with an album of nearly 1,500 postage stamps. This he would duly expand with a number of valuable purchases, the most famous of which saw him set a new World Record price for a stamp.

In 1905, George purchased a Mauritius two pence blue, among the finest of just 27 known, for a then-whopping £1,450. And this purchase led to a famous exchange between the King and his courtier...

Upon hearing of the sale, a courtier asked the prince if he had heard "that some damned fool had paid as much as £1,400 for one stamp". "Yes," replied George. "I was that damned fool!"

This quote, perhaps better than any other, sums up Georges determination and individuality. What's more, he was right in his purchase: the unused two pence item would be worth millions were it ever to emerge at auction on today's markets.

Indeed, a Mauritius two pence cover sold for nearly $3.9m from the collection of legendary philatelist Hiroyuki Kanai, in 1993.

Later, George would remain increasingly devoted to his collection while suffering from influenza, which eventually led to his death in January, 1936.

These incredible and rare childhood drawings by siblings George V and Princess Victoria are currently for sale on the private markets - priced at just £2,950


Today, the Royal Philatelic Collection remains one of the 'finest jewels' in the British Royal crown and has since been expanded with George VI's "Blue Albums and Queen Elizabeth II's "Green Albums".

But this wasn't George's only lasting legacy. His reputation as a hard-worker (a seemingly common characteristic among history's most famous philatelists) won him widespread admiration throughout the Empire.

Through this and an approach to his role which favoured reserved moderation over explicit rulerdom, George set a blueprint which helped the British Royals survive society's changing fashions - and is continued by the today's modern Royals like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

As George V's legacy continues to be felt in the world's high-end stamp markets - most recently at Spink's upcoming sales of the Chartwell Collection - collectors can be sure of one thing: King George V was anything but dull.


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