Penquins, Potatoes, & Postage Stamps

A Tristan da Cunha Chronicle

by Allan B Crawford


When the late Mr Alec Page, philatelist and publisher suggested I wrote this book, my first reaction was to recollect the only bit of Latin I remember from my prep school days, which was Ovid's pentameter

Iam veniet tacito, curva senecta pede
(Presently bent old age will come with silent foot)

With a guilty conscience, I felt this applied to me - I was in my 85th year!

I pointed out to my philatelic friends I was not one of their ilk. But if I could combine their thoughts with my historical and educational interests, in a book extracted from my diary for the general reader I would be delighted to attempt it. With reasonable health, my basic faith, and friends like Ron Burn, Colin and Pat Spong and Mike Mueller in America, then all things are possible.

All countries nowadays publish sets of commemorative postage stamps so often, entailing a great deal of research on the part of designers; and yet stamps are so small and captions so minute, that much of this is missed by the general public. I feel strongly that it should be used in some way and not lost to posterity.

As an amateur I had designed several sets of postage stamps for Tristan da Cunha, and so I knew what a lot of research was involved in designing a single set. Visits to libraries, museums, government offices, private individuals and institutions could be involved, necessitating travel by car, bus, rail, ship and even air. I experienced all, not forgetting two visits to Norway to see the leader of an expedition who was already over 90 years of age. On one of these visits we had the honour of coffee with the King in the Royal palace in Oslo. Admittedly this was an exception; but my travels had included a visit to Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, to Southampton, Tring, Greenwich, Cambridge and several visits to London in the process of research. All this effort on the part of many can not be conveyed in the minute inscriptions on a postage stamp.

A plea
Some years ago my friend Trevor Hearl, for the benefit of the teachers of St Helena, made sets of photographic slides from the island stamps, (these were supported by notes), so that they could teach island history, using the very best illustrations available. It would have been even more helpful if the stamp designer's artwork and research notes had been supplied, where they would have been preserved for posterity by those who appreciated them. Teacher and students would have looked at them with greater interest and respect.

Sadly records are not always kept by stamp printers. I discovered this when requesting copies of the artwork of a delightful set of stamps long since out-of-print showing the life cycle of the Rockhopper Penguin. With a great deal of trouble the artwork in question was recovered from somewhere in the Midlands, and I was able to use it. To organize such records might present some problems but perhaps someone could take the matter further if interested?


Wadhurst, E Sussex