One of Philately’s Rarest Books
Alphonse Marie Tracey Woodward’s two-volume Postage Stamps of Japan and Dependencies (1928) is one of philately’s rarest books. Only one hundred and twelve sets were printed on handmade vellum paper, bound in full calf leather, and decorated with tooled gold. One hundred of these were signed and numbered by Woodward for sale at $75 per set (the equivalent of spending approximately $1000 on a book today). The twelve remaining sets were left unsigned and unnumbered to serve as reviewers’ copies.
The National Philatelic Collection obtained signed and numbered set number 38 in a 1954 auction of Ralph A. Kimble’s philatelic library. In 1980, it received one of the unnumbered sets from the estate of George T. Turner. Since 1993, both sets have been deposited in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum Library. The signed and numbered set will be on view in the museum’s philatelic galleries from August 8, 2010 until January 9, 2012 as part of the exhibition Collecting History: 125 Years of the National Philatelic Collection.
These sumptuous books are being shown alongside original pages from Woodward’s specialized stamp collection of the 1 sen issue of 1872, the first time they have been shown together. Following Woodward’s death in 1938, his stamp collection was sold at auction by the London firm H. R. Harmer. Several volumes were purchased by Leroy Waller Christenson, a collector of Japanese stamps who lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Christenson kept the volumes intact, and in 1960 he donated eight of them to the National Philatelic Collection.
Both the book and the collection garnered significant international awards during Woodward’s lifetime. Postage Stamps of Japan and Dependencies was awarded the Royal Philatelic Society London’s prestigious Crawford Medal in 1929 for “valuable and original contribution to the study and knowledge of philately published in book form.” The stamp collection received the RPSL’s Tilleard Medal in the same year.
By Daniel A. Piazza