History stroll thru postal stamps

Walking tours of city’s rich heritage
By Jeannette Andrade
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:41:00 04/25/2009

Photos : Renz

Filed Under: Tourism, Hobbies, Culture (general), history

Liwasang Bonifacio

MANILA, Philippines — It could be a magical mystery tour with a slight twist and a different setting.

The postal heritage walking tour around Manila hopes to resurrect the dying art of stamp collecting in an age of e-mail and instant messaging through leisurely strolls around historic sites around the country’s capital.

What’s magical about the tour is the Filipinas Stamp Collectors’ Club’s (FSCC) ability to uncover hidden gems of history around Manila using postage stamps as its guide.

back view of the Main Post Office and Postal Bank

Lawrence Chan, FSCC vice president and tour guide, conceded: “Stamp collection is a dying art. Let’s face it, people would rather send an e-mail rather than send snail mail.”

Chan told the Inquirer that the primary aim of the postal heritage walking tour is “to promote through philately our rich cultural heritage.”

Philately is defined by the Philippine Postal Service in its website as “the world’s most fascinating hobby. Through philately, you can learn of a country’s history, art, culture, and industry as depicted in special commemorative stamps.”

Chan said his group has organized the walking tours to “show participants how diverse and rich our culture is.” The tours are usually scheduled every third Sunday of the month but can be held on other days depending on requests made by students or other interested groups.

He pointed out that sometimes, they even spend for the participants just so they could join a tour.

The FSCC officers and members usually meet every third  Sundays at the Postal Museum and Philatelic Library to trade or sell stamps.

Josie Cura, FSCC president, told the Inquirer that her group accommodates people who want to start their own stamp collections.

Cura, who has been collecting stamps since 1966, said that people can write them through snail mail and ask for free stamps to start the hobby. “As long as they enclose self-stamped envelopes, we can give them stamps.”

The FSCC was first organized by stamp collectors in October 1994 as the Manila Stamp Collectors’ Club aimed at catering to beginners and intermediates at the hobby.

It was later renamed as the FSCC in January 2000 and has some 70 active members to date.

The Philippine postal heritage walking tour kicked off at the Aduana or the Customs House, where goods including mails were brought from overseas and declared.

Aduana ruins

What could be seen now of the then “Intendencia” is its ruins at the heart of Intramuros. The building was built from 1823 to 1829 , was demolished in 1872, and a new one replaced it four years after to house the customs offices, the Intendencia General de Hacienda (Central Administration), the treasury, as well as the casa moneda (mint).

First day cover of the Intendencia building circa 1974 -25th anniversary of the Central Bank of the Philippines

It was destroyed by American artillery in 1945 and was restored and used by the Central Bank of the Philippines, the national treasury, and the Commission on Elections until it was completely ravaged by a fire in 1979.

The Puerta Isabel II monument and gate is marked by the bronze statue of the Spanish queen which was first erected near the Teatro Alfonso XII (now the Metropolitan Theater) in Arroceros (now Plaza Lawton) on July 14, 1860.

Moves to dismantle the statue after the queen’s downfall was thwarted by a sympathizer who hid the monument in his home.

Puerta Isabel II gate and monument

In 1896, the statue resurfaced and was erected in front of the Malate Church for some 70 years until Typhoon “Yoling” (international code name Patsy) toppled the statue. It was only in 1975 during the visit of then Prince and now King Juan Carlos of Spain that the monument was erected on its present site.

Reina Isabel II of Spain- portrait and stamp issued in 1854

Liwasang Bonifacio was also part of the itinerary. The park which is known as the venue for most rallies used to be known as Plaza Lawton until it was renamed in the 1960s after the Plebeian hero Andres Bonifacio.

The Manila Cathedral inside the walled Intramuros was also part of the tour as it was also previously featured in stamps when its bell tower has not yet been constructed.

The final leg of the tour showed a virtual trove of philately in the form of the Postal Museum and Philatelic Library which is located within the Manila Central Post Office compound.

The postal museum is hidden at the third floor of the building of the Security Inspection Services Division and Postal Police Force that any Manileño would scratch his head in wonder at not knowing that it exists and is in fact the oldest museum in southeast Asia.

It was organized in 1992 to enable the public to view the country’s rich repository of stamps and items used by the post office through the years including: Old mail boxes, typewriters, awards, paintings, stamps, philatelic magazines, as well as books and catalogues.

Chan revealed that the Philippines is the first country in Asia to issue stamps, printing and releasing them on Feb. 1, 1854.

He disclosed that the first stamp is highly collectible because of the error in printing where “correos” was misspelled as “corros” and could fetch a price ranging from P5,000 to as much as P25,000 a piece.

Another collectible stamp is the June 30, 1981 Philippine issued stamp and souvenir sheet without any indication of the country of origin and carried “new republic” on its face.

A Sept. 25, 1995 issuance honoring Cesar Bengson bore the picture of his brother instead. When the error was discovered, 2,070 stamps had already been sold while the rest were recalled and replaced.

Chan pointed out that errors and mistakes in printing of stamps make them precious to stamp collectors.

He lamented that the hobby is no longer as thriving as it was during the snail mail era and the museum is not being promoted when other countries take pride in their culture.

“We have a very rich history. We should just take time, take it slow to enjoy what we have,” Chan stressed.

The FSCC can be reached by prospective hobbyists through Manila P.O. box 2986 or through 7355001.

Reprinted from Philippine Daily Inquirer – April 25 issue

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