My interest in Postal History had its roots in stamp collecting. That started with the issue by Great Britain of a set of stamps to commemorate the William Shakespeare festival in 1964. Attending stamp auctions initially brought old letters to my attention but it was the postmarks that interested me at that time and they formed the basis of the articles I wrote for stamp collecting magazines. In fact it was some years before I took much notice of the contents of the letters and they were so fascinating that I started delving into the social and historical aspects of them. I have also slanted the articles that way and have had a lot of interest and contacts from readers who have appreciated the ‘window into the past’, particularly as it mainly concerns the normal, everyday person, rather than the famous.
I was persuaded to build a web-site, to which there was a great deal of response. There are now two sites in operation and they have brought new contacts and a great deal of helpful information.
My interest in philately began in England in 1964 when the Shakespeare festival commemorative set was issued. Strangely enough, the festival was at Stratford on Avon and I was in Bradford on Avon -- nowhere near Stratford. At that time I was working as a Postal Clerk and that set caught my eye.
From that time I took an interest in each set of stamps issued and that led me to become more aware of stamps from other countries as well. In the first ten years or so I collected stamps from a number of Pacific Islands such as Aitutaki, Niue and Penrhyn and also had a collection of New Zealand. I was amazed at the amount of historical and geographical information I gained from the hobby and this reflected in the number of times I was asked about the location of various countries by my colleagues at work. This was particularly the case for ‘new’ countries or those whose names were changed.
As with most hobbies there are plenty of sources of information and we began to receive lists from various dealers and also auction houses. P.A. Wilde was a case in point and as they had auctions in such places as Reading and Cardiff, both within reasonable driving distance of us we began to attend the auctions in person. It was through this that Eunice became interested in British postal history having seen some lots on display and become fascinated by the old markings. Her enthusiasm whetted my appetite too and that was the beginning of our interest in old letters. We seldom managed to get any good items as one particular bidder seemed to attend the same auctions as us and snapped up all the good stuff. Consequently most of our earlier acquisitions were tatty or had poor postal markings.
Our initial aim was to obtain one of each type of postal marking that had been used in Britain prior to the introduction of the ‘Penny Black’ adhesive postage stamp in 1840. Needless to say this has not been possible due to the scarcity of some of the marks, but we managed to acquire a good many examples of some of the marks - such as “Too Late”, the Scottish Additional Halfpenny mail tax, Free Franks, Maritime Markings, and many London Post marks.
Eunice began writing articles about the postmarks on these old letters, for a stamp magazine in England and I followed her lead. When we emigrated to Australia we began to write for Stamp News and Eunice has been writing for them for about 12 years. I was a bit slower off the mark and started about two years later. My own articles have been about stamps of various types rather than Postal History as I did not want to impinge on Eunice’s area of expertise and I also used my middle names as the writer in the magazine rather than have two Shanahans in print.
When we connected to the Internet some five years or so ago, we joined mailing lists and began to make contacts who were interested in the old letters and we began to get suggestions from two people that there would be a lot of interest in the letters from people other than Postal Historians and that we should consider having them up on the web.
A web site of our own. We took some convincing about that but eventually began the learning curve involved in creating a site and though it took many more hours than we would have imagined, it was fun and made us look at the letters in much more detail than we had so far. Many of the items bought originally for the postal markings had very interesting contents as well, particularly those of the Victorian period. We now have two web sites and are still amazed at the amount of queries we get regarding the letters and the life style of the time.
We are still adding to the collections and though many people consider that being over 200 years old, the items must be very valuable, this is not the case. Letters from the 1800’s can be found for as little as £5 depending on condition, type of mark and content. Because most of the letters are from Britain, we have had to research the events mentioned in the letters and the background to them, and this has led us to a greater knowledge of the lives of ordinary people in 18th and 19th century Britain.
Eunice and Ron Shanahan may be contacted here
Last modified 2 December 2002