Like so many boys, I began to collect stamps. (Is it true that collecting is a male characteristic?) And like most stamp collectors I set out to collect all the stamps in the world. Being a serious youngster, I went to the library and borrowed the Stanley Gibbons Simplified Stamp catalogue of the world. Even simplified, my ambition was brought crashing to the ground.
Then I switched from the Dandy to Stamp Collecting a weekly magazine for serious stamp collectors. ( I was now all of 10 years of age.) It was there that I made my next discovery: 'Approvals'. In those trusting days, dealers would send quantities of stamps, mounted in slotted cards, on the understanding that you sent a postal order for your selections, and returned the remainder.
This soaked up almost all my spare pocket money.
However, I had a stroke of good fortune. A local newsagent (Rimmers, opposite St. Peter’s church in the High Street), either bought or inherited a collection of stamps, which he proceeded to sell by mounting four interesting stamps on the front of a packet, and enclosing 16 others inside. As he operated in Newton-le-Willows, he gave them the inspired name of 'Willows' packets. I spent (no, invested) 3d in one packet, which had 2 stamps I didn't have, mounted on the front.
Keeping the 2 or 3 others that I didn't have, I mounted the rest on cards, and took them to school to sell them as 'Approvals'.
Selling 3 lots of 5 stamps for 3d, (one customer was ‘Stinks’ the chemistry master), I now had enough to buy another packet, and decided to invest more pocket money to buy 3 packets. As my school mates didn't know where I was buying, I had a profitable monopoly, buying, selling, re-investing. Then, unhappily, the newsagent’s original collection ran out, and thinking he was on to a good thing, he began to get what I, as an informed, serious collector, regarded as rubbish, (big, spectacular mint stamps from countries like Tanna Touva, or the French colonies.) Ah well, a useful lesson in business.
On a visit to my Grandpa in his tumbling-down cottage in Herefordshire –his first name was William, as is mine, so I had a privileged relationship with him – I told him about my stamp dealings: he was delighted, saying that my old grandpa was proud of me. He always wore a suit, and smelt of mildew and oil lamps. I remember sitting by him as he sat on his ancient, American cloth covered armchair, as he confided: “It’s the first £100 that takes the longest”. He explained. He had been apprenticed to an engineering company that made biscuit-making machinery. His employers undertook to teach him “The art and mystery of engine-turning”
He had saved every penny he could spare until he had enough to buy a house – a terraced, ‘Coronation Street’ look alike in Earlestown. The rent from this, plus saving from his gradually increasing wages, shortened the time until his second house. By the time he died, he had bought over 50 such houses.