Charles Darwin first day cover Falklands 1982
Last week from Stanley Gibbons I received an inviting offer to invest in a very, very rare Victorian stamp.
Here at Newquay Zoo www.newquayzoo.org.uk and my colleagues at Edinburgh Zoo www.edinburghzoo.org, we are very used to working with often very, very rare animals. The kind that feature on the IUCN Red Data list www.iucnredlist.org of endangered animals. If we do our work well, they will became less rare and more common (or at least less endangered and better protected).
Charles Darwin on his travels around the world and his visits to early zoos like London Zoo ZSL saw some now exceptionally rare animals, even some that are now extinct. The Warrah or Falkland Islands wolf (Dusicyon australis, pictured above) is one such recently extinct animal. So no chance of Sandie Robb (co-compiler of Charles Darwin: A Celebration in Stamps) seeing one on her recent Falklands expedition twinning Falklands schools with ones in Scotland. http://rzssfalklands.wordpress.com and www.rzss.org.uk/education/school/falkland_islands_project.html
Darwin discovered dinosaur bones for other long extinct creatures in South America, being an early palaeontologist and geologist. He even stopped passed Mauritius on his route home on the HMS Beagle, narrowly missing seeing the Dodo by a century or two.
Breeding rare animals in a well-managed conservation programme is obviously important and you can find more about this on our zoo websites, along with our networks www.biaza.org.uk, www.eaza.net and www.waza.org .
I’m not sure if Stanley Gibbons or collectors and investors in very rare stamps would be very impressed if we suddenly produced lots more of a rare stamp like the one we were offered by their investment site. They might be a bit suspicious of forgery.
” Today’s Top Tip – An Undervalued Rarity received from firstname.lastname@example.org 10th January 2009
“One of the most important stamps from the British Empire. Our Philatelic Director produced the description of this item. As it is a bit technical in nature, I have simply highlighted in “bold” the important aspects influencing its investment quality to help you understand why it is so special.
NEW ZEALAND 1855 SG: 3b–StockCode–P09004882
1855 (Dec) 1d orange on white paper, watermark large star, imperforate with large margins and brilliant colour, part original gum.Plated as position 5 on the sheet, the centre stamp from the reconstructed strip of 3 (position 4-6) assembled by H. Gordon Kaye (CRL 12/11/91, lots 65-67), and much the finest of the three.
Slight gum crease at foot but very fine appearance and excessively rare.
This first Richardson printing, using paper supplied from London, represents the initial production of postage stamps in New Zealand. A very important and desirable stamp. Stamp comes with a British Philatelic Association certificate (1990).(catalogue value: £32,000)
Price: £24,000 This stamp is the finest of the three in existence …”
New Zealand 1855 (Dec) 1d orange on white paper a very very rare stamp from the Stanley Gibbons website - probably the closest you'll ever come to seeing one!
and so the email temptingly went on. Not having £32,000 or even £24,000 spare, I didn’t take Stanley Gibbons up on their kind offer. Our zoo directors might wonder where their zoo budgets had gone.
Stamps from small islands like the animals from small islands tend to be at risk of becoming rare because of the very few produced or surviving, compared to the thousands of everyday definitive (penny and pound) postage stamps used in Britain each year for example. Many of our rarest creatures in zoos today are from islands. Many of the extinction lists feature island species quite heavily.
Darwin noticed that island life tends to create perfect conditions for speciation and evolution of certain features that help you survive or adapt to each unique environment, often favouring certain natural individual variations (height, speed, bill shape etc) within any animal or plant population.
Even more like evolution, it is often the tiniest variations, tiny mistakes or errors (famously missing colours or printing pictures of airplanes upside down) that escape the printers’ censorious eyes and the ‘error’ stamps become worth a fortune.
There are many stories about rare stamps or errors that we will share with you on the blog, even the odd Victorian murder by crazed collectors to gain the only copy of a stamp known to survive. Some animal collectors hoard rare animals such as the Spix’s Macaw until they have the last few left. Other people illegally collect rare bird’s eggs. Stamp collecting is much less destructive or murderous than that.
You don’t have to bankrupt your school, classroom or own budget to collect some inspiring and beautiful stamps on almost any thematic subject you can think of to illustrate your teaching and brighten your day !
Stamps can easily be obtained from dealers, auction sites like E-Bay, kindly collectors, friends or lucky charity / junk shop finds. Look at the blogroll for more links.
If you do have a spare £24,000 or £32,000 and don’t want to spend it on beautiful rare stamps, both Edinburgh Zoo and Newquay Zoo are conservation charities. We’ve lots of ideas on what to do with the money. You could buy and protect a lot of rainforest habitat for that sort of money through the World Land Trust!
Alternatively, you could buy all several hundred first edition copies of Charles Darwin: A Celebration in Stamps (for price and postage, see Sandie’s comments on the comments page). Even better, we will send one copy free to any UK primary school that requests one, thanks to a legacy from Beryl Rennie, a Scottish stamp collector to encourage schools and youth stamp work.
Teaching Tips – Extinction and Conservation
It is important to distinguish what different causes made animals disappear such as dodos, dinosaurs and more recently extinct animals such as the Falklands Wolf or Dusky Seaside Sparrow. This can create lots of questions in class to investigate:
Was this a natural extinction such as the dinosaurs?
Was it unnatural and influenced by man such as the Dodo or Falklands Wolf?
What causes animals to become extinct?
What causes animals to become endangered?
What rare or endangered animals do we have in Britain?
What can zoos, conservation and nature organisations do to help prevent extinction in the future?
We look forward to hearing from you via the blog about ways that you have used the Darwin book or stamps in your classroom or craftroom.