About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Postage Stamp Provides the Motive

British Guiana 1 cent magenta
Laurence “Jacko” de Luce, the father of Flavia, in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley loves postage stamps. Where Flavia’s passion is chemistry Laurence is devoted to philately. While she happily spends hours in the family laboratory he spends even more hours in his office working with his stamps.

I can appreciate how Laurence can spend so much of his time focused on his collection of postage stamps. When I was a teenager I thought every day about my collection.

Some of the time I was considering the options for adding to my collection. Most often I would get packets of stamps from dealers through the mail on approval. After examining them I would return the stamps not purchased. Rarely would I have the chance to get to a stamp dealer and actually examine stamps in a shop.

I spent time examining the stamps. Some were mundane. More were miniature works of art. Living in rural Saskatchewan there were no major galleries or art museums for me to attend. Buying stamps was my only opportunity to buy art.

Stamps fueled my interest in countries outside Canada. I wanted to learn about the places, animals, objects and people featured on stamps.

Handling the stamps properly took quite abit of time. To avoid damaging them or reducing their value required me to be precise and careful.

In 1967 I went to Expo ’67 in Montreal. I spent as much time in the shop of each country’s pavilion looking for the stamps that country had issued for the Exposition as I did exploring the exhibits. Reading the book prompted me to go back and look at my old album in which I had mounted my Expo stamps. They are still as fresh and vivid as when I placed them on the pages.

As an adult I collected stamps and I have maintained my membership in the American Philatelic Society but I have not been an active collector for several years.

While there was a time in my life when I could have spent as much time with my stamps as Laurence there was a fundamental difference to our respective collecting.

I never had any valuable stamps. Laurence had the resources to assemble an impressive collection.

Any object which is rare can provide a financial motive for murder.

Earlier this year in Split to Splinters by Max Everhart it was the baseball thrown by major leaguer, Jim Honeycutt in his 300th win, whose immense value as the symbol of a great sports moment brought about murder.

In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie it is a variation of the first postage stamp, the penny black of mid-Victorian England. Only two copies of this variation were said to exist in the world.

Just as baseball fans will pay exorbitant amounts for a baseball so stamp collectors will spend comparable sums for a tiny piece of paper.

Currently the most expensive stamp in the world is the sole known copy of the British Guiana 1 cent magenta stamp which sold last year for $9,480,000 in an auction last year to American designer and shoe manufacturer, Stuart Weitzman. It is the only major stamp not in Britain’s Royal Philatelic Collection.

While post offices are struggling around the world and email dominates communication the lure of postage stamps remains strong.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley


  1. Thanks, Bill, for sharing your background in stamp collecting. I always find it fascinating the way stamps reflect the culture and history of their countries of origin. And it's easy to see why people collect stamps as they do, even aside from the monetary value of some of them. They are beautiful and interesting.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I learned so much about the world through stamp collecting.

  2. Bill, I enjoyed reading your experience with stamps. I like stamps too but I no longer collect them, other interests taking precedence. Every time I read about rare or early stamps online, I go through my dad's collection to see if it's there! Many Indian stamps, such as a Gandhi quartet, are rare and fetch a good price. Today, my knowledge of stamps is as much as my knowledge of stocks — nil.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. As with most hobbies you either need to keep up or you lose track of what is happening in the pastime.

  3. That was very interesting - I always reckoned I learned plenty of geography from collecting stamps when I was much younger. Our daughter had a stamp collection for a while - but young people these days don't, do they?

  4. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I have no actual evidence but I agree few young people are collecting stamps. They are not part of their world.