The Error World: An Affair With Stamps

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-01-20
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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What is included with this book?


From the author of "Mauve" comes an obsessively readable memoir that brings the mania for stamp collecting to life. Garfield intertwines the story of his philatelic obsession with an honest and engrossing exploration of the rarities and absences that both limit and define individuals.

Author Biography

SIMON GARFIELD is a feature writer at the Observer (London) and the author of nine works of nonfiction, including Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World, which was a New York Times Notable Book, and The End of Innocence, which won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1995.

Table of Contents

The Perfect Stampp. 12
Gutter Pairsp. 133
Imaginingsp. 424
My Dealerp. 615
Not Alonep. 786
Almost Bluep. 947
Heinzp. 1228
Missing Tp. 1309
Mounts Long Dryp. 15410
Not for Salep. 17611
Perforationsp. 19312
The Error Worldp. 207
Postscriptp. 233
Acknowledgementsp. 247
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.


1The Perfect StampLittle do wives know how much men spend on their hobbies. But my wife is about to find out.It is almost one o'clock on 22 November 2006, a Wednesday. I'm standing just inside the door of my marriage guidance counsellor's house in north London. I have a stamp album under my arm and I am in all kinds of trouble emotional, financial, philatelic a situation I couldn't have imagined two years before.My marriage is over, but the reasons are still unravelling.We have drifted apart over the years. I have fallen in love and I'm having an affair. I have developed a passion for someone I loved when I was young, and for something I loved when I was a child. I am forty-seven, and I can't concentrate on anything for very long.I have built up a stamp collection I can barely afford, and it has brought me to the brink of ruin. The affair and my stamps, the two secrets that have brought me here to a small room in the shadow of Alexandra Palace, are not unconnected, for both are quests for meaning, the classic mid-life dilemma. For my marriage guidance counsellor the affair is a commonplace: a lack of intimacy and honesty with my wife, a beautiful woman who has rejuvenated my days and made me feel attractive, hotel rooms. But the stamps are something unusual.Collecting fills a hole in a life, and gives it a semblance of meaning. When men get together to talk about their passions, we don't just talk about what we love our cars, our sports, our romantic yearnings but also how much these desires have cost us, and what we have lost. We try to regain what we cannot. We talk about the one that got away the prized possession as if that would have made everything right.Little do wives know: I first heard this phrase from Michael Sefi, the keeper of the Queen's stamps. Then there were similar observations from the head of an auction house and my stamp dealer. They often spun a web of secrets for their clients, something they called discretion. My philatelic icon, a man who had the heroic name Sir Gawaine Baillie, had built up a collection worth more than ten million pounds, but his wife thought it was worth 800,000.In the past I have wondered whether my affair was a sort of hobby too, a diversion from reality, a club of extreme enthusiasm. We loved talking about our love, and would sometimes talk of nothing else, shutting out the world with our own code. We knew it wasn't harmless, and that devastating and far-reaching things would surely follow, but we considered ourselves above life itself.I found it easier to talk about my affair than my stamps. I was actually proud of it, even in front of my wife. In my mid-forties I could still ignite passion in myself and in another; better, it was a passion I had never felt before. And anyone could understand these emotions, the stuff of books and films, and of a million lucky lives. But stamps? Used postage? Who could be passionate about that? And who could explain it?I told my wife of my affair in a straightforward way, on a walk along the Kent coast one afternoon, and things moved swiftly from there. Within a week I was sleeping in my office, within a month in a rented flat. There is a practical way these things advance, a clinical order to offset the hurt and anger and tears. There is professional help to call upon. But an affair with stamps stamps as a mistress, just as uncontrollable as the wildest edge of obsessive love that might take half a lifetime to understand.My wife still doesn't appreciate my stamps, but my marriage guidance counsellor, who I shall call Jenny, is making a good attempt. After our session this lunchtime I have an appointment at an auction house, not to buy but to sell, a

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