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Shedding light on stamp collecting passion

Update: March, 13/2012 - 16:17


Collector Nguyen Huy Khanh's passion is for stamps of lighthouses. Vuong Tam and Thu Huong report.

Philatelists usually get feverish with excitement when it comes to stamps depicting flowers, animals, or cultural monuments but HCM City's Nguyen Huy Khanh's particular passion is for lighthouses.

Such is his love for lighthouses, he now has a collection of 600 stamps, which he has amassed over the last 12 years, making him the possessor of the biggest lighthouse stamp collection in Viet Nam and possibly the world.

Khanh, who used to work as a technician for the Southern Viet Nam Maritime Safety Corporation, claims to have set foot on nearly 80 lighthouses in Viet Nam and dozens of others abroad.

"I collect lighthouse stamps because I just love the sea and the light that illuminates the way for ships in the dark," Khanh says.

Among his most prized possessions is a set of stamps depicting the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, which for many centuries was the tallest man-made structure on Earth and has been named one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. To mariners of old, the lighthouse was a source of hope and reassurance, while to architects, it was an amazing feat of engineering. It is estimated to have stood between 120 and 140 metres high and could be seen from a distance of 50km.

Even though the lighthouse, which was completed in the third century BC, was destroyed during a severe earthquake in the 14th century, artists helped recreate the lighthouse's exact image from historical records.

Khanh now has four collections featuring this architectural marvel, the oldest of which was published in the 1980s in Egypt.

"These are among the most precious stamps I have acquired from domestic and foreign stamp collectors," Khanh says.

His other highly prized collection is of the Macquarie Lighthouse in Sydney. Built in 1818, the lighthouse is among the oldest in the world that are still working. Even the stamps themselves are very old.

Khanh also enthuses about his collection of 15 lighthouses published during the existence of the Soviet Union and East Berlin. "They are precious because these political systems no longer exist; therefore, their value has increased over time," he says.

However, despite the extent of his collection, there are only a few stamps of lighthouses in Viet Nam.

"There are nearly one hundred lighthouses in Viet Nam, but the post office has only published four stamps of the lighthouses in Long Chau, Cu Lao Xanh, Vung Tau and Can Gio. What a pity," Khanh says sadly.

This is perhaps why the stamps depicting lighthouses in Viet Nam are Khanh's favourites. "They have become so familiar to me, unlike the exotic ones."

In addition to stamps featuring images of lighthouses, Khanh also possesses many featuring My Son Holy Land, the old capital of Hue, Phong Nha-Ke Bang Cave and other world wonders.

Khanh's passion doesn't end with simply collecting stamps, he also insists on mailing letters and postcards to himself from exotic locations.

"I want my lighthouse stamps to have postmarks from places I have been to. That makes them more valuable in the eyes of other collectors," Khanh says.

Khanh also takes photos of the lighthouses he visits, and even collects old photographs and postcards. Afterwards, each photo is printed on hand-made envelopes, with information about the lighthouse printed on the back.

Furthermore, once he sticks a lighthouse stamp on an envelop, he asks the lighthouse keeper to sign the outside.

"One time, after designing an envelope with a print of Cu Lao Xanh Lighthouse [a 100-year-old lighthouse on Cu Lao Xanh Island off the coast of Quy Nhon Province] and sticking the lighthouse stamp on it, which was published in 1992, I went to the island to send it to myself," he says.

"I wanted to ask for the mark of the post office, unfortunately, the only officer working there had already gone home to take care of her new-born baby. Therefore, I had to starve myself waiting at the post office until she came back. Seeing such a person sending letters to himself and a very strange-looking envelope with a beautiful image of a lighthouse on it, she was very amazed."

The last envelope Khanh mailed to himself was on January 30. On the envelope was an image of Bai Canh Lighthouse. It was stamped with the mark of the post office on Con Dao Island in the south of Viet Nam.

It takes a lot of time and effort to collect stamps in this way, but I love doing it, Khanh says.

"I have had a strong attachment to lighthouses for many years. Now that I have retired, these stamps are such a vivid diary of my career and life."

Khanh says he recently raised the idea of publishing more lighthouse stamps in Viet Nam with the Ha Noi Stamp Company. Luckily, the company's director was enthusiastic about the idea and plans to publish a new lighthouse stamp collection in early 2013.

As for the future, Khanh next plans to visit Busan Harbour. And then of course there is his wife, "the light of his life" (no pun intended), and his children who have so far expressed no desire to follow in their father's footsteps. — VNS

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