Book Review: ‘Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps’*

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps*

Author: Howard Piltz

Total Number of Printed Pages: 64

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 6

* The title is disputed

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The Introduction to this work contains a subsection titled Coming Together with Works of Art. Within the latter, the author notes ‘…That in stamps one could find the wonderful combination of transport history told within a glorious gallery of miniature works of art’. It is a fair summation of what is to follow.

An Introduction appears behind the Contents page. Within the former the author uses subsections to provide details about himself; the reasons behind the creation of the work and the volume’s format and content. An interpretation of relevant philatelic terms is also given.  Confusingly (and at a point seven pages into the Introduction section) a separate four page section titled Narrow Gauge Railways appears. Bearing the page numbers 13 – 16, it is in turn followed by pages 17-20 of the Introduction section. As the Contents page indicates that a section titled Narrow Gauge Railways starts on page 13 and is in turn followed by another section titled The British Isles on page 20, some confusion results. The volume contains no Chapters per se’. There are instead nine un-numbered Sections (including the Introduction) which fulfil that function. Six of these Sections form the focus of the volume. Placed in its centre, these are arranged in respect of geographical land masses, with The British Isles, Asia and The Americas being but three such examples. Subsections within each geographical area name specific nations, provide images of their stamps, then precis’ their postal history and that of their railway systems. A final section (titled Collecting) is placed at the rear of the volume. This discusses the rationale behind stamp collecting (albeit with a focus on the specific topic of Railway stamps), and is accompanied by a subsection titled Looking after Stamps, the latter’s title being self-explanatory. No Index, Bibliography or Maps appear within the book. As one would expect, the volume is illustrated by images of all sorts of trains on postage stamps. The range is wide and includes examples from all parts of the globe and both ‘working’ units and those that have been preserved. Some stamps appear individually, some as part of a larger set. With one exception (on page 25) none are captioned and the Contents page carries no mention of their existence.

Regrettably, if asked to describe this volume on one word, this reviewer would have to say ‘Confused’. In addition to the previously-noted ‘Insertion’ of one section within another, the author of this volume is seemingly unable to decide its purpose. Is it a book about stamps? Is it one about trains, horses (as per the image appearing on page 25), or is it in fact something else – and if so, what? To compound this ‘difficulty’, the volume also appears to have an alternative title, albeit one which may in fact hint at its actual purpose. While both the Cover and Title pages state unequivocally that the volume is called Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps, the Page Header on the left-hand (even) pages throughout the volume inform the reader that the title is in fact Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps – a Collector’s Guide. Which is correct? There is no way to know, although the reviewer suspects that the Header-title may be the more accurate of the two available options. The images of pristine envelopes, First Day Covers and proof blocks of stamps with which the volume is illustrated would seem to reinforce the possibility.  The lack of both an Index and a Map also adds to the confusion; the reader having to both guess where specific nations actually might be, while having no certainty that they have even been included within the work. Readers seeking images of specific trains are similarly doomed to what could be ultimately-fruitless searching. Railway ‘Enthusiasts’ interested in technical specifications or seeking a ‘learned treatise’ on motive power etc. will also be disappointed.  And the previously-mentioned, horse?  Apparently a winner of an ‘English’ horse race (the ‘Grand National’) in 1983, it was named after a lighthouse located at Corbiere on the island of Jersey (appearing as a background within the stamp). Although Corbiere was the terminus of a now-extinct narrow gauge railway, the connection between animal and railway is (at best), very tenuous.

Although Philatelists are its primary focus, readers interested in the more exotic permutations of ‘trains’, may also find it of interest, with even children perhaps getting pleasure from viewing Thomas’ relatives. Despite the images being stamp-centred, readers who just want ‘nice’ pictures of trains might also find it worthy of their attention. Artists with an interest in ‘Things railway’, might also find the volume a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 6.

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Book Review: ‘Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps’*