‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Collecting – I- Spy, Stamps, Airfix Models, Records, Cds, Books and Green Shield Stamps.

I am not sure whether it was just a boys’ thing or whether girls were the same, but when I was growing up in the primary school years there was a common thread of collecting.  When I was little, it was Dinky cars and toy soldiers, but soon I became interested in stamps. I think my Mum bought me the first stamp album, packet of stamps and hinges and started me on an intense, but relatively short journey.

The mystery of stamps for me was that they were from faraway places and some quite old. There were names of countries that I had never heard of, and some had pictures that were intriguing. Each page of the album was for a specific country, or in some cases more than one. Some of the stamp packets came with stamps still stuck on a bit of the envelope and you had to go through the process of either soaking them off, or when old enough, steaming them off with the kettle, which was difficult to do without scalding yourself. I know that now stamps are more valuable still on the original envelopes, but then we removed the stamps and laid them flat on blotting paper to dry.

A collection of my tales up to the end of Harehills County Primary School.

I was aided in my stamp collecting by my Uncle Ernest, who went to Russia in the mid-sixties to help set up a synthetic fibre plant, and he brought back some large Russian stamps that showed Sputnik, the first satellite in 1957; Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space in 1961; Laika, a dog they put in space in 1954 and another that I can’t remember. I became quite proud of my collection and bit by bit I bought a loose-leaf stamp album that allowed stamps to be slotted into place. I even saved up to buy a Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue in either 1966 or 1967. The covers are the same and so I can’t be sure. The album listed all the stamps known at the time and the price that Stanley Gibbons would sell them at. It gave background information and was the authoritative text for philatelists. I can’t say that I really fell in love with the hobby, and when high school started I found more things to interest me.

Possibly a little earlier, my collecting habit was helped by Brooke Bond tea cards. With each packet of tea there was a card that had a picture of whatever set was current and you could buy the album to collect them. Some cards were more common and so it was quite difficult to get a full set. I did manage to collect one full set and that was the British Butterflies set that was out in 1963. I was quite proud of the full set and I did learn a bit about butterflies, but the real pleasure was the opening of the packet and finding what card was inside. We would trade spare cards at Harehills County Primary School and they became an interesting way to learn about trading. Some younger boys had rarer cards taken by older boys and there were some arguments. The Brooke Bond cards started in 1954, and mimicked cigarette cards and ran until 1999.

There was one activity that was common in the 1950s, but has now been totally banned, and that is the collecting of birds’ eggs. I even remember watching, I believe, Blue Peter and they showed you how to blow an egg to remove the contents so that the egg shell could be saved. At the time, they suggested that you only took one egg and left the others, but clearly this had an impact on bird species, some of which were close to extinction.

Another element to collecting was fostered by the I-Spy book series. These books started in the 1950s and lasted to the 1960s before they were modernised. The books had themes and the first one was I-Spy at the Seaside. Within the books there were lists of objects and children would tick them off when they spotted them. The children were known as the I-Spy Tribe and the organisation was run by Big Chief I-Spy who initially was Charles Warrell, a retired headmaster. The first books cost sixpence and I loved them. There was something about ticking off items that suited me and many other children. I suppose it was the same attraction that some people got with collecting train numbers. I only once went train spotting and I can’t say that it was ever my cup of tea. I found that standing near railway lines, looking at mostly diesel trains, cold and dull, but I know many people love it.

The collecting habit was picked up by various retailers through the Green Shield Stamp phenomenon. This was first started in 1958, but it was in the 1960s and 70s that it was remarkably successful. Stamps were provided when people bought petrol, or shopped at a range of stores and these stamps were collected and could be swapped for items in a catalogue. The purpose of this was to encourage people to shop in certain stores or businesses that were part of the scheme. This proved very popular and my mother would collect stamps from all her shopping and my dad from the petrol he bought. A friend of the family, Mr Waites, ran a driving school and he collected vast numbers of stamps and gave them to my mum. I remember her having to stick them into books and then swap them for a range of gifts, either through the catalogues or through the shops. I seem to remember one in the centre of Leeds on the Headrow. This means of creating brand loyalty was good for the stores, seemed to build on the collecting habit and fostered the idea of getting something for free. Similar marketing ploys were created in the 1960s and one that I remember clearly was the ‘Put a Tiger In Your Tank’ adverts and promotions. It is strange, and on the whole has ceased to be the case, that petrol which is identical, regardless of manufacturer, and is often produced in the same refineries, was sold in competition. The idea that Esso’s fuel was better than the opposition, and made you a different and more powerful motorist, took off. To help with their promotion they had little tiger tails that you could fit to your car, on the aerial, the fuel cap or the bumper. I remember well scooter riders having lots of them adorning their scooters. Badges and a whole range of merchandising were created, and again, people wanted to collect them and would buy their fuel at the Esso stations.

Airfix models were another hobby that I was particularly interested in during the early 1960s and I had lots of the plastic construction sets. I think the first I ever had was a very simple model of the Mayflower and this ship had very few pieces, but it stoked my interest and I think a Spitfire kit was next. Many models later, some I tried to finish by painting, I realised that I just wasn’t very good at it. Glue got everywhere, including my fingers and I developed a taste for it. But mainly the glue got onto the clear plastic windscreens on the cockpits and spoilt them, got onto the propeller axles so that they wouldn’t turn and was a bit of a nightmare. The old glue tubes were no good for new kits as they tended to set once you had opened them, but I still built up quite a number. I was interested in balsa kits, with tissue paper used to cover the frame. Some of these were quite big and had proper petrol engines, but I never got the opportunity to have one. Some of my friends did, and I looked lovingly at their handiwork, which put my mess to shame.

As I got to high school and was a teenager, then there was another form of collecting that had high status and kudos, and this was record collecting. I am not sure that originally it was seen as a collection, but if you wanted to buy music then you had to buy vinyl records. To buy records you had to go to a record store. My older brother bought his first record, the Animals, House of the Rising Sun, from Varleys at Harehills. I remember going down with him. I loved the shop as it was full of toys, model kits, bikes and for a while, records. They had the single and he bought it. I can’t remember if he listened to it first as they had a little booth, but he carried the prized possession in its paper sleeve all the way home and played it on the Dansette record player. The first record that I remember buying was the single, Young Girl, by Garry Puckett and the Union Gap in 1968. Nowadays the lyrics would certainly raise some eyebrows, but at the time no one seemed to care. It was a pleasant, melodious song and I bought an ex-jukebox copy.

Bit by bit, my taste developed and my favourites were the Small Faces. I collected a lot of their singles, and again they were ex-jukebox, with the middle of the records missing. You could buy an adapter and this filled the gap and allowed them to be played on the record player. I believe I bought most of these from the record department in Vallances, in Leeds and I built up quite a collection for a while, but then albums became the thing to own. My brother Andrew got the Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd and I borrowed it, I think I still have it, and that was something you could carry around with pride. Albums were large enough, and had covers that were easily recognisable, and there were some artists that gave you street credibility. I used to take albums to friends’ houses and to parties where they were not shown the care or attention they deserved. Some I never saw again, some were thrown like frisbies and scratched, and some got warped by leaving near anything hot or had cigarettes stubbed out on them. I started to buy albums and I think they were thirty-seven shillings and sixpence for quite a while. Ummagumma, by Pink Floyd, The Who Sell Out, Sticky Fingers by the Stones, Tapestry by Carol King, this one for a girlfriend, In the Wake of Poseidon, King Crimson’s second album and many others joined my collection. The greatest achievement was having sufficient so that you couldn’t pick them all up. I kept buying albums until I left for college, where I bought cassettes, but they were never a great choice, but when I returned to Yorkshire in 1976, I carried on buying albums until the middle 1980s, when CDs appeared and I went to Papua New Guinea. CDs were lighter, better quality; I know many don’t agree, but they had good booklets of information and I liked them. The collecting bug was still there until the arrival of the IPod and mp3s. This was the end really for collecting, as yes, you had the music, but it wasn’t a tangible thing that you could show anyone. At one time I had over 18000 tracks on my IPod, but I didn’t have the same sense of ownership. I have read how many bands formed because one of the members saw someone else carrying albums that they loved, they shared the same tastes and became The Rolling Stones, Yes or one of the many others. The albums under your arm said a lot about you, and could impress girls or turn them off.  This seemed to work better than the pipe smoking, morose fellow in the corner, which never resulted in anyone finding me attractive. However, the album could start up a conversation, a bit like walking a dog can.

The first of the Moondial Series. All five books are available in Ebook and paperback formats.

The other major collection that I had for many years was books. I must have bought hundreds over the years, but moving house, having children, moving countries has meant that they have been discarded on the way. I still have a garage full, in plastic boxes, but now I mainly read on my IPad or Kindle. The Ebook does not have the same tactile joy in it that the paper version does, but it is so manageable. As a writer of books, particularly novels, then it is the story that is important and I do not often have the time to reread books. It is much like the video tape collection, the DVD collection and the Blueray collection that fills boxes under the bed, mostly my sons’ collections. The need to collect things seems to be part of us, maybe a link to history where hoarding was necessary to survive, and a display of wealth. I can only surmise, but I have got it as part of my DNA, and clearly many others have.

Something for those tiring of lockdowns. Can’t say that we have suffered here in Western Australia.

12 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Collecting – I- Spy, Stamps, Airfix Models, Records, Cds, Books and Green Shield Stamps.”

  1. Hi,
    Having been born in Leeds in 1955 i can relate totally to your memories and you remind me of things ive so long forgotten from my early life. Thank you.
    Can you tell me where i can buy your Cup of tea tales books from please? Amazon only seems to have one, does this one have all your tales in it ?

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    1. Hi Laraine
      I was born the year before you. I am glad that you enjoy my tales. I am afraid that the only place that you can get the book is from Amazon. You can get it as an ebook, paperback and hardback, but they only print them in the UK or USA and soon Australia. The one book has the tales up to leaving primary school. I am just finisheing a thriller and the next project will be to release the High School Years. I hope to get that out in the next few months and details will be on my blog. I try and write a tale evry week and I have been doing it for three years now. If you follow me then you will know when the next one is available. Let me know if you have any difficulty getting a copy. I hope that it will bring back some happy memories.

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  2. Hi David, Thanks very much for the blog. Ive only recently discovered it and will be going through past ones. We may of crossed paths sometime as I was born 1954 in Leeds (now happily in Fremantle). One omission,on collecting in the 60’s, was the Robinson’s Jam badges. Definitely not politically correct today, but I remember them very well, they were a status marker as well as Robinson’s jam was expensive. I proudly had one badge. but I got it for a champion conker!

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    1. High Nigel,
      Glad that you enjoyed it. I was born 1954 so we may well ahve crossed paths. You are right about the Robinson Gollies and I had one or two. My mum collected them for me and later my first son. They certainly wouldn’t be permissible nowadays, but I never saw them as anything racist at the time. I do a blog every week and there are a lot in the past. Some readers asked me to put them in a book and that is the Cup of Tea Tales – The Early Years. I will release the Secondary School one in a few months. The blog is out every Week, so I will be interested to see if you have feedback.
      Best wishes
      David

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  3. David,

    I believe your second-to-last sentence says it all; it’s human nature to hoard for the sake of survival, just like woodpeckers and squirrels store acorns for the coming winter.

    Airfix models, stamps, cigarette cards – did all of those in my youth. I swear that my parents moved house just because by bedroom ceiling would not take any more squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes dueling Messerschmitts. However it wasn’t until I had the money to buy music that collecting became the obsession that it now is. And not just recorded music (in whatever format was popular at the time), but its means of reproduction as well. At the last count I have 13 (or maybe 14) turntables, half a dozen reel-to-reel tape recorders, several cassette decks and even an 8-track cartridge player, a couple of dozen receivers and amplifiers and even more old radios from the 30’s and 40’s, and many pairs of loudspeakers – one pair in particular I would like to be buried with, but they would not be able to fit in my coffin (in fact one of them could be the coffin). However, I’ve never had an iPod and I haven’t succumbed to streaming music. Even though my career was in computer control systems and software development, I just can’t rationalize playing music with a mouse click – even if almost everything recorded is available online (however just try streaming Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” performed by The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra, if you can find it).

    I have accumulated several thousand CDs and I can’t even give those away these days. I have a room (literally) full of LPs; in fact when we moved house a couple of years ago, I calculated the weight of all that vinyl to be approaching one-and-a-half tons. Such is my obsession. Even though I have more than I can possibly play in my remaining years, I take great pains to ‘exercise’ a selection of them daily. There is still something magical in deciding what to play, gently pulling the selection from its cover and playing it on a (non-automatic, of course) turntable. Nowadays I find that I ‘binge-play’ several records by the same artist and I can do it all without a playlist. King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Neil Young, blues, jazz, folk , whatever, they all get their turn (and I don’t even need to look very far for The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra – they’re on the rock-music shelf under ‘T’).

    And I’m still buying the stuff.

    Cheers,

    Terry,
    Virginia, USA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am just listening to The Temple City Kazoo Orchestry and Whole Lotta Love. Words fail me, brilliant! Have you ever thrown anything away Terry? You seem to have kept all the most important things. I love to hear your experiences and a friend was quite rude about collecting. She said she would rather watch paint dry, but clearly it is a male thing, on the whole. I remember watching Iggy Pop interviewed and he said that he had always wanted nice chairs and now he had the money he had built up a collection. He said he made a point of sitting in one of his chairs each day to enjoy it. I never really liked his music, but I rather liked him. Some things should be kept and I have enjoyed the fact that my mother kept so many of my things from childhood. You only have to see the old letter, certificate or exercise book and it takes you straight back and the memories come flooding out from somewhere.
      Keep collecting. I bet your home is a joy to you, but maybe not your wife.

      David

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      1. I wish I could claim to have ‘discovered’ The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra when I added them to my collection many years ago, but it was the BBC’s good old John Peel who brought them to my attention. Now if that band turns you on, listen to the Rhino Records label recordings from the 70’s. At that time Rhino specialized in ‘novelty’ (to say the least) recordings, before they became a reissue label. Wild Man Fischer (a Frank Zappa protégé), Gefilte Joe & The Fish (no apologies to Country Joe McDonald) and Little Stevie Weingold (no Wonder) were (almost) household names On my first visit to the USA, I even went to their record store in Los Angeles, just to buy one of their ‘very strange’ records to add to my collection.

        And to those whose collections of memorabilia are crowding them out of the house, buy a bigger house! Memories can never be replaced, so let the next generation worry about disposing of your stuff. Enjoy your memories now.

        Cheers,

        Terry.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I had a phase of buying strange records, at one time, Terry. I would buy things because I liked the cover, thought the title was interesting, or many other reasons. Some were great, some not so, but all worth it.
        I like your style, with buying the bigger house!

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  4. I was an avid collector of just about anything…..stamps, cigarette cards, Brook Bond cards,’ Wade’ animals (think they were free in one of the teas??), postcards, birthday cards, letters, badges, vinyl (I had hundreds of singles and albums), enjoyed all of it. Oh yes books as well, I have a regular clear-out as would never get all the stuff in my house!! Thanks again for your memories which are always very similar to mine.

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    1. Now you are one of only a few ladies who have admitted to collecting, Yvonne. A friend said she would rather watch paint dry, but I love what I have kept and wish I had kept more. Keep safe, Yvonne

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  5. Forgot to say it’s not just my stuff I collected, I have two children and yes, well, couldn’t resist collecting all their birthday cards, paintings from school, exercise books,,school reports, hand-made Christmas decorations!! I wouldn’t mind but they are not interested in any of it, so I’m hoarding it all in the loft, one day when I’m not around anymore they will have it all to sort out…….ha ha

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    1. My mum did that, Yvonne and I didn’t care less until I was well into middle age. Now I am so grateful that she did. When you are young it all seems worthless, but you prize the bits of your history as we age. Continue to keep them, Yvonne. They will thank you one day. It is part of the reason that I started to write my memories, I hope my sons will enjoy knowing a bit about their great grand parents, grandparents and parents.
      David

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