The following is an article from the first quarter 2023 Philatelic Literature Review (PLR). To read more articles like this, subscribe to the PLR today!
I study and collect the postal history of the consular post offices of Egypt. In the 19th century, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire permitted the governments of a number of European countries to establish post offices in the chief cities of Egypt in order to facilitate commercial and governmental communications. These post offices were typically located in government consulates, hence were known as consular post offices.
At present, I am conducting research into the Austrian consular post offices of Egypt and the conveyance of mail from and to these post offices by steamships.
There is a phrase that I find apropos to the detailed sort of research I enjoy: It takes as long as it takes. We researchers can identify our topic, define the scope of our project, and outline our work, but it is inevitable (and, in my view, delightful) that the research will take us in directions we cannot anticipate. These detours and rabbit holes mean that the work will take longer than we expect, and that it will lead us to resources which we did not know existed.
An owl is part of the logo for the Philatelic Library of Hamburg.
In this very way, in June 2022, I found myself at the Philatelistische Bibliothek Hamburg (PBH) – the Philatelic Library of Hamburg, Germany, in the hope of tracking down information in support of my research.
Philatelistische Bibliothek Hamburg e.V.
Open Tuesdays & Thursdays 2:00 to 6:00 p.m.,
other times by arrangement.
For Library Programs for 2023 (accessible via Zoom), see homepage: https://www.philatelistische-bibliothek.de/
Long before I arrived at the library, I had planned a trip to Tanzania and Germany as part of volunteer work for a non-profit. About three months before my departure, I learned of a resource that likely corroborated a conclusion which I had reached in my research. This book-length resource is a compilation that was self-published, a characteristic of many philatelic publications.
A partial view of library holdings
Henri Tristant’s book on the packetboats of the Mediterranean is a good example of such self-published work.1 For students of French postal history, especially the postal history of the French post offices in the Levant, Tristant’s book is an indispensable, if difficult to obtain, resource.
My search for the book of interest to me initially took me to the APRL's David Straight Memorial Philatelic Union Catalog, a resource providing access to multiple important philatelic libraries. That search yielded no results, perhaps not surprising for a self-published book printed in a very limited edition. (The book is: Wolfgang Schubert, Einschreibevermerke (+ sonstige Klebezettel) der Österreichischen Levantpost, Schriftenreihe Rekommandation 1. Teil, self-published, 2005. If I am ever fortunate enough to own the book, I am donating it to the APRL – I will still be able to access it there, but then so will you.) A wider search also yielded no results. Until, that is, I discovered that the PBH had a copy on its shelves. The stars were aligning! I could add a side-trip to Hamburg during my time in Germany.
After consulting the library’s website, I contacted the library’s chairman, Herr Oliver Weigel, to learn whether the library would be open during my time in Germany. Herr Weigel put me in touch with the volunteer librarian, Herr Axel Faust. Herr Faust assured me that the library would be open and even offered to open the library earlier than usual for my convenience. He informed me that he would put aside the book I sought so that it would be ready when I arrived. With that reassurance, I added transportation to Hamburg as part of my itinerary.
A special commemorative cover created in 2021 for the Hamburg Philatelic Library's 50th anniversary.
The PBH is located in a neighborhood of industrial buildings. There is no indication that the plain brick building, six stories high with rows of closely spaced windows, contains a library on one of its floors.
Axel Faust, the enthusiastic Librarian of the Philatelic Library of Hamburg, Germany.
Arriving at the front door, I pushed the button next to the name of the library. Herr Faust answered and told me to go around to the back of the building to find the entrance. He met me even before I was halfway back and led me up the stairs, and there it was: a fine library, with abundant shelves of books and work tables. You bibliophiles know the sensation: you feel right at home tucked in among all that knowledge just waiting to be discovered.
Before I could even ask, Axel put the book I sought into my hands. He then asked me about the focus of my research. I gave a short description, and he was off! Within 10 minutes he began to place other resources on my work table.
After reading and taking notes about the pertinent section of the book I came to review, I began to read through the other resources Axel had identified. Before long, I was surrounded by three or four growing stacks of books. At the end of 90 minutes, I had reviewed well over 20 additional volumes which I had not even planned to consult. From four of these I was able to corroborate several other points in my research. It was a worthwhile stop, indeed. The bigger bonus was meeting a new friend in Axel Faust.
Primary sources are the best! Axel put this pile of Austrian post and telegraph archival material on the author's worktable for review.
The PBH is truly a hidden gem. There among neighborhood warehouses and mechanical shops was a repository of philatelic knowledge. And, of course, Axel adds such value to the library. He is knowledgeable, passionate, and dedicated.
I only wish that the books, journals, and collateral material of the PBH were included in a larger searchable online catalog of philatelic resources, like the David Straight catalog. Still, the extensive holdings of the library are searchable on the PBH website. Also, the library is included in the list of libraries accessible through the website of the library of the Royal Philatelic Society London, but search capacity through that portal appears limited.
My experience at the PBH prompted the question: how many other philatelic libraries around the world are out there waiting to be discovered?
Every quarter, the Philatelic Literature Review includes a section hosted by APRL Librarian and Director Scott Tiffney called “Library News” in which various philatelic libraries provide updates on their holdings and activities. I am familiar with most of the libraries that offer a report. Is there a list, online or otherwise, of other, less well-known philatelic libraries? With that list in hand, imagine the fruitful philatelic side trips you could have when travelling on vacation or for business in the U.S. and internationally. Language limitations did not seem to matter when I visited the PBH. My high interest and Axel’s enthusiasm overcame any language barriers. I highly recommend a visit to the Philatelic Library of Hamburg.
1. Henri Tristant, Les lignes régulières de paquebots-poste du Levant et d'Egypte 1837 – 1851 (Paris, the Author, n.d.). Available from the APRL.