Obituary: Robson Lowe

Robson Lowe, stamp collector and dealer: born 7 January 1905; married (two daughters); died 19 August 1997.

Robson Lowe was the towering giant in the world of stamp collecting or philately. A stamp dealer, auctioneer, writer, editor, publisher and organiser, he has left an enormous amount of literature on all aspects of philately.

"Robbie", according to his own story, started stamp dealing as a schoolboy when he was 15 years old, in 1920. He was determined to establish a career in stamp dealing and first applied for a job with the London stamp dealers Fox & Co, in South Kensington, but was not accepted due to his outspoken comment that he was only working to learn how to become successful himself. Funded by his parents, he started a business which grew until its name became renowned world-wide. Initially it was called the Regent Stamp Co, with a subsidiary, Robson Lowe Ltd (1926), which became arguably the leading stamp auction house in the UK and was taken over by Christie's in 1980.

His auction house became famous and he handled many of the great collections, primarily through personal contacts established through his standing as a philatelist. Collectors of today owe much to him through his marketing the archives of the stamp printing companies of De La Rue, Bradbury Wilkinsons, and Waterlows, and selling these publicly and privately, spreading the sales over a period so that the market could absorb this tremendous original artwork, proofs and essays of the stamps of so many countries.

From a humble beginning, Robson Lowe became one of the great entrepreneurs. By 1934 he was successful enough to launch his own magazine, the Raconteur, which became the Philatelist in 1937 and is still published today. Promotion of the hobby, and hence himself, through the written word was his particular strength.

By 1948 he had published his first major book, Handstruck Postage Stamps of the Empire 1680-1900, which introduced the field of postal history - the study of routes, rates and postal markings of the mail - to the philatelic world as a serious collecting field. Between 1948 and 1990, this was followed by his six volumes of Encyclopaedia of British Empire Postage Stamps, which became the authoritative points of reference for the stamps and postal history of Great Britain and the Empire.

Such books not only were learned, they were also propagandist in their promotion of postal history, an aspect of collecting which he established as a most important part of philately. His belief in the subject led him to introduce the first Postal History auction sales: they have now been copied by hundreds of auction houses across the world.

In the 1970s he gained yet another landmark in the development of postal history by persuading the Corsini family to sell their letter archive. This material was the first major source of early postal history and did cause problems as the letters, and the associated private postal markings, were written in antique Italian. Not to be defeated, Lowe taught himself the language, and translated many of the historical letters. Indeed, he became so proficient that he lectured learned societies on the subject in Italy.

Whilst an extremely successful businessman, he also contributed much in the promotion of the hobby, and assistance to others not so fortunate. Unable for health reasons to serve in the Second World War, he created in Bournemouth the 1940 Stamp Exhibition to celebrate the centenary of the Penny Black, the world's first postage stamp. Linked to this, he organised many events, including an auction, to support the Red Cross in its war efforts. His talent for organising stamp exhibitions led to his being the Organising Secretary of the 1960 London International Exhibition on the South Bank and the early British Philatelic Exhibitions at the Seymour Hall.

Lowe received many philatelic honours. He was the first "stamp professional" who was invited to become an Honorary Member of the Royal Philatelic Society, London. In recognition of his contributions to newer aspects of philatelic collecting he was made Honorary President of the Cinderella Stamp Club in 1983, and of the Revenue Society of Great Britain on its formation in 1989.

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