Sir John Marriott

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The Independent Online

John Brook Marriott, schoolmaster and philatelist: born Stretford, Lancashire 27 July 1922; Assistant Master, Charterhouse 1945-82, Housemaster 1960-75; Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection 1969-95; MVO 1978, CVO 1991, KCVO 1995; Vice-President, Royal Philatelic Society, London 1979-83, President 1983-86; married 1952 Mary Thompson (two sons); died Godalming, Surrey 3 July 2001.

John Marriott was one of the philatelic greats of his generation, and blessed with an encyclopaedic memory. He was Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection from 1969 until 1995.

The collection is unusual in being the personal property of the Queen. It was started by Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who became the first Honorary President of the Royal Philatelic Society, London in 1890. In 1900, shortly before his death, he sold his collection to his elder brother, the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. In turn, the collection was given to his second son, the Duke of York, later King George V.

His uncle had reported the 25-year-old prince's interest in stamp collecting to the Royal Philatelic Society, and three years later, in 1893, he joined it and was immediately elected its Vice-President, becoming its President from 1896 to 1910.

It can be safely stated that no collection of the British Empire stamps has ever been formed that compares with that built up by George V. On his accession to the throne in 1910, he appointed J.A. Tilliard to be "Philatelist to His Majesty". On Tilliard's death in 1913, Sir Edward Bacon became "Curator of HM the King's Philatelic Collection" and by 1921 he had mounted 350 volumes of it. Sir John Wilson Bt became "Curator", and then "Keeper" of "His [then Her] Majesty's Philatelic Collection" from 1938 until 1969, when he retired. John Marriott took up the appointment as the fourth Keeper in 1969 at an important time in the collection's development.

The Queen's collection has steadily grown through purchase and gift, particularly as more stamps were issued by British Commonwealth countries. However, the late 1960s saw a vast increase in issued stamps throughout the world. It was Marriott's task to attempt to manage the incredible wealth of philatelic material. At the same time, the Queen wished to extend the public enjoyment of her collection, from which, typically, one part was shown by the Keeper to the Royal Philatelic Society each year from 1919. This custom has continued without a break to the present day, and, considering that most displays are first time shown, the size and quality of the collection can be appreciated.

In Marriott's period as Keeper, parts of the collection were exhibited 39 times overseas, and at a significant number of occasions within the United Kingdom. Perhaps the greatest display he organised was at the 1980 International Stamp Exhibition held at Earl's Court in London, where more than 100,000 people queued to view it. Nowadays, the collection has grown so large that it has been moved into St James's Palace and is by far the finest in the world in private hands.

John Marriott was born in 1922. A Scholar at Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood, he gained a scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge, from where he graduated with a First in Mathematics in 1943. An active sportsman, he first played cricket for the West Herts Cricket Club, and gained his Blue playing for Cambridge. Unusually, he also played rugby for the university. As a leading mathematician, he was recruited direct from Cambridge into the Army Operational Research Group in 1943 and posted to Bletchley Park to work on the Colossus code-breaking machine.

At the end of the Second World War, he took up a position as mathematics master at Charterhouse School, where he remained until his retirement in 1982. There he followed his interest in sport, acting as cricket coach from 1951 to 1959. In 1960 he was appointed Housemaster of Girdlestoneites House in 1960, a position he held until 1975.

He had taken up stamp collecting at an early age and joined the Royal Philatelic Society in 1951. By that time he had already a fine collection of Trinidad, but later this gained international recognition with the award of gold medals in London (1960) and Amsterdam (1967). Indeed, his Trinidad collection was the finest ever built up by one person.

His knowledge of stamps gained him membership of the Expert Committee of the society in 1965. In 1968 he was awarded the Tilliard Medal for his outstanding display of Trinidad. He was invited to sign the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists in 1972, following in the steps of the first signee, King George V, in 1921. From 1970 he served on many international juries. The Queen appointed him MVO in 1978, CVO in 1991, and finally KCVO on his retirement in 1995.

He received the Lichtenstein Medal in 1988; at that time, he was only the second non-American to gain this award. In the same year, Germany awarded him the Lindenberg Medal. He was President of the Royal Philatelic Society from 1983 until 1986, and was an Honorary Fellow of that Society, an honour very rarely given.

Francis Kiddle

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