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Monday, July 12, 2010

Inside the Collections of The Beatles' biographer Hunter Davies

The journalist and novelist is a passionate collector of everything from autographs to art:- Edward Hunter Davies was born in Johnstone in Scotland, then grew up in Dumfries until the age of 11, becoming a fan of the football team Queen of the South AKA The Doonhammers, and in particular striker Billy Houliston.

(He then adopted Carlisle as his next local team and later 'Spurs when living in London - though he supports Scotland in international games.)

Davies then went to Durham, and whilst there started his career in journalism writing for university newspaper, Palatinate.

He has worked as a journalist ever since, also writing the novel (later film) Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and the children's books series Ossie, Flossie Teacake and Snotty Bumstead, and working as a ghostwriter.

Davies is best known for three things: his relationship with the Beatles, his obsession with football and for being a passionate collector.

Hunter Davies spent a lot of time with the Beatles during the late 1960s, and produced the only authorised biography of them from that time. The book is highly regarded for its intimate portrait of the stars and capturing something of John Lennon's attitude whilst he was still happy to be a Beatle.

Davies enthusiasm for football resulted in The Glory Game, a behind the scenes portrait of 'Spurs, in 1972. It remains regarded as one of the best books on football around. He also ghost-wrote autobiographies for Paul Gascoigne, Wayne Rooney, and Dwight Yorke.

It was through his Beatles connections that Davies first picked up the idea of collecting - from Peter Blake - most famous as the creator of the classic Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album sleeve.

Blake had bits and pieces of Beatles and football memorabilia, and that is exactly the sort of materials Davies started with, seeing collecting as the construction of a 'Museum of Myself'. Old Beatles 45s still enjoy pride of place in his collection.

From there he spread out into fields as diverse as tax discs, stamps and art. Davies's first art purchase was an L S Lowry -The Argument - which he saw as the goal which a Northern boy in the 1960s naturally aspired to.

This too was inspired by his Beatles connections - Brian Epstein had two Lowrys when he visited him in 1967. Davies also owns what is probably more valuable - a book of Lowry drawings which the artist signed at the exhibition of his paintings, whilst gently mocking the pretensions of some of those passing comment on the works.

Davies also collects art by a painter of whom Lowry was also a fan and friend: Sheila Fells, and he once sold on a work of hers for £3,000 at Sotheby's - nearly ten times what was paid for it - despite his son having added a hole with a snooker cue.

Davies is unapologetically driven by obsessions, with one foray into stamp collecting involving the reconstruction of a sheet of Penny Blacks.

Penny Black
A Penny Black, with letters to illustrate its position on a sheet

The first kind of stamp ever issued they are not, as any philatelist will know, particularly rare as so many were produced. They were released in sheets of 240 (as there were 240 old pence to the pound) with each stamp marked with two letters showing where it came from on the sheet.

Reconstructing a complete sheet, which he eventually succeeded in doing is therefore an interesting and tricky challenge ...or madness. Davies would cheerfully endorse either description.

The strongest area of for his collections however is likely to be autographs, manuscripts and newspapers.

These span very different obsessions: he owns an impressive selection of comics from his childhood years The Dandy, The Beano and Knockout, Adventure, The Rover, Wizard, The Hotspur (a football connection looms large again).

He also owns manuscripts of one form or another signed by all the Poet Laureates: Southey, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Alfred Austin, Robert Bridges, Cecil Day-Lewis and Ted Hughes - and most valuable of all one which he spent nothing on: a postcard addressed to him by John Lennon.

Davies's book on the subject: The Confessions of a Collector, details all the obsessions and more, and is an excellent read for anyone wanting to know what a joy collecting can be.