Before I started working at the APRL in December, the majority of my knowledge about stamp collecting came from Terry Pratchett’s book, Going Postal. As a teenager I was a huge fan of Pratchett’s humorous fantasy books set in the fictional Discworld, and Going Postal was one of my favorites. When I arrived at the APRL I was glad to see that the book was included in the library’s collection.
The story of Going Postal concerns Moist van Lipwig, a con artist who receives a job as the Postmaster General of the non-functional Ankh-Morpork Postal Service. As postmaster general, Moist introduces postage stamps, delivers decades of undelivered mail, and competes with a visual telegraph company. The following excerpt is a conversation between Moist van Lipwig and his employee Stanley Howler (likely named after Stanley Gibbons) after Moist invents the first postage stamps.
The boy put a sheet of slightly damp, greeny-gray stamps on the desk.
“The first dollar stamps, sir!” He announced.
“My word” said Moist, staring at the hundreds of little green pictures of the university’s Tower of Art. “It even looks worth a dollar!”
“ Yes, sir. You hardly notice the little man jumping from the top,” said Stanley.
Moist snatched the sheet from the boy’s hand. “Where?”
“You need a magnifying glass, sir. And it’s only on a few of them. In some of them he’s in the water. There’s a few faults on some of the others, too. The printing went wrong on some of the black penny ones, and Lord Vetinari’s got gray hair, sir. Some haven’t got gum on, but they’re all right, because some people have asked for them that way.”
“They say they’re good as real pennies and a whole lot lighter, sir.”
Going Postal is only one of a wide variety of philatelically themed fiction available at the APRL. There is also The Postman by David Brin, a post apocalyptic science fiction novel about a man who poses as a mail carrier after finding the uniform in an abandoned mail truck. If you are interested in a good stamp-related mystery, you could read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, The One Penny Orange Mystery by Morris Ackerman, or even Chasing Jenny by Jeff Stage our Editorial Associate of the American Philatelist here at the APS.
For something closer to non-fiction there is The Barefoot Mailman by Theodore Pratt which tells a fictionalized version of the true story of mailmen who delivered mail along the beaches from Palm Beach to Miami in the 1880s and 1890s. For a little more action and adventure there is Lawrence Block’s four book series about a sympathetic, stamp collecting assassin. The first book in the series is called Hit Man.
These are only a few examples of the philatelic fiction that is available right now from the library. If you would like a break from researching your own stamps and would like to read about fictional ones, go to the advanced search page of the library’s online catalog and type “fiction” in the Subject text box. If you would like to request any of the titles mentioned here or would like to see what other titles are available contact the library at either (814) 933-3803 ext. 240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 thoughts on “Fiction with Philatelic Themes”
Thank you so much for this post. I have been a fan of
sir Pterry for more years than I can count, and Going Postal is one of my favorite books; it has a special place in my own small philatelic library. So glad that you have included it in yours.
Thank you for the recent news from the Library. It is very, very helpful. I already receive your post, so need to check below. Paul Hager
Thank you, Marian, for a delightful post.
One minor correction: there are five books in the Keller series.
I have written a comprehensive guide to philatelic fiction which lists over 750 novels, short stories, poems and comics. The earliest, a poem, is from June 1840. There are also children’s stories, Sherlock Holmes stories and even philatelic science fiction. The guide is titled Stamps and Stamp Collecting in Popular Culture and is available on eBay with a free supplement.
I am a bit surprised that this post did not mention that a bibliography of “Philatelic Fiction,” including novels, plays, and short stories was published in the APRL’s Philatelic Literature Review in 2010 (4th quarter issue), 2011 (1st quarter issue), and 2012 (1st quarter issue). You could look it up! Enjoy the hunt.
Thank you, Paul and Gerald, for letting me know about those articles. I will definitely be interested in reading them!
Perhaps in the next issue of PLR you can mention that in PLR issues of 2010, 2011, and 2012 is a comprehensive bibliography of philatelic literature that three of us compiled: Paul Albright, and Michael Meadowcroft, and Gerald H. Strauss.
Gerald H. Strauss
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