Almost half a century is a long time to faithfully pursue a hobby. But that’s how long Johnny Lowis has been collecting stamps, and he has a huge collection to show for it – some 900,000 stamps!
“I started collecting stamps when I was a student in Britain,” says the 68-year-old semi-retired graphic designer. He is a graduate of De Monfort University in Leicester, England.
“At that time, I collected them just for their designs. Most of the stamps had simple and nice graphic designs, and they gave me some inspiration,” explains the Singaporean via e-mail.
He says that an inexpensive way of getting stamps is by buying them in a bulk lot of, say, 10kg. He then sorts out the stamps, keeps what he likes, and then sells or exchanges the rest with other collectors.
The stamps in his current collection have cost him anything from 20 cents to a few thousand dollars apiece.
“I obtained these stamps through my 300 worldwide stamp-exchange partners. Some stamps were purchased online or at stamp fairs.”
Lowis receives plenty of mail – 20 to 30 letters – each day, and he would of course save the stamps from those, too.
“The world’s first dog stamp was produced in 1894. It depicts the Newfoundland breed. It came in a set of two: black and red. The stamps were issued by the British independent colony called Newfoundland, before it became a part of Canada,” explains Lowis.
The Newfoundland issue, followed by the dog stamps of Liechtenstein and Japan, are his favourites.
As expected, Lowis has stamps that depict all kinds of everything. His vast collection includes about 2,500 stamps that feature dogs in general.
However, since his daughter was born – in 1990, the Year of the Horse – he has been focusing on amassing stamps that feature the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. In his collection are sets of stamps for the Year of the Dog, the Horse, the Tiger and the Monkey, to name a few.
“I’ve been collecting dog zodiac stamps since 2004,” he says, “For the Year of the Dog, I have about 1,300 different dog stamps from all over the world.”
Lowis says that while there’s no specific amount he would spend on acquiring stamps, he just buys what he likes, and that can come up to S$50 to S$200 (RM148 to RM590).
“But for this zodiac issue, I spent about S$500 (RM1,480), buying them for worldwide exchange partners and as gifts for friends,” he says.
Popular around the globe
Lowis points out that nearly all the countries in the world have issued stamps depicting dogs, with the exception of countries such as Iran, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Early last month, Pos Malaysia issued a set of stamps titled “The Animal With Many Roles: The Working Dog”. These stamps carry pictures of a fireman with a border collie, a policeman with a Belgian shepherd, and a blind person with a golden retriever.
Some 40 countries around the world have hopped onto the zodiac stamp bandwagon, says Lowis. Besides Asian countries with a Buddhist culture, most of the Western and African countries – such as Australia, Canada, Finland, Ghana, New Zealand, Tanzania and the United States – have come up with their own issue of zodiac stamps, as well.
You can bet that Lowis has lots of them, too.
“I have dog stamps from all the countries, including Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Macau, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam ... you name it!”
Paintings and cartoon characters
Besides the dog zodiac, Lowis has stamps depicting paintings of dogs, too. Among them, Lowis mentions, are Young Black Dragon by Lang Shih-ning (on Taiwan’s stamps; a painting of a royal dog called “Young Black Dragon”), King Charles Spaniel by George Stubbs (Britain), Arearea by Paul Gauguin (France), Charles I Children (The Three Eldest and The Five Eldest) by Anthony van Dyck (Belgium), Boy With Horse And Greyhounds by Janos Vaszary (Hungary), Old Juniet’s Trap by Henry Rousseau (France), and Dog Fighting Heron by Abraham Hondius (Poland).
Lowis also has stamps depicting some famous personalities born in the Year of the Dog, such as Elvis Presley, Jane Goodall Michael Jackson, Mother Teresa, Prince William, Yuri Gagarin, and Zhou Enlai.
Stamps bearing the images of dog cartoon characters, such as Goofy, Pluto and Snoopy, can be found in his collection as well.
Lowis does not merely collect stamps. He takes it further by creating A4-size presentation albums of his treasured items, complete with write-ups.
He meticulously researches and writes about the dog breeds, their characteristics, and countries of origin, as well as the various roles that dogs play.
He estimates the value of his dog postage stamp collection at S$12,000 (RM35,500), taking into consideration the time that goes into research and doing the write-ups.
Lowis’ amazing stamp collection has been making its rounds at the Singapore Philatelic Museum.
“My solo exhibitions there have featured the zodiac animals – Horse, Goat, Cockerel – as well as music and performance art stamps, and my coffee and tea collection,” he elaborates.
Apart from the Singapore Philatelic Museum, Lowis’ stamps have also been exhibited at the Kreta Ayer Stamp Club and at the Ang Mo Kio Community Club, both also in Singapore.
His stamps have gone abroad, too. Currently, part of his dog stamp collection is being exhibited at the Shenzhen Book Centre in China. Hong Kong’s North Point Community Centre is another stop that’s on the cards.