We need to write a job description for a teacher at the School of Philately, and the vacancy is for a Head of department. It will go along the lines of:

A Philatelic Science Head Teacher to provide direction on syllabus, give instruction and guidance to students so they explore and understand all the important concepts in the science of philately, including printing, perforations, watermarks, and plating, and ensure students know how to gather evidence to arrive at conclusions. But above all, to ‘inspire’ students to learn.

And our next legendary collector would get the job for sure. Walter Dorning Beckton (1866 to 1931) was a British Philatelist who, although a solicitor by trade, very much became the chalkboard and ink pot behind the science of philately in Britain. In fact, he set up in his home city, the famous “Manchester School’ of philately, which as noted above was focused upon the more technical facets of the hobby. Whilst Beckton’s philatelic tools were his glass and tweezers (tongs to others), he was recognised more for his contribution with the proverbial chalk and textbook.

A classic collector by instinct, he prefered material pre 1890, and assembled international award winning collections of Greece, Romania, Italian States, Kashmir and other Indian Feudatory States, and along the way made valuable contributions to the various reference books and journals on these countries. This led him to become an International Judge, and during this time he was also the President of the Manchester Philatelic Society for over 35 years, and as early as 1892 he joined The Royal Philatelic Society London and became the President in 1929, a position he held until his death. Beckton, as well as taking his scholastic studies seriously, was a supporter and contributor to the Philatelic Congress of Great Britain, becoming the Chairman of the first Congress in 1909.

And although it is difficult to be sure it seems Beckton was not only a pivotal part of the International Philatelic Union (IPU), he was also the essential lifeblood of that organisation. The IPU which was an early international philatelic organisation formed for the study of stamps promoting philately worldwide. It started in 1881 and yet seemed to fade out in 1931, its activities after this period less clear, and is it a coincidence this dimming coincided with Beckton’s passing? At the time he was the vice-president of this organisation which made it to its Jubilee year, and boasted other top notch philatelists as past or current president, including the eminent James Seymour (1867 to 1950), who is well known for his book ‘Stamps of Great Britain: The Line-engraved Issues 1840 to 1853’, and John Sidebottom OBE (1880 to 1954), as well as Herbert Oldfield (1859 to 1940), all who like Beckton signed the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists. But the IPU petered-out almost as soon as Beckton died. It makes you wonder how the death of Beckton affected these and other engineers of philately. Romantically, and it probably isn’t far from reality, once Beckton’s light went out the IPU classroom fell into a twilight and enthusiasm seemed to wane. The doors of that educational institution were later locked for ever. 

But Beckton’s passing had another almost immediate effect, he was awarded in 1931 the Lindenberg Medal, which, and I quote for impact, is given to those who provide “conspicuous service to philately” because of their “investigations and contributions to philatelic literature”. I like that, but if we were to write it today, we’d include the words ‘educate’, ‘instruct’ and ‘inspire’. 

It’s apparent Walter Beckton had something about him which captivated the philatelic student, lit-up the classroom, and  gave energy to his fellow tutors. Sadly, like any educational establishment, there came a day when the school of philately had to say goodbye to it’s most gifted and inspirational teacher, and things were never quite the same after that. Beckton certainly fulfilled the job description, and that is why our Philatelic Teacher is of course Walter Dorning Beckton.


Next time we meet Sir Edward Denny Bacon and learn about John Tilleard, before we get to meet the towering philatelist Charles Lathrop Pack. You can catch-up on the previous 15 legendary collectors by clicking the links: Legendary Collectors: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13Part 14 and Part 15.