20
May
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It is with regret that we must inform you of long-standing PTS Member Tony Buckingham’s recent passing. Please see below Tony’s obituary.

Tony Buckingham 1945-2016

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The stamp world lost one of its great characters and the cover world its undisputed King, with the passing on 12 May of Tony Buckingham, the founder of the two pre-eminent names in cover collecting in the UK; Benham and Buckingham Covers.

Tony’s stamp dealing instincts can be traced back to his schooldays, when he used the proceeds of his sales to fund his own collection, but like many others of his age, in the end the stamps had to go in order to fund another even greater interest – girls! – or in Tony’s case one particular girl, who was, in due course to become his wife and business partner for almost 50 years, Cath.

Cath and Tony were both training to become teachers, and when Tony made the mistake of including his interest in stamps in his CV at one school to which he applied for a job, straight out of training college, he was told that part of his new post would involve running the school stamp club. One aspect of this would be to organise first day covers for commemorative stamp issues and Tony decided he could do better than those then available and with a fellow cricketer (cricket being the third great passion of his life) he set up Benham Covers – and the rest was history!

The very first Benham cover, featuring a wood-cut illustration by Cath’s father, was for the 1967 Christmas issue and for the next two years Tony and Cath would buy each new issue on the stroke of midnight on the day of issue and spend the early hours applying the stamps to the covers and delivering them to the post office of choice, and then rushing back to be in front of their respective classrooms for the day ahead.

In 1969 they were able to set up a trade account with the Philatelic Bureau and although this gave them longer to stick the stamps on the covers, it was clearly difficult to maintain the growing business alongside their teaching careers and in 1970 they decided to run the business on a wholesale basis, selling to other dealers.

It was at this time that they had a stroke of luck; while making up 1970 Churches covers they realised that one sheet of the 3d. value had the gold Queen’s head omitted and were happy to sell the majority of them for £5 each. (Today the stamp is listed as SG 904a and catalogued at £250 each – but the few covers they had made up before they discovered the error can fetch even more).

Still keen to advance his teaching career, in 1972 Tony took up the deputy headmastership of a school in Hythe, Kent. They were already attending regional stamp fairs to dispose of excess stock and, once established in Hythe, opened a stall in the local Saturday market and thus began the return to the retail business. In 1975 he finally retired from teaching in order to devote all his attentions to the Benham business, opening a stamp shop in Hythe and later the Folkestone Stamp Shop.

In 1978 Benhams took over fellow cover producers, Pilgrim Philatelics, and with it their stand at Stampex. The business was transferred from the family home to offices in Hythe High Street, they took their first ‘International’ stand in 1978 at Amphilex in Amsterdam and in the same year launched the Benham Official Cover Series, giving added value to commemorative first day covers. The first was in association with BP for the 1978 Energy Resources issue, with covers being flown to a North Sea oilrig, while the Christmas issue of that year was carried by mailcoach in Cambridge. Both brought massive publicity for the company and for cover collecting in general. It was in 1980 that the first ‘Benham Silk’ covers were prepared, for the Birds issue.

Benhams continued to go from strength to strength during the 1980s and ’90s, with the doldrums which affected most of the rest of the trade in the early ’80s not seeming to extend to cover collecting, especially Benham, now the recognised leader in the market, benefitting as of did, from Tony’s bright ideas and Cath’s award-winning design skills.

Awards indeed seem to be coming in thick and fast, with Benhams picking up Kent small business of the year, followed in 1995 by Kent Company of the Year, while Tony received one of the inaugural Royal Mail, Rowland Hill awards for ‘Contribution to Philately’.

But all was not always as it appeared and frustration that others did not share his business ethic while being quite happy to share his stock, led Tony and Cath to sell the company to Flying Flowers in 1995 and retire altogether from the business two years later, with the intent of relaxing, enjoying travel and writing.

The pull of covers was too great however and Tony and Cath were back at the Stamp Show 2000 at Earls Court and the following year Buckingham Covers were set up as part of the Internet Stamp Group, which also included the Folkestone Stamp Shop.

The new company thrived on the more imaginative Royal Mail issuing policy of the new century, non-traditional issuing subjects, bringing in new customers and Tony’s imaginative take to the covers he was producing continuing to bring massive publicity to the hobby – not to mention the benefits it brought to company turnover.

When Tony’s final illness was diagnosed in early 2014 he remained positive, working hard to ensure the future of the company, while continuing to devote his declining energies to stock acquisition via the Internet and producing his words of wisdom in every issue of Cover Lover, the house magazine, often signing off as ‘Puffing Billy’.

Tony was a man with boundless energy and a great sense of humour – and though the first deserted him in his last years, it was always clear that the other hadn’t. He was incredibly generous, helping others in the trade where and when he could and cared enormously about the welfare of his staff, which they repaid with their loyalty and led to him being awarded Employer of the Year in the 2008 local business awards.

But Tony did not only run a successful business – or even a successful series of businesses. By conservative estimates he raised over £1 million for charity through his various signed first day cover series. He served on the Council of the PTS (Philatelic Traders Society) and edited Collect First Day Covers for 20 years. He wrote extensively in the philatelic press, most notably in the Philatelic Exporter, where he would regularly recount the trials and tribulations that went on behind the various covers he produced and offering typically trenchant observations on current activities in the philatelic world. His articles always made entertaining reading, but you couldn’t help feeling that there must be less stressful ways of making a living!

Tony recently published the first part of his autobiography up to the time he ‘turned professional’, under the title The Gravedigger’s Apprentice, available on electronic device, and this has just been followed by two murder mysteries.

Looking back, it is difficult to imagine how one man could have achieved so much, but we are certain that Tony would have been the first to point out that he could not have done it all without the help and support of his family and his colleagues and we would like to close by thinking of them; his wife and business partner, Cath, daughter and son-in-law, Ellie and Tom, and granddaughters, Caitlin and Amy, not to mention everyone at Buckingham Covers – we can only imagine how much you will miss him – because we all miss him too!

Hugh Jefferies

 

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