769: The Error World by Simon Garfield

by Gerard


769.56092: Garfield, Simon. The Error World: An Affair with Stamps. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. 245 pp. ISBN 978-0-15-101396-8.


Dewey Breakdown:

  • 700: Arts and Recreation
  • 760: Printmaking and prints
  • 769: Prints
  • 769.5: Forms of prints
  • 769.56: Postage stamps and related devices
  • +092: Biography

We are all of us collectors. Be it books, baseballs cards, or Barbie dolls, what we gather into our lives defines us in some way. Simon Garfield’s life seems to be one of not only collecting, but of crisis and loss. From his first experience with stamp collecting, he was hooked, but his pseudo-obsession with philately would cost him more than money. In his The Error World, he looks at the history of both stamp-making and stamp collecting as well as the trajectory of his own life in relation to his hobby.

Stamps began in Britain in 1840 and from there began a worldwide obsession with acquiring newer and interesting pieces. The 1840 Penny Black started the whole thing. Stamps are now printed in every country and include an almost infinite variety of subject matters. There are those that just collect British monarch stamps or island airmail stamps or stamps from a certain decade. Garfield concerns himself with errors. At various points in the printing process, ink can be misapplied or entire figures can be missing from the stamp. Errors, because they are inherently rarer than the stamps themselves, are a bit more valuable and have more character. Garfield details the history of famous collectors and the prizes they sought after, counting himself among their number.

Garfield’s collection of stamps is counterpointed with his collection of experiences. His father died early in his life and then his mother, and he can’t quite ever keep his relationships or his collections whole. He cheats on his wife and has to sell his collection to pay for the divorce. Garfield’s life is unfortunately underwhelming when set against the field of philately (which is saying quite a lot, I believe), but the stories he tells are genuine. In the end, the book reads fast and has a good amount of information about stamps, so it’ll fit nicely in a free afternoon.