Freddie Mercury’s ‘priceless’ stamp collection to be celebrated

Postal Museum show celebrates the Queen singer’s youthful passion for philately

All Queen fans know how much Freddie Mercury liked to ride his bicycle but fewer are aware of the flamboyant frontman’s other great childhood hobby: collecting stamps.

Now, for the first time, the Postal Museum is to put one of Mercury’s “priceless” collector’s albums on show – its value enhanced by the fact that it is one of the late rock star’s rare personal possessions in museum ownership.

The stamps that the young Mercury grouped together are unusually shaped into patterns on each page, and will be on view to the museum’s visitors in London from 13 July. The display is part of the city’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Pride movement in Britain.

Mercury, who died of Aids in 1991, was born Farrokh Bulsara in Tanzania in 1946. He spent his early life in Zanzibar, where his father, Bomi, worked for the British Colonial Office. Mercury inherited his father’s passion for stamps and is thought to have collected between the ages of nine and 12.

Many of his stamps are from British Commonwealth territories, with some from eastern Europe, and they often reflect his early life. “The real value of this collection is not in the stamps themselves but in its rich historical value and connection to one of the world’s greatest ever entertainers. As pop memorabilia and for cultural reference, Freddie Mercury’s collection is priceless,” the museum’s senior archivist, Gavin McGuffie, has said.

There are clear signs on its pages of the artistic talent to come. Each stamp has been positioned to produce symmetry in both shape and colour, leaving plenty of space on the black pages. They betray the idiosyncratic visual sense that Mercury was to pursue at Ealing College of Art, after the family moved to Feltham, Middlesex, in 1964, and later with Queen in elaborate stage performances and theatrical pop videos.

A page from Freddie Mercury’s childhood stamp album.
A page from Freddie Mercury’s childhood stamp album. Photograph: © The Postal Museum

Bomi Bulsara auctioned his son’s stamps, together with his own, in 1993, with the proceeds going to the Aids charity set up in the singer’s memory, Mercury Phoenix Trust.

Georgina Tomlinson, curator at the Postal Museum, said she is delighted to be putting the album on public display until the end of October to mark the history of Pride. Previously, it has only occasionally been privately exhibited at stamp shows in Britain and abroad. “The album is a surprising insight into the early life of a man who is remembered across the world for his incredible musical prowess and theatrical stage presence,” Tomlinson said.

All 54 pages of Mercury’s album will also be available online this summer on the museum’s website.

Eight years after Mercury’s death, his creative legacy was marked with his own commemorative stamp, but the image became controversial, with one Daily Mail columnist criticising the Royal Mail for honouring the star’s “degenerate lifestyle”. Other stamp aficionados were upset that Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer, could be seen in the background. Guidelines for official stamps included a stipulation that the only living persons who can be depicted on a stamp are members of Britain’s royal family.

The offending stamp was part of a millennium series in 1999 to recognise famous Britons of the last 1,000 years.

Queen, admired for their anthemic hits and the operatic grandeur of their pop, had more than one band member with a boyhood passion for historic artefacts. Guitarist Brian May collected prototype 3D imagery dating from the Victorian era onwards. He is now one of the foremost experts in the art, known as stereoscopy.

Two years ago, a collection of 13 stamps featuring Queen were issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the band. The stamps featured album covers including Queen II (1974), Sheer Heart Attack (1974) and A Night at the Opera (1975). Others showed scenes from live shows, including Mercury on stage at Wembley Stadium in 1986 and May in Budapest in 1986.

“Sometimes it’s strange to wake up and realise the position in which we are now held – we have become a national institution. And nothing brings this home more than this incredible tribute from Royal Mail,” said May at the time.

Queen was the third rock band to receive this honour, following in the footsteps of the Beatles in 2007 and Pink Floyd in 2016.

Rock stars’ unusual collections

Rod Stewart revealed his passion to the world three years ago – model railways. A man who must have a lot of space to work in, he said he had been working on a massive, intricate model of a US city for the past 23 years.

Phil Collins is also an avid collector, donating his large collection of memorabilia from the battle of Alamo to a Texan museum eight years ago.

Kelley Deal used to sell hand knitted scarves online while on tour with her band, the Breeders. Her passion extended to writing a book on the subject – Bags That Rock: Knitting On The Road with Kelley Deal.


Vanessa Thorpe Arts and Media correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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