The world’s most expensive piece of paper

Long before I was born, my dad worked briefly for a firm of a stamp auctioneers in London. Apparently he helped, in some small way, to sell King Farouk of Egypt‘s stamp collection! He had a small collection of his own and he used to take me to stamp fairs, mostly I think to catch up with old friends. For me, it wasn’t so much the stamps I found appealing as the people who collected them, who seemed an unusually obsessive bunch with their own arcane rules, jargon, and preoccupations that appeared baffling from the outside.

Cover of The one cent magenta by James BarronI was therefore delighted to discover, in the Library’s catalogue, a book called “The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World” by James Barron, which is full of stories of people like those I remember.

This book tells the extraordinary tale of a single stamp, the only one of its kind, as it changed hands and rapidly increased in value with each new owner over it’s 150 year history. (The title of each chapter reflects the stamp’s value at that point in the story.)

The stamp in question is really just a tiny scrap of coloured paper bearing an almost indiscernible design. It was printed quickly in what was then British Guiana (now Guyana) to replace some stamps that had gone missing on their way from London. As stamps of this value (unlike the more common four-cent stamp that was also printed at the time) were mostly used for newspapers and magazines, almost all of the them were thrown away when they were finished with, but miraculously a single stamp survived and was rediscovered some years later in 1873 by a 12 year-old boy among papers in his uncle’s house.

After a number of changes of ownership, that stamp eventually sold at auction in 2014 for the astonishing sum of US$9.5 million (about NZ$13.5 million) – more than a billion times it’s original value! At just 2.5cm x 3.2 cm that means each square millimetre is worth nearly NZ$170, making it the world’s most valuable object for its size and weight.

British Guiana 1c stamp issued in 1856. Last sold for NZ$13.5 million. (Public Domain image from Wikipedia)

The reasons why someone would pay such an inordinate sum of money for something with no real material value, and why some very rich people find extreme rarity of this kind so irresistible, is the central question explored in this book. It would be tempting to consider these people crazy, but they all made excellent returns on their investments, and future owners will continue to do so as long as the stamp remains so highly sought after.

The book is a real page-turner, and there are lots of astonishing tales along the way about the people involved, such as the man who tried (unsuccessfully) to use the stamp as a bargaining chip to get out of a murder charge, or another who may (or may not – no one really knows) have found a second one cent-magenta and destroyed it to maintain the value of the first. These stories may sound incredible, but in the bizarre world of high-value stamp collecting this sort of behaviour is not out of the question.

This book reminded me of the 1936 novel “Antigua, Penny, Puce” by Robert Graves, about a brother and sister who fall out in spectacular fashion over a dispute concerning the ownership of a rare stamp with many similarities to the one-cent magenta, which is well worth reading too if you find this sort of thing as fascinating as I do. The Library doesn’t have a copy, but as it’s out of copyright, it is available as an e-book from the Internet Archive, where you can also find the audio of a 1995 BBC Radio dramatic adaptation of the book.

Enjoy!

Digging up the past

New Zealand Archaeology Week runs from 28 April – 6 May, with events up and down the country, including an exhibition courtesy of Underground Overground Archaeology at our own South Library called Pubs of the Past: the archaeology of Victorian Christchurch Hotels, so this seems like a good time to mention some of the archaeological books, magazines, and other resources that you can find at Christchurch City Libraries.

Books

The Library has thousands of books and eBooks about archaeology for both adults and children. Because archaeology lies at the interface between art, history, and science, books on this subject can be found in several different places among our non-fiction collection, so if you’re having troubling finding what you’re looking for, then ask a librarian for help.

Here is a list of a few of my personal favourites that have recently been added to the library’s shelves, including some fiction that features archaeologists as characters…

Archaeology

List created by robcruickshank

Books about archaeology and archaeologists for adults and children, including both fiction and non-fiction

The 50 Greatest Prehistoric Sites of the WorldCover of The 50 greatest prehistoric sites of the world – A guide book to archaeological sites

A’a – The fascinating story of a Polynesian artefact, now in the British Museum, that became an inspiration for Picasso

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes – The consequences of an archaeological hoax come back to haunt the characters of this 1956 novel

Built on Bones – What happened when we started to live together in cities? – the archaeological evidence

Cover of Cigars of the PharaohCigars of the Pharaoh – A classic!Cigars of the Pharaoh

The Incredible Cabinet of Wonders – Not just archaeology, but I love this children’s “lift the flap” bookThe Incredible Cabinet of Wonders

Keeping Their Marbles – The uncomfortable story of how archaeological objects from around the world were acquired by western museums, often by coercion and theft

Cover of A little history of Archaeology by Brian Fagan

A Little History of Archaeology – Stories of some of the great archaeologists and what they found – one of the “Little Histories” series

Lost in A Pyramid – Twelve tales from the golden age of the mummy story, collected and published by the British Library

Mayan Mendacity – The second mystery for Dr Elizabeth Pimms, archaeologist and librarian – sequal to Olmec Obituary

My Life in Ruins – What is it actually like to be an archaeologist?

Cover of The quest for ZThe Quest for Z – A delightful retelling for children of a doomed expedition to find a lost city in the Amazon jungle

The Story of Tutankhamun – A beautifully illustrated book for children about perhaps the most celebrated of ancient Egyptian pharaohs

View Full List

Magazines and eMagazines

The magazine Archaeology is available both as a hard copy and as an e-magazine through RBDigital. Check out the January/February 2018 edition for an article called “New Zealand’s First City, Uncovered”, which tells the stories of the early European colonists of Christchurch through some of the artefacts found among the rubble in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, as well as presenting evidence of earlier occupation by Māori dating back as far as 1250 AD.

We also have many other general science and history magazines that include articles about archaeology, such as All About History, BBC History Magazine, DiscoverSmithsonian Magazine, etc., in both hard copy and digital formats. Check out the library catalogue for details.

eResources

A library card gets you free access to a huge number of electronic resources that contain information about archaeology, many of which can be accessed from home. The best way to find out about these is to log on a take a look. In particular, you might want to check out some of these:

These are in addition to our extensive collection of eResources about local and family history. If you are a Christchurch resident, but not yet a member of the library, you can join online, with the option of a digital only membership if you just want access to our online resources.

Other places of archaeological interest in and around Christchurch

Fans of Egyptology should check out Tash Pen Khonsu, an Egyptian mummy on display at Canterbury Museum. For those with more classical tastes, the Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities, run by the University of Canterbury, is well worth a visit. This relatively new museum opened in May 2017 and is located in the recently refurbished Arts Centre on Level 1 of the Old Chemistry Building at 3 Hereford Street. It is currently closed, but will re-open during New Zealand Archaeology Week on 5 May with an exhibition called “Beyond the Grave: Death in Ancient Times”.

More information about archaeological sites in Christchurch can be found on the websites of Christchurch City Council and Heritage New Zealand (formerly known as the Historic Places Trust), which has an extensive archaeology section that includes a wealth of fascinating and useful information, and of course on our own Library Website.

Happy digging!

Auē! Me tangi noa ahau ki muri nei

My grandfather’s brother never came back from World War One. He’s buried in Armentières, France. My grandmother’s brother lost his leg, so the family farm in Southland had to be sold – he couldn’t take up his inheritance. My great aunt’s fiancé returned a shell-shocked alcoholic – PTSD, they’d call it these days. They parted and she never married.

In the retellings of the larger stories of war it is often these vignettes of personal loss, the consequences felt by loved ones, that speak quietly but with a universal relatability.

I found myself thinking of those members of my family, and the war that changed their lives, when listening to the beautiful lament E Pari Rā.

Written by Paraire Tomoana (Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Te Whatu-i-āpiti leader) for his relative, kuia Maku-i-te-Rangi Ellison, E Pari Rā gives a lasting voice to her pain and grief over the loss of her son Whakatomo Ellison, who died in the battle of the Somme. Its beautiful metaphor for grief as the surging tide is both deeply personal, and universal.

E pari rā

E pari rā e ngā tai ki te ākau. / The tides surge onto the seashore
E hotu rā ko taku manawa. / with each throb of my heart.
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Weeping without restraint
Ahau i muri nei / for I am left behind, 
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / everyone is utterly heart-broken.

Tēnā rā! Tahuri mai! / So please come back, return
E te tau! te aroha. / my beloved, my love
Tēnei rā ahau te tangi nei. / I weep here
Mōhou kua wehea nei. / for you now far away
Haere rā! mahara mai. / Farewell! And remember, 
E te tau! kia mau ki au. / Beloved! Be true to me
Haere rā! ka tūturu ahau. / Farewell! I will be true to you
Haere Rā! / Farewell!

Haere rā e tama / Farewell young man
Haere rā. / Farewell.
Haria rā te aroha i ahau / Take my love with you
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Tears fall
Ahau ki muri nei / as I am left behind here
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / the hearts of your people weep openly

Find out more

Start your research with Credo Reference

The thought of starting research can be daunting, so a great starting place is a hidden gem of an eResource  – Credo Reference.

Credo Reference is a collection of over 800 reference eBooks with full text articles, images, and videos covering a huge variety of information –  for all ages.

To show you how it works, I have started by searching Anzac Day.

Top result is from the eBook Holiday Symbols and Customs.
This title covers the origins of the day, and symbols and customs such as Dawn Service, Anzac Day parades, and the Australian gambling game Two-up.

From the results page, Credo offers you a Mind Map tool so you can search other related topics on Credo. Below is the example Mind Map of Anzac Day. You can then find information on certain battles, Gallipoli, and other remembrance days. List of sources will be on the right side of the page if you want to read more about any of the mind map headings.

Credo is a great place to start your research, it is easy to use and using tools like Mind Map it can take your quest for information in a different directions.

Across the wartime waves: Message in a bottle

Though hills and waters divide us,

And you I cannot see.

Remember that the writer thinks

The nicest things of thee.

The ship Tahiti in Wellington Harbour, ca 1914-1918 Reference Number: 1/2-014597-G

So read the message placed in a bottle by four Christchurch lads off on, what many had thought, would be a great adventure.

Dated 21 October 1914 the bottle with the message had been tossed overboard from the troopship H.M.N.Z.T. No. 4. Tahiti possibly while it was docked at Hobart, Tasmania, or maybe during the ship’s voyage west to Albany, Western Australia from where it departed in November 1914 bound for Egypt.

The bottle washed ashore in Portland, Victoria, where it was found on 2 January 1915 by a Mr J. Rae on a beach between Cape Grant and Cape Nelson.

By this time the four soldiers of the 1st (Canterbury) Regiment A Company, who had signed the message, George Lindsay, H Townsend, Sydney Rowe and R. Fitchett were on the other side of the world and about to enter a war which two of them would not survive.

Private G.L. Lindsay. Canterbury Times, 23 June 1915.

George Lindsay was born in Avonside. He’d been involved in farming at Rangiora but prior to going overseas he had a touring car which he ran as a taxi. He enlisted in August 1914 and by October was on his way to Egypt. George was killed in action on 8 May 1915 in the Dardanelles.

He had been a member of the Linwood Congregational Church and after his death the Reverend H.A Job recalled George as being “of a quiet and inoffensive nature, and not what is commonly the fighting type”.

Private A.V. Fitchett. Canterbury Times, 7 July 1915.

Victor Fitchett was an English immigrant who lived in Sumner, working for Gibbs Bros. It wasn’t clear when he had arrived in Christchurch but news articles indicate it was around 8 years before the war.

He was a keen sportsman involved with the Sumner Football Club, and also the Fire Brigade. Victor also served and died in the Dardanelles – his body was never found but a board of enquiry deemed he had been killed on, or about, 7th August 1915.

Private H.S. Rowe. Canterbury Times, 23 June 1915

Henry Sydney Rowe lived in Redcliffs. On the electoral roll he was recorded as a plumber but on his enlistment forms he’d been recorded as a motor driver at Sumner Garage. He had married Janey Daly in September 1914.  Henry also served in the Dardanelles, where he was wounded and then returned to NZ aboard the Maheno in December 1915, after which he was medically discharged.

After the war he and Janey continued to live in the Sumner /Redcliffs area. Henry died in 1966.

Joseph Henry Townshend. Online Cenotaph, Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Joseph Henry “Harry” Townshend (Townsend) had been born in Mataura but moved to Christchurch with his family when he was 15, living in Spreydon. He’d worked as a draper at Strange and Co. before enlisting. He was injured at Gallipoli in August 1915, evacuated home, and sent to convalesce at the Trentham Hospital.

After the war he remained in Wellington, marrying Emily and working as a splint-maker – a skill he learnt as part of the vocational training course he undertook while convalescing – at Trentham and then Wellington Hospitals. Harry died in 1964.

George and Victor are among the many men and women who have been remembered on war memorials in Christchurch, and whose biographies have been shared on Kete Christchurch.

To commemorate WW100 Matuku Takotako: Sumner Centre are exhibiting a display of stories of the men who enlisted from the Sumner area, and at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre you can see the stories of Halswell men who enlisted.

Follow our tweets from @100chch to discover life and events 100 years ago in Christchurch and Canterbury.

Tasty, bite-sized economics: Fifty things that made the modern economy

A History of the World in 100 Objects was my first foray into books that use something small to describe something big, and I’ve been reading them ever since.

Luckily this has proved to be a popular concept, with topics ranging from Fifty Plants That Changed the Course of History, Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee, to Banana: A Global History. Each book is like a museum exhibition with each chapter a different exhibit, perfect for dipping into and reading aloud interesting facts to your long-suffering friends.

My most recent read was a little out of my comfort zone — Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy, by Tim Harford.

Cover of Fifty things that made the modern economy by Tim Harford

Hearing the words “modern” and economy” generally gives me an expression similar to my cat after he’s eaten a moth, but luckily the content delivers. Harford writes in an incredibly engaging, conversational style. Often I slog through non-fiction books as the information density can be overwhelming even if fascinating, but Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy is as readable as a novel. Each section is so short that I found it difficult to stop at the end of one chapter and not just continue on to the next.

Even more mundane-seeming inventions like the plough had far reaching effects on almost every aspect of society, a symptom of a changing life from nomadic to settled, and influencing gender relations as well as our diet (not necessarily for the better). In fact a lot of our steps forward as a species have unintentionally brought us a step back in other ways. We spend a lot less time preparing food due to ready-meals and supermarkets, but our nutrition has suffered as a result. I suppose one good thing is that by constantly creating new problems for ourselves, we’ll never run out of things to do.

Due to the nature of a long list each entry is by necessity relatively brief, but each builds on the previous chapters — Harford points out all the ways in which an invention is reliant on those that came before, or the perfect timing for an invention to take off. Some were invented several times before they caught on, and others it was only a matter of time before it was invented by someone. History is a mess of happy accidents, lucky timing and reinventing the wheel.
If you’re interested in economics, history or want to know why anyone could get excited about double-entry bookkeeping, I’d recommend dipping into Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy.

Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy
by Tim Harford
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781408709115

Credo DK Eyewitness eBooks for Kids

Credo Reference is a great series of online eBooks that you can search and browse. Filled with pictures as well as information, they make a perfect starting point for that school project, or a interesting resource to satisfy a curious mind. Keep the kids entertained (and still learning) in the holidays, with this collection of eBooks.

Whatever they want to do when they grow up, we have it covered.

Meteorologist

Palaeontologist or Archaeologist

Astronaut or Astrophysicist

Geographer

Marine Biologist

Historian

Spy

Anzac Day in Christchurch – Wednesday 25 April 2018

Anzac Day will be commemorated on Wednesday 25 April. All our libraries will be closed on this public holiday. Read our page on Anzac Day and Gallipoli to find out more about this commemoration.

Anzac Day Memorial Service, Little River 25 April 1917. Kete Christchurch, Shuttleworth Collection. CCL-Kete-986

Anzac Day services

The following information is from Christchurch City Council:

Dawn Parade and Anzac Service

The dawn parade and Anzac service will be held in Cranmer Square. The parade marches from the RSA building on Armagh Street.

  • 6am to 6.15am: People gather
  • 6.15am: Parade begins from RSA 
  • 6.30am: Service begins centred around the Memorial Cenotaph in Cranmer Square
  • 7.15am: Service concludes with wreath laying, as  Mayor Lianne Dalziel lays a wreath on behalf of the citizens of Christchurch.

This event is organised by the Canterbury Branch of the Malayan Veterans Association in conjunction with the Christchurch Branch of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA) and Christchurch City Council. 

Christchurch Citizens’ Service

The Anzac service for Christchurch citizens will be held at the Transitional Cathedral, Latimer Square starting at 10am.
Organised by Christchurch City Council in conjunction with ChristChurch Cathedral and the RSA.

Anzac Day service at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand

Come and join in honouring the service and sacrifice of thousands of New Zealanders who have served with the Air Force at their annual Anzac Day commemorative service. The service will commence at 12pm midday on Wednesday 25 April 2018, in the Museum’s Atrium.

More Anzac Day services in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula

View the Christchurch Anzac Day service list [PDF]

Exhibitions, displays, and events

Halswell

Halswell Heroes Exhibition (on until 6 May)
Staff from Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre, Upper Riccarton, and Spreydon libraries share their research from the war stories of men who enlisted from the Halswell area.

Sumner

Sumner Boys Exhibition (26 April to 25 May)
A collaborative display of research on the war stories of men who enlisted from the Sumner area. Stories and photos are included of soldiers on the roll of honour located on the wall outside Matuku Takotako: Sumner Centre.

Christchurch Field of Remembrance – Cranmer Square

Final salute for Field of Remembrance Newsline

The Christchurch Field of Remembrance was established in 2015 for Anzac Day, with 632 named crosses commemorating Cantabrians who died in World War I in 1915. Each year more crosses have been added to represent the fatalities from that year – 825 crosses were added in 2016 representing those who died in 1916, 1406 crosses were added in 2017 for those who died in 1917. The final 1528 crosses – representing those who died in 1918 – were added on Saturday 14 April 2018. There are 4391 crosses.

Canterbury and World War One: Lives Lost, Lives Changed – Canterbury Museum

Find out more by visiting the Canterbury and World War One: Lives Lost, Lives Changed exhibition at Canterbury Museum.

WW100Find out more

eMagazines for your weekend – RBDigital Magazines

Here are a dozen fresh eMagazines hot off the press from RBDigital Magazines. Perfect for a spot of weekend reading – on your laptop, desktop, phone, tablet …

Cover

  1. British Vogue (includes great interview with Salman Rushdie – apparently he was great buddies with Carrie Fisher)
  2. Vanity Fair
  3. New Zealand Listener
  4. Woman’s Day
  5. Hello!
  6. Grazia
  7. Nadia
  8. All about history
  9. All about space
  10. The Economist [U.S. edition]
  11. Home
  12. F1 Racing

Remembering the Wahine Disaster – 10 April 1968

The Wahine Disaster took place fifty years ago. Today we reflect on the loss of fifty one people on the 10th of April 1968. This tragedy resonates strongly down the decades.

Policeman Ray Ruane holding a young survivor of the Wahine shipwreck. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1968/1574/26a-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22508739

The Wahine Disaster played out across the nation’s television in grainy black and white, and the newsroom brought the story to our living rooms.  The ferry’s proximity to shore where people watched helplessly certainly added to our sense of powerlessness in the face of tragedy.

You can watch some of the original footage on NZ On Screen.

NZBC Classics - Wahine Disaster

Wahine at Lyttelton, 1965
The Wahine used as a backdrop for a shot on the Port at Lyttelton, circa 1965. Kete Christchurch 1965_g_-_Wahine.jpg

The storm affected many parts of the country including Canterbury. It tore of the roofs of houses on Canon Hill and forced many homes in Sumner to be evacuated.

I recall my parents pointing to the wreckage, which was still visible for many years, as we neared Wellington on our ferry voyage. Each time there is a rough ferry crossing, the fate of the Wahine ferry is remembered and our thoughts are once again with those who died and with the survivors of that ill-fated voyage.

Find out more:

Articles on the 50th anniversary of the Wahine disaster