"To be sure, we both knew Heligoland as the German islands in the North Sea, and Karelia as being near the Finland Station. Nyasaland, we figured out, is present-day Malawi. But we were clueless about such stamp issuers as Inhambane (now in southern Mozambique), Nossi-Bé (an island near Madagascar), Obock (the port in Djibouti), Ponta Delgada (Azores), and Tete (on the Zambezi River). In 1925, six-year-old boys, like my father, knew more of the world than do frequent-flying travel writers today," writes Matthew.
After his friend left, Matthew says, "I quietly sat with the Internet and my World Gazetteer and tracked down the likes of Horta (in the Azores) and Labuan (an island of East Malaysia). Mayotte, off the African east coast, was an easy find, as it has just voted to reunite with France, and Rouad I found offshore from Syria. I still haven’t confirmed Kiaucho (Shantung in China?) or figured out a page marked 'Offices in the Turkish Empire.' Niger Coast Protectorate sounds suspiciously like an early oil drilling concession."
He goes on to say, "The longer I spent searching in the atlas, tracking down postal entrepôts, the more I began to equate stamp issuance in the 1920s with the causes of war or unrest 10 or even 50 years later.
"In the early days of World War II, places like Memel, Marienwerder, Heligoland or Upper Silesia went from stamp collecting to Nazi occupation, as if Adolph Hitler was in pursuit of first issues, not simply lebensraum.
"Names like Nyasa Protectorate, Italian Somaliland, White Russia or Stellaland speak to me about failed peace treaties or colonial dissolution, as if they were returned to their senders for insufficient postage.
"Sometimes in my travels I have tried to find a new stamp album for my son, hoping that it might have pages for the likes of Montenegro, Birobijan (an autonomous Jewish republic in Russia), Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, Macau, Palau, Bashkortostan (also in Russia) or Republika Srpska.
"Instead, I meet clerks who tell me that global albums no longer exist, and that my son’s career in philately will only move forward if he specializes, for example, in the birds of the Comoro Islands. (In 1925 they had the prefix Grand.)"
To read Matthew's entire op-ed, click here.
To find out what stamp collecting was all about at the turn of the century, click here for "Stamp Collecting as a Pastime" by Edward J. Nankivell which was originally published in 1902.