Stamps worth $450,000

Stamp collector Johnny Lowis has about 900,000 to a million stamps in his collection.

A decade ago, this massive collection almost shrank by 20,000 when he accidentally dropped a carton of stamps 15 floors down from his Selegie Road HDB one-room flat.

He was putting the carton on a shelf when he lost his balance, sending the container flying out of the open window.

Mr Lowis, 65, said: "I'm glad no one was hurt. The most beautiful thing was that my neighbours helped me retrieve most of the stamps, some of which were stuck in the bushes, in about two hours."

Now, the semi-retiree, who takes on ad-hoc graphic design jobs, has safer places to store his collection, which he reckons is worth $450,000.

Slightly more than a thousand stamps - the most precious pieces - have been kept in a bank safe since three years ago, while 600,000 are placed in eight cardboard cartons and housed in a 20 sq ft storage space in a warehouse in Jurong.

He splits the $300 monthly rental for the space with his wife Jean Chng. The 65-year-old owns beauty salon Graft Hair Care and keeps some of her hair products there. The couple have a 24-year-old daughter, Jynette, who works in a shipping company.

The rest of Mr Lowis' stamps are stored at home. Some are in boxes while others have been wrapped in matte plastic, glued on paper with the stories behind the stamp design typed out and slotted into files.

The Indonesia-born Mr Lowis was first attracted to the designs on stamps that came with his parents' letters as a 15- year-old. He came to Singapore in 1980 for work and became a Singaporean in 1988.

He started collecting stamps with designs of the Chinese zodiac animal of the year in 2004. For the Year of the Goat, he has an album of more than 800 stamps with goat designs worth $15,000 in total.

Proudly turning to a page with a set of stamps from Hong Kong with ram designs, which include a picture of a glazed ceramic ram, he said: "I bought this off eBay two weeks ago for US$6 or about S$8."

His stamps with horse designs were featured on Channel NewsAsia and Lianhe Zaobao last year, which was the Year of the Horse. His goat stamps will be shown at a solo exhibition at Shenzhen Book Centre next month - his first show overseas.

His favourite is a stamp with the portrait of the late Queen Victoria, which he bought a decade ago at a stamp exhibition here. It is among the world's first postage stamps, issued on May 6, 1840. He paid about $1,500 for it.

Mr Lowis, who studied graphic design at Leicester Polytechnic - now De Montfort University - for four years and worked in England for another two years, said fondly: "From about 1840 to 1899, there were no stamps with flowers or animals, only heads of state, which makes it special." He has more than 100 stamps with her portrait from 50 countries.

His most expensive stamp is from North Borneo and it bears a picture of a buffalo owner, which he paid "$7,000 to $8,000" for. He said: "Many stamps there were destroyed during World War II. Its Japanese overprint makes it even rarer."

He is a member of more than 10 Facebook groups of stamp collectors, with whom he exchanges stamps. Since 2000, he has been mailing postcards with bird stamps and Singapore's airmail stickers to his friends, who are from countries such as France and Israel. They then add their country's airmail stickers and, at times, some stamps before mailing back to him.

He has been designing festive season- themed postmarks for the Singapore Philatelic Museum every year since 2004, such as those for Christmas. Postmarks are official marks stamped on envelopes, which serve to cancel the postage stamp.

When asked what he plans to do with his stamps, Mr Lowis says with a laugh: "Probably continue exchanging stamps with friends and selling some off, as I have so many."

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This article was first published on February 28, 2015.
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