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Who Remembers Bain’s Stamp Dealers On Station Approach?

Published on: 16 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 23 Jun, 2021

By David Rose

Once upon a time, Guildford had its very own shop for stamp collectors. It was a tiny shop on Station Approach, by the entrance to Guildford railway station.

The stamp shop in Station Approach, pictured by Dave Salmon in 1988, shortly before demolition.

In May 1961, the Surrey Advertiser published a story about the shop and its founder, G H Bain, and his son Ian, who by them was running the business.

It appears to have still been there up to about 1988 when the railway station was redeveloped.

Below is the Surrey Advertiser story in full… and thanks to Mark Coxhead for emailing me the cutting.

Part of the Surrey Advertiser’s May 1961 story about G. H. Bain and his son Ian.

A Philatelist’s Hobby Became His (And His Son’s) Work

When I was a youngster we had a hobby called stamp collecting; we used to spend our coppers on packets of stamps, mount them in a fixed-leaf album (my own album cost precisely six and a half pence) and occasionally swap specimens or mutilate envelopes from overseas relatives in order to add to our collection.

Nowadays the hobby is more often called philately, and in view of the vast range of stamps compared with those of 40 years ago, most enthusiasts are wisely specialist rather than general collectors. Furthermore, the fixed-leaf album has been largely replaced by the loose-leaf album in which the stamps can be more decoratively mounted for display purposes.

Edinburgh-born G H Bain, is Guildford’s one and only retail stamp dealer – that is to say the only trader in the town whose business is entirely devoted to the buying and selling of foreign stamps.

Formally a collector, he decided in pre-war years to turn his hobby to business account, and started at premises in Commercial Road.

Some 10 years ago he transferred to his present premises at Station Approach, trading under the name of G H Bain & Sons. Today, his son Mr Ian Bain runs the business of which his father is the owner.

There are still many juvenile philatelists who start as general collectors, but the hobby necessarily develops into one of specialisation. As Mr Bain mentioned to me, this week, there are far too many stamps nowadays for one to assemble a representative general collection.

Specialist collectors, he said, devoted their attention to collecting stamps of one particular country, whether it be America, Australia, France or Finland.

Some collect exclusively stamps of the British Empire of the islands such as Malta, Cyprus or Gibraltar. Then there are the thematic collectors to be catered for.

They specialise in the collection of stamps which bear pictures of animals, flowers, rivers, bridges, ships, locomotives or aircraft, according to their interests.

It is astonishing, to the layman, the considerable collection which can be amassed of stamps portraying these subjects – and the amount of added information which can be acquired by research and by writing up a collection.

It was not surprising to me to learn that Mr Bain has correspondents in all parts of the world and even hears from natives in Nigeria who write and ask if they can sell him some stamps.

The commonly excepted belief that a stamp, if it is an old one, must be valuable is a fallacy. Mr Bain showed me some lilac Victorian penny stamps in perfect condition which can nevertheless still be purchased for the original price of one penny.

Quite a number of stamps are more valuable if they are not detached from their original cover or envelope.

In the course of buying many stamp collections, Mr Bein sometimes finds something of novel interest, such as a minute stamp wallet which he showed me.

It bears the text  – “In England letters find no grace, unless they bear Victoria’s face.”

On the reverse side of the wallet is written – “To guard her head from dust and damps, this case is made for postage stamps.”

There are still some finds to be had in our own stamps at the Post Office, said Mr Bain. “Especially by buying booklets in which the customer is sometimes lucky enough to acquire some unperforated issues.”

When a hobbyist turned his hobby into his trade or profession he usually finds another hobby, and thus Mr Bain now devotes his leisure to model yacht racing and sailing.

He is secretary of the Guildford Model Yacht Club and has won a number of prizes, including, in 1956, the Metropolitan Southern District Championship.

Demolition of Guildford railway station and Station Approach in 1988, pictured by Dave Salmon.

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Responses to Who Remembers Bain’s Stamp Dealers On Station Approach?

  1. Keith Francis Reply

    June 17, 2021 at 11:37 am

    As a former stamp collector, I knew Mr Bain and his son Ian, as I bought supplies from them and when as a member of the Woking & District Philatelist Society.

    Initially as a junior, I won many competitions for which the prizes were usually stock books, tweezers and other items which they had provided.

    You couldn’t imagine how many different styles of tweezers there were: plain, spade, etc, all used for different purposes.

    With some regrets I had to dispose of my collection which had reached about 20,000 stamps mostly in albums and it filled a large cupboard in the spare bedroom. The proceeds went to a charity.

  2. Helen Avery Reply

    June 17, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    I well remember the stamp shop, as we nicknamed it, on Station Approach.

    My children and I regularly went there, mainly to choose a first day cover- the shop always had several designs – and tlook at the pictures of new stamp issues.

    The person serving was always helpful and friendly.

    We really missed it when it closed and never found another place like it.

    David Rose adds: it is thought that George Bain and his son Ian may have passed the business on to another stamp dealer at some time, and that by the time it closed they of course did not own it. Can anyone add any details?

  3. Michael Melbourne Reply

    June 17, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    Yes, my friends and I would always call in Bain’s before a railway trip when we were younger, a bit like Ben’s records these days most people call in whilst passing.

  4. Tay-Jarl Andessen Reply

    June 18, 2021 at 6:59 am

    I had a stamp collection that started with my mum giving me stamps from various countries she visited while in the Merchant Navy.

    My grandparents had the first house next to the bridge on Farnham Road, and when I was aged around six or seven in the mid-1980s, my grandfather would walk me the short distance to the shop on occasion.

    I recall the gentleman there being very encouraging, and explaining various things about stamps from around the globe.

    I think that stamp collecting opened the doors to an interest in travel and languages.

    Seeing this article has brought back happy memories, and I thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. Michael Miller Reply

    June 18, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    I do remember George Bain’s stamp shop in Station Approach.

    He had dozens of old stock books full of stamps which were kept in a large safe behind the counter.

    When I called in he was often found soaking off stamps and drying them between sheets of blotting paper and I gained the impression he did not always welcome customers who interrupted him.

    He did sell the business before it did finally close and I remember a chap called Terry serving there. Simon Burke used to help out at weekends.

    There was also a small stamp shop on Waterloo Station so collectors could spend time browsing at both ends of their journey.

    Years ago Guildford was blessed with several collectors shops. Whilst my wife was inhabiting the clothes shops I spent many a happy hour in Bain’s, Peter Bullen’s postcards in Chapel street, Thorp’s bookshop and Thomas Traylen’s in Quarry Street.

    All sadly no more.

  6. Peter Chilvers Reply

    June 20, 2021 at 4:27 pm

    I knew the stamp shop extremely well as George Hogg Bain was my Uncle Geordie.

    So family connnections introduced me early into the world of stamps.

    The first floor room over the shop was an Aladdin’s Cave, bare boarded, stark and with windows smoke grimed from the adjacent railway station and engine shed, yet it was tantalisingly and haphazardly stacked floor to ceiling with thousands of stamps, gems and dross alike.

    The stamps with the mames of long gone colonial outposts, obscure Balkan countries and mystical Cyrillic script made it a magical place.

    Often, as a young boy, I was tasked with filitering some of these, for which I was ‘paid’ with some stamps to augment my own, now long lost, collection.

    G.H.Bains and Sons at one time also had branches in Woking and Farnham, run by Geordie’s sons Ian and Andrew respectively, who both sadly died too young.

    Geordie was born in Dalkeith and as a lad worked in the mines and market gardens around there. He settled and married in Surrey after the First World War where he was posted in the Scots Guards I believe.

    Geordie was an enthusiast who made a hobby into an ultimate life business, strongly steeered by the business acumen of Ian, in a way that still gave him time to pursue his other hobbies such as playing the cornet, making model steam engines, and the Royal British Legion, amongst others.

    He always steadfasly supported by my aunt May, was part of the Guildford fabric and both are fondly and gratefully remembered.

  7. Roy Hunt Reply

    June 21, 2021 at 4:25 pm

    It was the late 1940s when I took an interest in collecting stamps.

    My father worked at Dennis Brothers and bought me home some stamps from envelopes in the waste basket.

    My first small stamp album from Woolworths cost 6d.

    Our headmaster at Stoke Secondary School in Markenfield Road held an after-school stamp club which I attended for only a short while, as it was mostly about his collection of German stamps! Only six years after the war it was not a popular subject.

    It was 1952 when I discovered that lovely small friendly
    shop in Station Approach.

    I never had pocket money as a child, and used to save money from Postal Orders I received on my birthday and Christmas.

    In June 1953 I saw a complete set of 61c stamps of the colonies for 13s 6d. My Postal Order savings was down to two shillings.

    That friendly man looking at me across the counter must have see the disappointment in my face, and said: “Two shilling deposit and pay me the rest in small instalments.”

    I have never forgotten that wonderful trusting gesture. I carried on going to that little shop until 1959, when called up for two years National Service.

    Away from home and 28 shillings a week pay, buying stamps came to an abrupt end.

    I still have that coronation set and remember that day with fond memories.

  8. Aubrey Michael Leahy Reply

    June 28, 2021 at 12:58 pm

    Yes, well remembered.

    A Saturday tradition as a 13-year-old was to get paid for being a paperboy by Mussels newsagent at top of High Street.

    The pay was 7/6d a week plus a five-shilling bonus if you were out on your round by 7am every day, five shillings for Sunday delivery.

    Once paid, having purchased a packet of 10 Woodbines (cigarettes), I would go down to Station Approach to the stamp shop and the book shop next door. I seem to remember a dry cleaner’s and a cafe too.

    Editor’s note: The cafe I recall being next to the steps that led down from the bottom of Farnham Road. I also recall a barber’s shop near the stamp shop.

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