Stamps helped future Beatle imagine

I was in New York City recently with family and among the “must-sees” on our list was Strawberry Fields, a 2.5-acre landscaped section in  New York City’s  Central Park  that is dedicated to the memory of legendary Beatle  John Lennon.

It is also named after the Beatles’ song Strawberry Fields Forever, written by Lennon.

The focal point of Strawberry Fields is a circular pathway  mosaic  of inlaid stones, with a single word, the title of Lennon’s famous song Imagine.  As the sun shone through the park, a steady flow of people stopped at the mosaic memorial, some in silence, others taking pictures while a street musician sitting at a nearby bench could be heard singing Imagine.

It was serene and it made me think of the magnificent impact Lennon had – and still has – on the world stage of music.

While Lennon travelled the globe through his music, as a young boy from his Liverpool, England home, he seized the opportunity to see the world in a completely different way through stamps.

The famous English singer and songwriter, who co-founded the Beatles, has his cousin Stanley Parkes to thank for piquing his interest in stamps. In a 2005 article in the Washington Post, Parkes, 72 at the time, recalled his famous cousin’s foray into stamps.

“When I was at home from school” in Liverpool, “he noticed I had this stamp album and I was collecting stamps, and he took an interest in it,” Parkes told the Post. “I said, ‘Well, John, the great thing about collecting stamps is that it helps with your geography. You see, the stamps come from all different countries, and you see the people on the stamps, and you take an interest in why the country exists,’ ” he said.

Parkes gave his “Mercury Stamp Album” to the young Lennon, who quickly rubbed out Parkes’ name on the album’s flyleaf and replaced it with his own.

Not surprisingly, Lennon, known as a budding artist at a young age, added his own touches to the album, drawing mustaches and whiskers in blue ink on the stamp likenesses of Queen Victoria and King George VI on the album’s title page.

The flyleaf page also contained handwritten notes by the young Lennon, including his name, address and how many stamps were in the album. His notations indicated 800 stamps at first, later crossed out and replaced with “675,” but the Smithsonian National Post Office Museum says it contained only 565 stamps when it acquired it in 2005. The album has 145 pages and features stamps from countries around the world, including India, the United States, and New Zealand.

Parkes recalled how Lennon persuaded his Aunt Mimi to give him the postage stamps from their relatives’ letters from New Zealand, and how he continued to collect and trade stamps for years after receiving the album.

Lennon’s circa 1950s album was purchased at auction for about $53,000 in June 2005 by the Smithsonian, and placed on display between Oct. 6, 2005 and April 10, 2006, to coincide with the 65th anniversary of his birthday.

Although the album is no longer available for public viewing in the museum, it can still be accessed online at postalmuseum.si.edu/lennon. Check it out and, as you view the stamps, think about how the young Lennon was “imagining” about the world at that time through stamps.

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

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