The lifetime collection of a British journalist, collector and presumed diplomat, comprises of an extensive stamp collection, together with objects and ephemera relating to communism, politics, militaria and world travel. It was formed over many years by a British journalist and presumed diplomat, John Newall, from his travels throughout the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, North Korea and Asia. Below are words from Newall, about how he came about pieces from within the collection.
Ne plus ultra was a Hungarian friend’s feeling when standing in St James’s Park before World War II. Buckingham Palace was at one end, the seat of British imperialism at the other. Twenty years later in Moscow it seemed quite similar when watching grandiose Red Square celebrations. Offering an alternative to a failed past, from Havana to Hanoi the call for a renewed social order looked to Russia for inspiration. In reality, for the perspicacious omens of the awful present were to be seen.
The dead Stalin was still on display under the podium on which Khruschev, Mikoyan and other left-overs from the Stalin years preened themselves on big occasions. Mikoyan was shortly to be off to bring Cuba into the fold.
I saw him then on May Day, and at even closer quarters in Berlin in 1961, when East Germany (the GDR) marked its twelfth anniversary. Eight weeks earlier, the Berlin wall had gone up, so that, its known allies apart, the Marxist regime was being ostracised. For want of anyone better, I was seated for the occasion beside the main podium, with a perfect view of Mikoyan hugging Walter Ulbricht, the GDR’s supremo.
By then I was an old GDR hand, and I have spent more time in Germany as a whole than anywhere else abroad, picking up this and that on the way. My first experience was 1951-52 in Solingen, learning German. Eichmann was born there, the family moving to Austria when he was eight. The Third Reich, and its appalling activities, was a riveting interest for many youngsters, and from the age of nine in 1939 until the war’s end, I spent what time I could glued to the radio. For all its well known faults, the GDR, far more than West Germany, took seriously the task of weeding out left-over Nazis with a criminal past.
Traveling to revolution-convulsed Zanzibar in 1964 on the same plane as the GDR’s deputy foreign minister, Otto Winzer, the arrival was greeted with the East German anthem, played by the ex-Sultan’s military band. At two months old, no anthem existed for the People’s Republic of Zanzibar, which proved to be a short- lived entity. The GDR presence, however, was durable, stopping the gap left by ousted British administrators. Surprisingly, the hand-over was conducted with great bonhomie on both sides.
In its short existence, possibly hoping for military assistance such as SWAPO in future Namibia was getting, the revolutionary Zanzibari regime recognised North Korea, among African countries only beaten to it by Algeria. After only 15 weeks, the new Zanzibar disappeared into the (not very) United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, but by then I had transferred to east Asia, even dipping a toe through a crack in the North Korean ice. Coming from Seoul, it was usually possible to visit the so-called Joint Security Area at Panmunjom into which, uniquely, roads led from both North and South. Within Panmunjom’s limits, it was at that time possible to stroll around both zones, even photographing North Korean personnel, and observing meetings of the armistice teams from each side. It was interesting.
Years later, in the decade from 1978, I had the chance to see many places in the Korean populated part of Manchuria, as well as next door in North Korea itself. Earlier, staying in Alaska and savouring the sea breeze alongside Kodiak Island’s shoreline, I picked up some orange-sized green glass floats, broken loose from fishing boats’ trawl nets. Almost all fishing fleets by then used plastic floats, but not the North Koreans. They fished in the Bering Sea for pollock, to Korean cuisine almost what roast beef is to English. A diplomat I knew in Manchuria’s chief city, Shenyang, where the cheerful consular community consisted of U.S.A., North Korea and Cuba, told me that the local fast food snack, on the provision of which local Koreans had a monopoly, was sliced dog and cold noodles, but flying to the North Korean capital on their spartan airline, where on other airlines sweets would be offered, strips of dried pollock were provided instead, probably fished near Alaskan waters.
Stamps - North Korea, 1950-1995
Nowhere that I have visited is as peculiar as North Korea, but Alaska is not exactly run of the mill. At least, thanks to the Cold War, getting there was easy. Siberia and China were closed to transit flights so, from 1960, a route from Europe to the Far East across the Arctic Ocean, became the best choice. Starting from various west European airports, it was one hop to Anchorage (Alaska) where the plane refuelled and went on to Tokyo. Alaska was a Russian colony until 95 years before I spent time there, and had only recently acquired statehood. I hoped to find relics of a Russian way of life long gone in the Soviet Union. In truth, there was not a lot; several dozen Orthodox Church parishes in the west and far south, as well as in the Aleutian Islands. Russian speakers were few, although one well-known community survived on the Kenai peninsula. Some of the earlier churches were attractive, but it was Eskimo (Inuit) art that really sparked my interest. I made it to Inuit settlements all over their part of the State, and later visited Greenland. Unexpectedly, while the USSR was breathing its last, Chukotka, across the Bering Strait from Alaska, suddenly became accessible, showing that despite constant Soviet meddling, very active Eskimo and parallel Chukchi cultures survived.
Only one other indigenous American culture was well known to me, the Cuna far south in the San Blas Islands, off the Caribbean coast of Panama. How I became involved is odd. In 1974, the huge ruined Abbey at New Abbey village near Dumfries, was provided with a commemorative plaque, honouring William Patterson, buried among the great many Newalls. At that time the Abbey had been in part ownership of my family for almost exactly two hundred years. Patterson is best remembered as a founder of the Bank of England, best forgotten as a major progenitor of the disastrous Darien Scheme. The idea was a Scottish colony, the site of which is still identifiable, on the Darien isthmus, where the western end of the Panama-Colombia border now lies. Two attempts at colonisation lasted nine months and three months, but ended in disaster, destroyed by hostile rival colonial powers, the terrible climate, and ultimately the Spanish. Only the local inhabitants were friendly, the in the late 17th century, and still now the Cuna. Since I was going to Panama anyway, the Patterson memorial inspired me to seek out what was to have been New Caledonia, and as a result became enthralled by the Cuna way of life. Living almost autonomously from Panama, and with a thriving largely indigenous culture, preserving their ethnic identity was an absolute priority, and, while allowing visitors usually banning them from overnight stays.
Molas Textiles - Cuna Indians, Panama.
A family link also took me to Albania, apart, that is, from sharing an interpreter with the Mayor of Tirana when visiting Varna (then called Stalin) early in 1955. My great-grandfather’s firm laid a submarine telegraph cable from Malta to Corfu in the 1850’s, a follow-up to the Varna-Evpatoria Crimean war cable. From Corfu, like most visitors, he went to look at southern Albania, bringing back rather a large collection of interesting souvenirs, these eventually becoming mine. By hook or by crook, I got a visa from the Albanians, something in the 1950’s they were wholly unwilling to grant. Again, a culture survived, even if under attack from the communist government, that was little changed from a century before, when accounts began to surface, and evidently it had a much longer history. After several visits, I persuaded them in 1959 not only to let me take my car, something unheard of, but to enter via a remote seldom used border crossing in the northern mountains. A little delegation awaited my arrival, and a charming English-speaking schoolmaster launched into a welcoming speech: “You have come to our country as your great poet Lord Byron came, a hundred and fifty years ago….”. I felt outclassed, but their newspaper then referred to me as Sir Newall, my nearest approach to a knighthood.
Part one of the collection took place on the 1st of March 2023. View results.
Head of Sale