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Associated Alumni

Alumnus returns stolen rare stampless letters to UNB

Derek Smith (BBA’58) is an avid and respected collector and exhibitor of stampless letters. Originally from Saint John, Mr. Smith took up stamp collecting as a child.

“When I was a little wee fella, of course everyone collected them,” he says.

Though he collected stamps throughout his life, it wasn’t until he was nearing retirement that he began to seriously commit to his hobby. Mr. Smith chose to focus his collection on 18th century transatlantic stampless letters, commonly known as covers, that travelled from Europe across the Atlantic to ports in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, with particular attention to his hometown of Saint John.

Part of the excitement is putting together the pieces of information he receives from various experts and texts, to gain a greater understanding of the history of the covers he collects.

“Postal history is actually my subject,” he says, “which is not the stamps so much as the markings on them and the rates charged on letters and the markings that are put on letters and so on and so forth.”

As he continued to grow his collection, purchasing from auctions and stamp dealers, he acquired impressive pieces from The Saunders Papers. Hon. John Saunders was the province of New Brunswick’s first provincial treasurer and later became chief justice of New Brunswick.

In excellent condition and with clear markings, these covers have remarkable historical significance. One letter from 1795 possesses the first Saint John ship-letter hand stamp, predating what had previously been thought to be the original by four years.

While exhibiting this grand prize winning collection in Atlantic Canada, Mr. Smith learned that four of these covers had been stolen from the UNB archives in the early ‘70s. Upon hearing of their origin, he returned the covers to Francesca Holyoke, librarian and head of UNB Libraries Archives & Special Collections department.

“He [Mr. Smith] is highly regarded in the philatelic community as a respected, knowledgeable and conscientious collector,” says Ms. Holyoke. “His willingness to return to UNB material which was very valuable to his collection is a testament to his character.”

UNB photographed their holdings prior to the theft, which substantially eased the process of recovery, says Mr. Smith.

“We very much appreciate Mr. Smith’s kind consideration and generosity in working with UNB Libraries to have these materials repatriated,” says Lesley Balcom, dean of libraries at UNB.

An active member of the UNB community, Mr. Smith attended from ’54 to ’58, was editor of the ’58 yearbook and treasurer of many on-campus organizations. He has many fond memories of his time at the university including an anecdote about a professor turning on the stove in the morning to heat up the one of the army habitation huts behind the arts building, where business classes were held.

He went on to receive his MBA from the University of California and worked as a security portfolio manager with Investors Group for roughly 40 years, the last seven and a half in Dublin, Ireland. In ’96 he was awarded the certificate of achievement by UNB’s faculty of business administration.

Though he no longer collects transatlantic covers, Mr. Smith has not given up his hobby. He’s cultivated an impressive collection of colourful advertising cards from Dearbon, a company that came to Saint John from Boston in the 1840s, that he exhibits locally.