Photo gallery: Great Yarmouth museum opens incredible room - made completely of stamps
09:35 13 June 2014
Archant Norfolk © 2014
It’s a philatelist’s nightmare - millions of rare and valuable stamps including Penny Blacks trimmed, sliced, shaped and glued on to furniture.
But the stunning results of a circus acrobat’s hobby are priceless to the woman who owns them.
Retired jeweller Valerie Howkins has put the remarkable stamp room on display at her Museum of Memories in King Street, Great Yarmouth, for the first time in decades.
Described as “the world’s most sensational room” it represents one man’s tremendously skilled work covering everything from a full-sized table and chairs, a playable piano, paintings, a vase of flowers and even a self portrait.
Mrs Howkins, 81, who set up the museum three years ago in memory of her son David, hailed the degree of labour and artistry mingling creativity and imagination in the masterly mosaics.
She said that although stamping was a popular hobby among Victorian ladies who decorated cups and plates there was nothing else in the world like Albert Schafer’s stamp room - a 40 year labour of love.
Mr Schafer, she explained, was a London-born circus performer who started stamping as a young child. However, the hobby really took off when a high-wire accident took him out of the ring.
With so much time on his hands he turned to stamping as therapy, encouraging performers from all over the world to send him as many stamps as they could - a map of the world features examples from all the relevant countries, except Russia.
Having started at the end of the 19th century the bulk of his work was completed by 1937 - the date of the oldest stamp which commemorates the coronation of George VI.
He reportedly stamped through the blitz as the bombs fell around his Chiswick home in London where Tommy Cooper was his neighbour and who was filmed among the eccentric artefacts after his death in 1959 aged 83.
The room was initially acquired by Mrs Howkins’ father and renowned circus clown Arthur Van Norman in the 60s. He wanted to take it on tour across America but his wife Kitty - who had travelled with the showman all her married life - wouldn’t budge.
Instead it went to an insurance broker in Shropshire who displayed it for charity for around 15 years - but was bought back to Norfolk by Mr Van Norman in the early 80s.
After a brief period on display the room has been kept in storage, with just a few pieces on show on the ground floor in King Street.
But now that Mrs Howkins’ has cleared health and safety hurdles she is finally able to open the upper floor and display the first class collection as well as her vast array of dolls and teddy bears.
“I am absolutely thrilled to bits to have it on display,” she said.
“It did suffer from being in storage and we have used the restoration techniques pioneered by my father, taking bits off the back and replacing them on the visible surfaces.
“It is just so masterly but apparently he was a modest man who did not like to be identified as the man who created it.
“I just cannot believe what I am looking at. This was done over 40 years and it is quite extraordinary.”
Mr Schafer was also a skilled painter and had more than 200 songs and ballads published. During the Second World War he organised variety entertainment for the troops.
The stamp room was exhibited as a main attraction at the Festival of Britain in 1951.
The David Howkins Museum of Memories is in one of only seven purpose built gas showrooms. Two Georgian houses were demolished to make way for building which is now listed in 1912.
It is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday until September 10am to 4pm.
There is no disabled access to the upstairs but Mrs Howkins wants to film what is on show and screen it downstairs.
Anyone who can donate their professional filming services to the charity museum can contact her on 01493 852637.
Profits are donated to the East Anglia Children’s Hospices.