Stamps of Distinction

Stamps of Distinction McGill University

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Stamps of Distinction

Stamps of Distinction

In these days of instantaneous communication through email, the Internet, fax machines and same-day courier services, the lowly letter affixed with an ordinary stamp and dispatched through the post office may seem like a quaint, old-world practice. The concept is even derisively referred to as "snail mail" by most of us who form part of the digital revolution.

Emeritus professor Dr. Theodore Sourkes

You might think this dearth of letter writing and posting would spell disaster for those taking a special interest in stamps: not the letter carriers, but the stamp collectors. The fact is, however, philately thrives online, allowing collectors to trade information and specimens, and even specialize more effectively in their own collections, focusing on stamp areas and themes of personal interest.

Dr. Theodore Sourkes, BSc'39, MSc'46, an emeritus professor in McGill's Department of Psychiatry, is also a collector in possession of some stamps of particular interest to McGill and its alumni. That's because he has managed to gather over two dozen specimens in which the world of philately has recognized McGill -- its graduates, its faculty and the fruits of their labour -- on stamps from Canada and around the world.

"It's always a delight to receive a piece of mail and discover that the picture in the upper right-hand corner of the envelope is of someone you have heard about in connection with McGill," says Sourkes.

Like many people, Sourkes's interest in stamps began in childhood, but didn't survive adolescence. He would move on to become an eminent biochemist, whose work included the discovery that dopamine deficiencies were important to the development of such diseases as Parkinson's, and he helped direct research into finding treatments for the condition. His efforts won him many plaudits, including the Order of Canada and the Prix du Québec.

"When I retired in 1991," he recalls, "my wife said, 'You'd better take up a hobby and relax.'" He began writing medical histories, especially in the neurosciences, but also returned to philately -- "largely for nostalgic reasons," he explains. "And I like to classify things."

Sourkes waded into the world of first-day covers and sticky hinges with gusto, although he insists on the distinction between a collector ("such as myself") and an expert ("which I am not"). "I learned a fair amount about history, which excited my interest," he notes. "And I've published a couple of papers on stamps." Then he pulls out a comprehensive collection of Canadian and international stamps related to McGill.

He begins with a disclaimer: "There are stamps I don't know about -- and I'd like to hear about them."

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