Bacon was a quiet, extremely reserved man, who was very hard of hearing. He was considered as being scrupulously honest and, indeed, beyond suspicion. However the way in which he disposed of stamps from the collection was, to say the least, underhand.
The Royal Household – particularly during the reign of George V - insisted on being given thousands of stamps, essays and other philatelic material, connected with the British Empire. The various empire post offices often complained that the royal family, in particular Bacon and George V, were rather too grasping in their demand for these valuable items. And it was a sensitive political issue, because the Royal Household was effectively receiving items which were government property.
The Royal household always denied vigorously that any of this material was ever sold on the open market. They always insisted that it was only ever put into the Royal Philatelic Collection or that, on rare occasions, it was given away – as a sort of swap - to collectors who were kind enough to send valuable stamps to the King. However a letter, which has come to light, shows that this picture of open-handed generosity was far from the truth.
The letter, which was bought recently at a general auction in north London is from Bacon to Messrs Charles Nissen – the famous stamp dealer who often acted at auction on behalf of King George V. The letter is dated 17 March 1937, so was sent out within a few weeks of George Vl coming to the throne.
It reads: 'I thank you for cheque £220 for the odd lot of duplicate stamps. When offering these please not to mention that they have come from the Royal Collection.' Although the letter is written on Buckingham Palace notepaper it is not obvious to whom the cheque was payable. Bacon was either selling them surreptitiously on behalf of his royal masters. Or he was lining his own pockets. Because of the secrecy, it is impossible to tell. Incidentally, £220 was a very significant sum at that time: Bacon's own salary at this period was £200 a year.
The reference to the stamps being duplicates is interesting. The royal household received British stamps from the General Post Office, and most empire stamps from the Crown Agents. There were other organisations, which sent stamps to Buckingham Palace. For example, the Universal Postal Union, which co-ordinated international postage, also had copies of all stamps produced by its members. Once the stamps were no longer being used postally, the UPU would return the copies to the various postal administrations. The ones from the British Empire often ended up in the Royal Collection- often duplicating stamps already held by the King.
The reference to 'duplicates' probably means that the stamps were British Empire rather than foreign. How these stamps came into the royal possession and what happened to the money, will probably never be known. However, the fact remains that – contrary to the assurances made by the Royal Household – the stamps were being sold for cash, when they should not have been.
(image of letter is copyright Jack Shamash)
see also the book - available on Kindle - by Jack Shamash - George V's Obsession - A king and his stamps
and The Levant Overprints - King Georges philatelic folly