A large number of valuable stamps seem to have gone missing- in particular George V's collection of ‘foreign stamps’. Officially George V only collected stamps of the British Empire. He didn’t collect ‘foreign’ stamps - ie those from countries outside the empire.
The official records always claim that George stopped collecting these items in 1906 - and over the next few years sold them off to fund purchases for his collection of British Empire stamps.
However, unofficially, George V was continuing to accumulate foreign stamps. Foreign rulers, such as King Faisal of Iraq, regularly sent him whatever philatelic material they thought would interest him. Faisal’s son, King Ghazi, continued this tradition, sending letters with formal declarations of respect. ‘Sir my good brother,’ he wrote to George in 1934, ‘It is a source of great pleasure for me to offer, for your Majesty’s gracious acceptance, 8 sets of the last issue of Iraqi stamps which, I hope, will be an interesting addition to your Majesty’s Collection.’(1)
The King was being sent so many stamps from all over the world, that he took the step of publicly announcing - through the Associated Press - that he only collected stamps of the British Empire. However the King was happy to make exceptions.
When Colonel Edmund Vivian Gabriel sent parcels of American stamps, his offerings were joyfully accepted. Gabriel was Gentleman Usher to the Royal Court and, in letters, addressed the King’s Personal Secretary Sir Clive Wigram as ‘My dear Wiggy..’
Wigram wrote to him in 1932: ‘With regard to the cutting about the king’s “British only” stamps, as a matter of fact this was given out to prevent us from being flooded by every American mail with all sorts of kinds of collection…’
Wigram continued: ‘At the same time his Majesty is very glad to receive collections such as you were kind enough to send, and though these do not go into his collection proper, they are exhibited to his philatelic friends.’) The stamps continued to flow in.
The collection of foreign stamps must, by the time of George’s death, have been substantial. However there is no record of what happened to it. According to the Curator of the Queen;’s philatelic collection, Michael Sefi, the foreign stamps are no longer held in any of the royal palaces. ‘If it was there, I would know about it,’ he told me.
This leaves a number of possibilities. It is conceivable that the collection could have been simply stolen by some royal servant. However such a distinctive collection wouldn’t necessarily be easy to dispose of. One possible culprit is John Wilson, who for some unexplained reason seemed to have kept many stamps from the royal collection at his home. A parcel of them were returned by Wilson's family after his death.
It is also possible that George VI might have sold it. When George VI came to the throne, at the end of 1936, he was short of cash. Traditionally, the heir to the throne received the income of the Duchy of Lancaster. By the time he got to the throne, it was expected that he or she would have accumulated a large sum of money. George V never had this money. It had all gone to his brother – the former Edward Vlll.
In addition, George VI had to give his brother a handsome pension as part of the terms of his abdication. Money would have been tight. However George was relatively parsimonious and could probably have coped without any massive sales of chattels. So what happened to the stamps?
One possible fate is that they were sold by Edward VIII. Edward was a spendthrift, who spent immense sums on jewellery for his mistress Wallace Simpson. He made very little distinction between the royal property and his own private possessions - indeed he sometimes gave royal heirlooms to his mistress. When he came to the throne, he did try to sell the entire Royal Philatelic Collection but was unable to. However it would have been relatively easy to sell the minor ‘unofficial’ collection. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that he simply had it sent off to auction to realise whatever he could get for it.