On October 15th, I visited my Aunt Agatha who had lived in Philadelphia for some 60 years. In the course of a lively dinner conversation I mentioned my great interest in stamp collecting. I told her that I specialized in Boy Scout stamps and related philatelic items and that I had occasionally been fortunate enough to obtain materials at auction, having recently purchased a Cape of Good Hope stamp from a London auction.
At the mention of Cape of Good Hope my Aunt asked if I would be interested in seeing some Cape souvenirs that her father had left stored in her attic before he passed away at the age of 73. He had been in South Africa during the Boer War as an officer attached to staff headquarters at Mafeking. I grabbed at this opportunity. We went to the attic and located an old army foot locker in a remote corner, the very trunk that her father had used sixty years before. It had accompanied him from England to South Africa, back to England and finally to America.
Many a time I had read of philatelic treasures stored in attic boxes and trunks and my thoughts envisioned just such an incident. Could it really happen to me? As I lifted the lid of the trunk, I saw at first glance an old carefully folded uniform of the Mafeking defenders. Under the uniform was a bound collection of copies of the Mafeking Mail issued during the 217 day siege - a real collector's item. I scanned a few pages at random and saw articles about the daily life of the town and its people under those trying conditions and of greater interest to me, an article announcing the printing of local post stamps for use in the town depicting Sgt. Major Goodyear and Col. Baden-Powell himself. We now know these stamps as Scott's #178, 179, and 180, the first of the Boy Scout topicals.
Next I lifted out a flat metal box secured with an aged leather strap which fell apart as I unbuckled it. In the box, right before my eyes was a complete set of full mint sheets of all three of the stamps in perfect condition. It was as if I were in a dream that I carefully fingered over each sheet. After recovering from the shock, I came across a second set of the same stamps which were inscribed "Baden-Powell - Colonel - Mafeking - 1900". What priceless gems to be stored away in a forgotten trunk in an opposite side of the world. It was unbelievable, fantastic and to say the least would be remembered by me for the rest of my life.
As Aunt Agatha was my favorite and I was her only nephew, I realized it would take little effort to have those precious stamps for my own Scout collection which I had intended to exhibit soon. After I explained their rarity and the unquestioned value of the find and of my personal desire to have them, she said without any hesitation "you may have them, I'm sure father would want it that way."
It was impossible for me to fully express my feelings to Aunt Agatha upon hearing her decision. The shock was too much for me and at that very moment my alarm sounded. There was nothing left for me to do but get up and go to work. If I could only have kept on dreaming I wonder what more I could have found in that old trunk. Perhaps I should not have stayed up so late that night before writing up my Baden-Powell page.