Top Japanese collector Hiroyuki Kanai

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Hiroyuki Kanai began collecting stamps almost from the moment he could talk. Born in 1925, the son of a wealthy Osaka industrialist, he spent most of his pocket money on a passion that has grown and evolved over three quarters of a century. ‘I started collecting stamps when I was five years old. 70 years have passed already. When I was 13, I was already a serious stamp collector. I founded two philatelic societies at university,’ he said.

After World War II, he left general collecting behind, concentrating on British Colonials and Japan Classics. He formed important collections of New Brunswick, Novas Scotia and Trinidad. But if Kanai is famous for one thing, it is his outstanding collection of early Mauritius, formed over a period of 40 years.

Kanai joins a long list of renowned philatelists who collected on the subject of Mauritius, from W.A.S. Westoby (1815-1899), through King George V, up to Louise Boyd Dale (1913-1967), who inherited a fine collection from her father Alfred Lichtenstein.

Greatest Mauritius collection
But Kanai arguably held the greatest collection of them all. He explained: ‘I was interested in how many Mauritius Post Office stamps I could collect among 27 pieces existing. I owned six Post Office stamps, and it is the greatest number ever to be owned held by one person in the world’.

These highly valuable stamps (1d reds and 2d blues) were printed in September 1847, on the instructions of the wife of the Governor of Mauritius Lady Gomm, who wanted stamps for envelopes containing invitations to her fancy dress ball. The words ‘Post Office’, rather than ‘Post Paid’, had erroneously been entered in the left tablet by engraver Joseph Osmond Barnard. With the date of the ball fast advancing, the order was given for the stamps to be printed, error and all.

His Mauritius collection was auctioned by David Feldman in 1993, much to the delight (and relief) of collectors around the world. Kanai recalled: ‘I sold my collection of Mauritius only to satisfy the collectors who are dreaming to own one of these beautiful stamps’.

Kanai is not only a collector, but also a scholar, having written books on classic issues of both Mauritius and Japan. His research on Classic Japan has been extensive: ‘It is natural that one collects one’s own country, with the difference that I decided to do it well, and go into deep studies of most issues’.

His favourite Japanese stamp design is the Cherry Blossom series, 6 Sen, on native paper, with the ‘syllabic 1’. This stamp was shown on cover in Kanai’s book Hosun-no-Miryoku. The same book tells the story of his most troublesome purchase: ‘The most difficult piece to acquire in my Classic Japan was the 20 Sen, native paper, syllabic 1, from the Caspary Collection. It was difficult to make remittance under the control of exchanging Yen into foreign currency, by the government after World War II’.

Elusive cover
While Kanai managed eventually to purchase this item, a precious cover bearing two pieces of Mauritius Post Office, eluded him. The one that got away was part of the Dale Lichtenstein Collection, offered in Harmers of New York in 1968. This purchase would clearly have been a cherry on the already rich Mauritius cake.

Considering his excellence as a collector and scholar, it is no surprise that Kanai has been awarded a list of honours, including the Blue Ribbon Medal of Honour from the Japanese Emperor in 1991. He has received a host of gold medals for his philately, and Grand Prix awards for collections of three different countries. But the achievement of which he is rightly most proud, is the National Grand Prix for his Finland Collection, awarded in Helsinki in 1988.

But the man who has become something of a legend in his own lifetime has not stopped there. He continues to make his detailed researches into Classic Japan and encourages others to do the same: ‘The philatelic culture of Japan is behind other countries. I hope Japanese philatelists make the culture of Japan advance further. I am endeavouring to do so through my life’.

Source: Coney Stamps