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Early History Of BTA

“THEMATICS - The Way Ahead or a Passing Phase?”  was the title of a paper read by Raife Wellsted, Curator of the National Postal Museum, at the 1983 Philatelic Congress in Bath. He wanted to stimulate interest in Thematics and to raise the standard of British entries at International level. At the end of the debate, Ron Lee, Chairman of Congress and the British Philatelic Federation (BPF) promised to call a meeting to discuss the formation of a British Thematic Society.

Subsequently, Ron Lee invited all thematic collectors to attend a meeting on 7 March 1984 at Spring Stampex. About 30 collectors were present; Ron Lee took the Chair and said he wanted to create a Federation of Thematic Groups, under the umbrella of the British Philatelic Federation (BPF). However, many present collected themes for which there was no specialist thematic group. After lengthy discussions it was agreed that a new organisation would be formed with the title British Thematic Association (BTA) and that both Thematic Groups and individual thematic collectors could become members.  However, Ron Lee was adamant that BTA should become a sub-committee of BPF.  Any collector or Thematic Group wishing to join BTA had to become a member of BPF.  Franceska Rapkin was elected the first Chairman; Margaret Morris, Secretary; Brian Sole, Assistant Secretary; Alma Lee, F.I.P. Co-ordinator and John Osborne, Public Relations Officer. Shortly after, Franceska’s invitations to Tom Wilson of Medi-Theme to be Editor; Patricia Peters, Railway Philatelic Group, Librarian and Tony Field, Displays Officer were accepted.

At Franceska’s first Committee meeting, Margaret Morris reported that every enquiry had been recorded on a card index. (This was in the days before home computers). Enquiries had come from all over the UK and from USA, Australia, Canada, France, Belgium, Romania, Yugoslavia, Singapore and Zimbabwe.  “Themescene” was selected as the title of the magazine and the design of the BTA logo was resolved.  The newly appointed Editor, Tom Wilson, had been unable to attend, but an outline of the contents of the first issue was provisionally agreed.  Franceska Rapkin had reached agreement with Dr Ernst Schlunegger for his book, “An Introduction to Thematic Philately” to be translated from German and serialised in “Themescene”. 

At the next committee meeting held in London, the appointments of John Miller as printer of “Themescene” and his wife, Elizabeth, as distributor of the magazine, were approved. BTA did not require a Treasurer because it was a sub-committee of BPF, but did need access to membership records.  The BPF Secretary, Herbert Grimsey, kindly agreed to add the code “T” to the BPF membership records for BTA members and to provide address labels for each issue of “Themescene”. A BTA membership list was compiled from the BPF records, with the addition of thematic interests. 

The first BTA open meeting was held during the 1984 British Philatelic Exhibition (BPE) at the Royal Horticultural Halls.  Copies of the first issue of “Themescene” and BTA advertising material were handed out. Members of the Judaica, Ships, Railways, Masonry, Music and Royal Portraits Groups provided short displays to over 60 thematic collectors.  Erica Banks showed Marine Invertebrates and a French member, Jacques Riboulet, showed Fungi.   Shortly after BPE, Margaret Morris was able to promote Thematics by displaying “Astronomy” to the Royal Philatelic Society London and to talk about the pioneers of Thematic Philately. Dorothy Martin was to follow in her footsteps with a Christmas display to the Royal PSL on 3 October 1985. 

At STAMPEX ’85 on Sunday 3 March 1985 BTA was honoured to have as guest speaker, the President of the FIP Thematic Philately Commission, Dr Giancarlo Morolli. A large audience of over 70 enjoyed his presentation, using an overhead projector and slides.  Dr Morolli stressed that philately should be a pleasure; nobody was forced to exhibit.  The theme chosen should give personal pleasure. The morning session concluded with a lively question and answer session.  In the afternoon, Dr Morolli kindly provided critiques to those members who had brought 9 sheets.

By the end of 1985 Franceska Rapkin had requested Margaret Morris to become Editor, after she acquired a word processor.  Brian Sole took over as Secretary and Tom Wilson, Assistant Secretary.  Franceska redrafted the National Thematic Philately Rules, with help from Alma Lee and Brian Sole, to more closely align them with the FIP International Rules.  The first UK thematic exhibitor to gain a Gold medal was Franceska Rapkin with her entry, “1936 Olympic Games” at ISRAPHIL ’85 and she received a second Gold in 1988 at OLYMPHILEX ’88.

John Fosbery, a successful South American exhibitor, had turned his attention to Thematics.  He signed the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists and also organised two thematic evenings, at the 1986 Philatelic Congress in Norwich..  On the first evening Ron Butler showed  “Railway Engines”; Peter Burnett, “Chess”; Colin Fraser, “The Waterlow Story”; John Pert  “Modern South America”; Mrs Wornum, “Owls” and  Peter Foden, “Water Wings”..Franceska Rapkin gave the vote of thanks to John and the participants.  On the following evening, John displayed “The Adventures of Christopher Columbus” and Brian Sole displayed  “The History of the Bicycle”. 

In November 1986 BTA held its first Thematic Seminar at a Hotel in a wet and windy Weston-super-Mare.  There was a full house for George Gibson’s welcome and Andrew Watton’s introduction.  Franceska Rapkin began with, “Getting started and thinking logically”.  Margaret Morris followed up with “Putting it together  - presentation and layout”, using slides. In the afternoon Margery Wharton and Brian Sole spoke on “Choosing material for the collection and exhibiting” and Franceska closed proceedings with “What the judges look for”. The attendees were then invited to mark some 9-sheet exhibits and discuss the reasons for their marks with the team.

John Fosbery continued to be active by organising “Thematica ’87”, hosted by the London & Provincial Stamp Club, in the Carisbrooke Hall of the Victory Service Club, on Saturday 30 May 1987.  Some 15 or 16 Thematic Groups and thematic dealers took tables. BTA members also provided short displays during the day..  The day was a success.  A similar format was followed for Thematica ’88, with standing displays of “Picasso” by John Fosbery and “Pre-Columbian Art” by Margaret Morris.

BTA’s Thematic Evening at the Philatelic Congress in Eastbourne on 11 September 1987 attracted over 40 persons. The emphasis was on the fun of thematic collecting and displaying. Raymond Brown showed Banking; Margery Wharton, “Of Ice and Man”; Michael Gosney, Rotary and Frank Jones, Bridges.

As part of Glasgow Thematic Society’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 1988, an exhibition entitled “Theme World” was held at the Glasgow Transport Museum.   BTA members provided exhibits to Margaret Morris, who re-wrote each exhibitor’s summary page in a common typeface and added the exhibition logo. The BTA also held a Thematic Seminar and a BTA committee meeting whilst in Glasgow.

Thanks to the efforts of Ronald Hyams, Advertising Manager, BTA’s first competition was held at Keypex Stamp Fair in Aylesbury on 28 December 1988.  Ronald collected and arranged erection of frames and an anonymous person donated the BTA Trophy, which is still competed for annually. Visitors voted for the best exhibit. “The World of Embroidery” by Mrs Mary Marsh gained the most votes and Franceska Rapkin presented Mary with the trophy.

John Fosbery was keen to continue organising Thematica ’89 but following a stroke, he reluctantly passed the reins to Maurice Gale, proprietor of Cameo Stamps.  Maurice extended the Exhibition to two days and booked Carisbrooke Hall for the dealers and the El Alamein Room, for the BTAs Thematic Groups tables, a Kids Corner and exhibits. A competition for the John Fosbery Thematic Trophy, with no rules, apart from 16 sheets in protectors and no entry fee, was introduced. 

In 1989 Franceska Rapkin was awarded the Congress medal for her work over many years with Youth and Thematics.  She also appointed new BTA Committee members. Margery Wharton became Assistant Secretary and John Griffin, a collector of Birds on Stamps, agreed to be auctioneer.  Graham Atkins, a radio announcer with a Christian organization, became Public Relations Officer.  He recorded conversations with committee members on how to collect thematics and prepared slides of their thematic material. Societies were invited to hire the tape and slides.

It was becoming apparent that the BPF was having difficulty balancing its books.  The formation of BTA led to an increase in BPF membership but also increased  expenditure, mainly due to the cost of 4 issues of “Themescene” each year. In 1991, BTA split from BPF amicably.  Brian Asquith became BTA Treasurer and Ian Paton was appointed Membership Secretary.  Ian set up a database from BPF records and the record of themes collected by members. Franceska Rapkin continued as Chairman and other members of the committee retained their positions. 

The foresight of the BTA Committee became even more apparent at the Newcastle Philatelic Congress in 1992, when the BPF was disbanded due to lack of funds.

This covers our history from the foundation of the BTA until 1991.

Brian Sole