St. James’s Palace, official residence of the British Royal family, is home to many oddities (none of which is the Queen). Mary I’s heart and bowels are buried beneath the chancel in the Chapel Royal, and somewhere, down a dusty corridor of the red-brick Tudor palace built on the site of a leper hospital, is the world’s most comprehensive collection of postage stamps of Great Britain and the Commonwealth.
Along with such mysterious organizations as the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, the Yeoman of the Guard, and Queen’s Watermen, St. James’s houses the office of the Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection. The man who currently sits at the desk, Michael Selfi, has his work cut out; the collection’s never been counted or valued, and many of the Queen’s stamp purchases are still sitting in their green boxes, waiting to be mounted. Unlike the Crown Jewels, the collection belongs to the Queen instead of the nation, although she does kindly loan stamps to exhibitions now and again.
Queen Victoria’s son Prince Alfred started it all off with a pane of 6d stamps acquired in 1856, although the world’s first stamp had been issued several years earlier, on May 1, 1840. A passion for postage clearly runs in the family as it’s rumored that the Queen’s grandfather, George V, spent three uninterrupted afternoons a week with his stamp collection, which is preserved in no fewer than 328 red albums. George VI continued the tradition, keeping his acquisitions in blue binders, while the current Queen’s collection is kept in green books.