That Time I Met Queen Elizabeth II

Posted by Don Sundman on 20th Feb 2024

Who Knew a Stamp Dealer from a Small Town in Central New York would Meet Queen Elizabeth II?!

In November of 2019, I was invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II. In a private ceremony, she dedicated the new headquarters of the Royal Philatelic Society London. It sounds crazy that I, a stamp dealer from a small town in Central New York, was invited to meet the queen.

My invitation from the Royal to meet Queen Elizabeth II

I’ll fill you in on all the details, but first, let me tell you a little history about “the Royal.” That’s what collectors call the Royal Philatelic Society London…

The World’s Most Prestigious “Stamp Club” – Founded Over 150 Years Ago

In 1869, the Royal Philatelic Society London was founded. King George V, Elizabeth II’s grandfather, served as vice president of the society for many years. He held the position until he ascended to the throne.

As king, George expanded the stamp holdings given to him by his father, Edward VII, and built a fabulous collection of British Colonial stamps – perhaps the world’s best.

When George V died, his oldest son ascended to the throne as Edward VIII. Edward ruled for less than a year before abdicating in a famous story that became the scandal of the 1930s. His younger brother, Prince Albert, replaced him – becoming King George VI – the father of Elizabeth II.

King George VI also collected stamps. He inherited his father’s collection and continued to expand it. Queen Elizabeth II inherited the full collection upon her father’s death and her ascension to the throne.

Back to the story of the Royal. All great British stamp collectors join the society. Today, it has over 2,000 members from all over the world. And I’m proud to say I’m one of them.

The Funny Story of How I Joined the Royal

For 132 years, the Royal forbade stamp dealers from joining the society. That always seemed odd and arbitrary to me since many dealers collect stamps – and every other club I know of allows dealers to join. When the Royal changed its rules in 2003, I applied and was accepted.

I once asked another member why they originally blackballed dealers and he said, “this was the Royal and King George liked to visit with his friends. He would socialize with his plumber, but he didn’t socialize with people he bought his stamps from.” I loved that story! Maybe because I’m friends with my plumber, too… Anyway, the rules changed and my brother Dave and I got to join the world’s most prestigious stamp club.

Now for the story you’ve been waiting for…
How I was invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II

Fast forward to October 19, 2019 – the night of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s gala. They held the dinner to raise funds for the museum and give the Smithsonian Lifetime Achievement award to people who have made a positive impact on our hobby. I’m proud to be the chairman of the museum’s Council of Philatelists, and as such, gave out the awards on stage.

After the ceremony, a member of the Royal approached me. He said he would “put in a word” on my behalf asking to invite me to the upcoming dedication of their new headquarters. “It’s a unique opportunity…” he said, “If I told you more, I would have to kill you.” I laughed but said I had no plans to go to London as I was going to a show in Monaco that Wednesday. He said, “so change your flights and come to London on the way to Monaco.” I was curious but wasn’t sure about changing my plans. I told him I’d give it some thought.

A few weeks later, I received a formal invitation from the Royal. Of course, I decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, and changed my flights.

I told no one my insider information…

…so, imagine my surprise when my brother Dave texted me saying, “are you seeing the Queen at the Royal next week?” How did he know?! The story leaked! I couldn’t believe it. I was so careful not to “spill the beans.” Dave said the Royal sent an e-mail to members not invited to the opening, including himself, that said the queen was coming and if they didn’t have an invitation, don’t come to the club. Not long after, Linn’s Stamp News picked up the story.

As you know, I love stamps and collecting and am always thrilled when our hobby gets attention. So, I think it’s great Queen Elizabeth II dedicated the new society headquarters. I hope the story brings some attention to stamp collecting.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Stamp Collection

Did you know the queen’s stamp collection actually belongs to her? It’s not owned by the government. In fact, she has a special “keeper” responsible for the collection. I know a previous keeper, Michael Sefi. He oversaw a staff of four people who added new stamps and otherwise maintained the collection. Four people! That’s a lot of attention for one stamp collection. But I understand it’s a very large number of stamps.

The Big Day Arrived…

I arrived at the Royal Philatelic Society London just before the 10:00 a.m. check-in deadline. It was drizzling as I walked past the many police stationed outside the Royal. A bomb-sniffing dog arrived for a final check as I passed through the police barricade. I said hello to Michal Sefi, just-retired “Keeper of the Queen’s Collection,” as I made my way into the building.

The Royal’s flag outside the building

Inside, I was directed through a metal detector after showing my invitation and passport. (I had been warned, no invitation and no photo ID, no admittance… It was a good thing everything checked out!)

Waiting for the Queen

After being given the all-clear, I made my way to the Royal’s “American Room” on the ground floor and was assigned my spot to meet the queen. (The American Room was so named because American members of the Royal donated funds for its refurbishment.)

American Room inside the Royal – Where I met Queen Elizabeth II

I chatted with members of the Royal before rehearsal started and, like children in school, we all made our way to our assigned places. We were then told the protocol before the queen’s arrival. If the queen addressed, us, we were to say “your majesty.” If the conversation continued, we were to say “ma’am.” (Not “mum,” like we often see in the movies.)

The Moment We’d All Been Waiting For

At 11:00 a.m. on the dot, I heard the queen’s motorcycle escort in the ally outside. (Later, the newspapers reported she had taken a Range Rover because her usual car, a Bentley, wouldn’t fit down the narrow street.)

The room went dead quiet.

And then, Queen Elizabeth II entered the building. She was dressed in a beautiful green outfit with a matching hat. She looked regal, as I should’ve expected. Several club officers from the Royal greeted the queen, who then made her way into the American Room. I was in “Group 2,” standing by the fireplace.

I Really Met the Queen of England!

The queen impressed the crowd. She spoke to each person she was introduced to. She was very personable, asking a question or making a comment here and there as she went along.

Me shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth II

When she got to me, I was formally introduced and she offered me her gloved hand. (I still find it hard to believe that I shook the hand of Britain’s longest-reigning monarch!) She was of smaller stature than I expected, with the slightest stoop. I hope to look that healthy and vibrant at age 93!

The queen made her way through the rest of our group before moving to a glass display cabinet. The Royal’s historian described the display, which included a guest book signed by Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather in 1894. There was also a 1906 note from King George V, wishing the club would retain “London” in its name after adding “Royal.” (Before then, it was simply known as the London Philatelic Society.)

1906 note from King George V, regarding the Royal’s name change

Queen Elizabeth II Opened the New Royal Philatelic Society London Headquarters

After meeting more eager collectors on the upper floor of the building, and visiting the library below us, the queen returned to the American Room. She pulled a cord, revealing a chiseled stone plaque which read: “THIS BUILDING WAS OPENED BY HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN ON THE OCCASION OF THE 150TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ROYAL PHILATELIC SOCIETY LONDON 26TH NOVEMBER 2019.”

Queen Elizabeth II’s signature read “Elizabeth R.” (R as in Regina, Latin for Royal)

Before she left, the queen signed the club’s guest book, the same signed by her grandfather, father, and herself (on her previous visit in 1969). She jokingly declared “Proof!” as she signed, making us all laugh. Her signature read “Elizabeth R.” (R as in Regina, Latin for Royal).

Boy, Am I Glad I Went!

The whole day was great. The crowd at the Royal was in high spirits, especially the Brits. Just about every one of them had a story about the queen, though, for most, this was the first time they’d met her. Many told me they never expected it.

Several British collectors told me “I know your face” when they met me. I expect that’s because they read the magazine published by the American Philatelic Society. (Each year I’m the top recruiter and am featured in the magazine.)

After the queen left, I visited a stand in the hall set up by the Royal Mail. They were selling commemorative covers for 10 pounds (about $13 US) marking Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the Royal and canceled that day, November 26, 2019. I bought four of them.