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Lester Williams
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"Football in Philately" Illustrated Book Review
By Lester Williams

How does one go about writing a book review of a book that has not been read and cannot be read? That is a difficult question to answer but it is my task for the moment. In an effort to review literature dealing with soccer philately, it was inevitable that I would encounter literature written in languages other than English. Up to this point, that has not been much of an issue. The use of world-wide stamp catalogs of Michel (German) and Yvert and Tellier (French) allowed me to learn enough of the those two languages to get by. My early years were spent in Brazil which enabled me to learn Portuguese and by extension become familiar with many other romance languages. In college, I took a few semesters of both Greek and Hebrew. However, the book about to be reviewed was written in none of those languages. It was written in Russian in 1970 by Moisei Levin and is entitled "Football in Philately" and the language and even the alphabet are unfamiliar.

As has already been mentioned, the 135 page “Football in Philately” is written in Russian. This alone makes it difficult to review, but there is another issue which increases the level of difficulty. This is not a stamp catalog per se. It is not merely a listing of all the soccer stamps/postmarks/stamped envelopes issued with their production facts in Russian and their prices in Rubles. No, this is actually better described as an illustrated history of soccer using philatelic material as a guide. Most of the pages are filled not with stamp pictures and facts but rather with text (example to the right). This is problematic, but as it turns out I can offer some insight into the book itself.

As I slowly flipped through the book, trying to glean some idea into what it was about and wondering how to proceed, I reached the next to the last page where I found the table of contents. Perhaps this is the standard placement for it in Russiana literature, perhaps not, but when I found it I realized that if I could just translate that one page, I could gain some insight into the direction and scope of the book. After scanning the page I found an online OCR reader that could extract the words from the page. Once the words were extracted, it was a simple matter to put the text into an online translator to reveal the content(see bottom right).

As it turns out, Levin approaches this marriage of soccer and philately in a fairly standard way. He begins with a discourse of the history of soccer and the elements of the game. He then traces the game as it’s played on the international scene, first in the Olympics and next in the World Cup. The next two chapters are devoted to International Championships (excluding the World Cup) and national/regional championships. These two chapters have sections for each of the 4 major continents, Europe, Asia, Africa, and the America’s. He concludes the main body of the book with a chapter on on Soviet related soccer issues and postal stationary. Each of the chapters is illustrated with stamps, postal stationary, and at times cancels relating to the topics being discussed.

The titles of each chapter are intriguing and offer a glimpse into a culture and a language that is probably foreign to most of us. In particular, the chapter dealing with the World Cups, is called “Under the Shadow of a Golden Goddess”, clearly a reference to what the Jules Rimet trophy is called in Russian. The book closes with another interestingly named chapter titled “Instead of an Epilogue” (see left). It was only one page in length and I wondered what Levin would say instead of an epilogue. So back to the OCR reader and back to the online translators I went. He wrote about the broad spectrum of philatelic material available for soccer stamp collectors. He mentioned the burgeoning number of issues. According to his count there were 64 issues from 1924-1944 and 276 from 1944-1964. He commented on the prolific number of issues in 1966 and wondered what 1970 would bring. He finished by considering the pleasure of exhibiting and listed three soccer stamp exhibitors by name. However, it was his closing statement that resonated with me the most. Roughly translated he wrote "The authors will consider their task fulfilled, if this book will help others in their pursuits." That was his purpose in writing the book, and as it turns out its the same purpose I have for this website. Its a labor of love and in spite of the distance of time and space, we both share the same passion, soccer philately, and we want to do what we can to help others with the same passion.

There is no way to thoroughly review a book I’ve never read. This book has intrigued me, though, and someday I would love to take the time to translate it. From the few portions that were translated, Moisei Levin’s passion for soccer philately comes through and it would be interesting to read his thoughts on the other topics he has addressed. Overall, this seems to be a well written book and if you can read Russian and have access to a copy, it would be a pleasurable read. On a scale of 1 to 10 this illustrated history merits an 8.

Copyright 10/19/2017 by Lester Williams.

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