all died... very young and in some mysterious circumstances."
Gibbons - godfather of philately and man of mystery
The name Stanley Gibbons is synonymous with stamps and philately.
Gibbons founded a global stamp empire from a chemist shop in Plymouth,
but could he also have been a man who, literally, got away with murder?
Stafford dons his deerstalker to uncover the strange case of the many wives of
a Victorian man of mystery.
Man of mystery
The Stanley Gibbons
Group is an enterprise that's grown from its humble origins to become the world's
leading stamp business, with prestige London showrooms and sales of over £13
million a year.
But the story of the company's founder has altogether darker
Stanley Gibbons, the godfather of stamp collecting, that most
innocent of pastimes, married a succession of young wives.
But the early
deaths of these women raises the possibility of Gibbons being a serial wife killer.
head for business - Stanley Gibbons started in pharmacy|
Stanley Gibbons was born in Plymouth in a house on the site of what is now, appropriately
enough, the city's main Post Office in 1840.
His birth date coincided with
the very same year that the world's first postage stamp, the Penny Black, was
After leaving school young Stanley joined the family business,
a chemists, learning to mix and dispense medicines and potions from his father's
But Stanley had already caught the stamp collecting bug - and realised
there was money to be made buying and selling them.
By the age of 16 he
was laying the foundations for what was to become the world's biggest philately
business - trading stamps from a little desk in the corner of the chemist shop.
he proved to be a sharp operator.
When his father died in 1867, Stanley
took over the pharmacy.
But selling stamps was proving more profitable
than dispensing medicines so he sold the pharmacy and moved to new premises in
Lockyer Street which became a stamp outlet.
It was there that he produced
his first catalogues and stamp albums that had such an important effect on the
growth of the hobby and of his business.
Gibbons married a clergyman's daughter, Matilda Woon.
Two years later
they sold up in Plymouth and moved to London, where business boomed.
in 1890, after 34 years of selling stamps, 50-year-old Stanley embarked on a new
Stanley Gibbons have poisoned his wives?|
He sold the business
for £25,000 - the equivalent today of almost £2 million and left to
travel the world.
He visited Monte Carlo, Ceylon, Burma, Japan, Hawaii
and the United States on his travels.
In fact he appears to have been a
great Edwardian globetrotter.
But while his customers were collecting
stamps, Stanley Gibbons was collecting wives.
Matilda died just five years
after becoming the first Mrs Gibbons.
The cause of her death was recorded
as marasmus - a wasting disease similar to anorexia.
Casey became wife number two in 1887, but she'd been part of Stanley's life for
at least six years before they wed.
Maggie was the daughter of a publican
and she was a barmaid.
In 1899, after 12 years as Mrs Gibbons, Maggie died
- of cirrhosis of the liver.
But within months Stanley had married wife
number three - Georgina.
Gibbons had a good knowledge of poisons|
The only real record
of her is a photograph which shows her as a rather matronly figure besides Stanley.
Georgina survived as Mrs Gibbons for only five years.
But Stanley swiftly
moved on to wife number four, Bertha Barth, daughter of a railway clerk.
was now 65 - his new wife was 27.
Bertha was with him for three years until
she died of cancer of the liver.
Less than a year later, Stanley was already
adding to his extensive collection of partners.
Sophia Crofts, however,
outlived her husband - he died aged 72, on 17th February 1913.
None of Stanley Gibbon's wives bore him any children.
even his death is shrouded in suspicion.
The official records say that he
expired from a heart attack in his nephew's apartment.
pharmacy to philately - Stanley Gibbons|
But the far more entertaining
and tantalising story is that Stanley was in the Savoy Hotel in the arms of his
latest passion and was so overcome with her charms that he promptly expired of
a heart attack.
Stanley was then bundled up in a carpet and transported
from the Savoy Hotel, which is not very far away, to the nephew's pad in Piccadilly.
And there the official death of Stanley Gibbons was recorded.
So was Stanley Gibbons merely an unlucky husband whose
life was blighted by tragedy - or could there be a more sinister explanation?
Was he a serial killer and did the skills acquired during those early years in
the Plymouth pharmacy prove useful when it came to disposing of unwanted wives?
the four wives who died we have death certificates for two.
The first died
of a wasting disease - but there are poisons that can cause wasting disease, notably
heavy metal poisoning.
His second wife died of cirrhosis of the liver.
Yet another is supposed to have died of carcinoma of the liver, the other
of liver disease.
David Randall, Assistant Editor
at the Independent Newspaper, has researched Gibbon's life and says:
all died - four of them - very young - very young and in some mysterious circumstances.
And Stanley Gibbons was trained as a chemist!"
that the Victorian pharmacist could have had access to drugs or poisons that could
resulted in liver failure.
Randall says that there is a possibility that
Gibbons poisoned his wives.
But, like so many aspects of this man's life,
we'll never know for certain.
Even at the end of his life, Edward Stanley
Gibbons was thought to be planning another change of partner.
In a final
twist to this absorbing tale, when his will was published, he'd left the bulk
of his estate, not to Sophia his wife, but to Mabel Hedgecoe - a 'dear friend'.
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