FAST BACKWARD: Ernest H. Oesch, philatelist

Though associated with Davao’s plantation industry as former manager of Mindanao Estates Co. of Padada, Davao del Sur, Ernest H. Oesch is indelibly linked to the region’s archaeological and philatelic (stamp collection) history. Prior to his 13-year Davao stint, he was superintendent of Central Luzon Agricultural School (CLAS, now Central Luzon State University, 1923-25). Two years later he resigned to move to Mindanao.

Oesch, of Germanic origin, arrived in the country as a teacher of agriculture with the education bureau but went to Fiji, in the South Pacific, where he introduced the educational system adopted at CLAS.

His prewar porcelain collection was the most valuable in Davao, the bulk of which were artifacts, mostly broken and assembled from different sites. A few whole pieces were retrieved, including sherds and porcelains from burial sites near the foot of Mt. Piapi and Padada River, and from an ancient graveyard not too far away from the watercourse.

As of April 23, 1940, the Oesch collection consisted of over 400 pieces of small Ming pieces, 12-15 Sung articles, mostly large and small celadon jars, a few Ming overglazed polychrome wares, and Sawankhalok wares. Its destruction by war was called by Henry Otley Beyer, father of Philippine archaeology, as ‘a real loss to Philippine ceramic history.’

As a philatelist, Oesch’s earliest stamp cover bearing his name was from New Zealand, dated Mar. 19, 1926, sent to an earlier address at Isla de Sao Miguel, Tabaco, Albay, while the latest, mailed to the U.S., was dated Mar. 8, 1941, just days before he died. Many of his stamped letters were addressed to Australia, explaining his wife was from that continent.

Oesch published in 1931 a philatelic paper for The American Chamber of Commerce Journal, describing Philippine history from 1281 to 1898. He described the stamps and overprints issued since 1854, including catalogues and stamp prices and the brief history of Philippine aerophilately.

Oesch’s inadvertent contribution to Australian philately is known, one of which is a registered letter carrying seven postal markings, sent via Manila to Caulfield South, Victoria, a federated state in southeastern Australia, and dated Dec. 14, 1931. At the time, the post office in southern Davao was at Santa Cruz town. The response to the letter took twenty-six days to reach him from the time it was mailed from Australia.

Another letter cover sent by Oesch was addressed to A.L.V. Jenkins of Tooraweenah, in the central west of New South Wales, Australia. It was registered on Nov. 3, 1931 in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur, and reached Manila postal office seven days later.

Oesch extensively used stamps as letter covers and as part of his philatelic avocation. Some of the correspondences he received came from New Zealand, Samoa, Russia, and USA. The Australian Postal History and Social Philately identified one of his letters, which was addressed to Dr. W.I. Mitchell, a well-known California philatelist.

He also used booklet panes to suggest that, indeed, he was into philately. For instance, the letter postmarked Dec. 1, 1930, has ‘a booklet pane of the 2c Rizal green on the 4c carmine McKinley, was sent to the Sydney suburb of Willoughby, the front having a manuscript reception of December 22, 1930.’

An associate member of the American Chamber of Commerce since September 1921, he died in Manila in March 1941, age 52, due to brain tumor, after taken to a hospital for surgical care. He left behind an Australian wife he met in Fiji, a daughter and two sons. His funeral services were held at the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. John.

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