ABU DHABI // A photograph of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, depicts him some time in the 1970s, taking part in a favourite hobby - a game of volleyball.
The picture greeted visitors to last week's GCC Stamp Exhibition at Marina Mall, alongside a 186kg Guinness World Record-breaking gold coin commemorating an award inaugurated by the Finance Minister, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.
The stamps and relics are heirlooms of a vanished age, and markers of the UAE's history. If not for them, collectors say, many of those memories could be lost.
Omar Mohammed, an employee ofEmirates Post for nearly 30 years, walked through the exhibition with pride, pointing out vestiges of an older age of communication, when everything was handwritten.
A selection of antique post office boxes and keys would be impossible to replicate today, he said, while a faded copy of the state-owned Ittihad newspaper dated 1973 detailed articles of a new federal communication law, alongside scales that measured the weight of mailed items.
"You can't send packages by e-mail," he said wistfully.
The first post office in the UAE opened in 1963, but the British had set up a postal agency in Dubai to carry correspondence from as early as 1909. "This is heritage," said Mr Mohammed. "As Sheikh Zayed said, 'whoever has no heritage has no past, and whoever has no past has no present'."
One set of stamps on display commemorates the life of Rashid bin Tannaf, a native of Sharjah born in 1910 who grew up to become a celebrated Emirati poet, and whose home in Ramla in Sharjah brought together aspiring poets and students of literature.
The stamp collections commemorate the dawn of the modern education system: Al Ahmadiya School, built in 1912 as the first school in Dubai; Al Nehyania Model Primary School, inaugurated by Sheikh Zayed in 1959 as the first school in Al Ain; and Al Eslah School, opened in 1935 in Sharjah and initially run from the homes of prominent citizens.
Poor children were often educated for free, while the rich made a nominal payment that could range from three to five Indian rupees, the prevalent currency at the time.
But while the stamps reveal aspects of the national consciousness over periods of history, they also mark the UAE's emerging role on the global stage.
One set of stamps commemorates the Club World Cup held for the first time in the capital in 2009, while another celebrates 30 years of diplomatic relations with South Korea, which today is building the country's nuclear power plants.
Another set of stamps, issued in late 2008 in co-ordination with Dubai Police's Human Rights Department, celebrates the 60th anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Other historic transitions of power in the UAE are recorded, such as the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's accession in Dubai for instance.
The four lines drawn across the image of Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan denote his abdication of the throne to Sheikh Zayed in 1966, marking the beginning of an era that would culminate in the formation of the federation.
The prices of the collections vary - some drew value from their rarity, or the quirks of error that caused them to be pulled out of circulation, or the anachronisms of currency values that are no longer in circulation.
"Any issue is a documentation of the nation's history," said Ibrahim al Karam, the chief commercial officer of Emirates Post, one of the organisers of the exhibition.
"It is like an ambassador carrying the history of the nation to the people and the other countries of the world. A postage stamp is a chronicle of history."
The joint exhibition also signifies Gulf unity at a time when the GCC states face unprecedented challenges on a regional scale.
The exhibition embodies the "spirit of cohesion and co-operation between the GCC states", said Mr al Karam.
"We don't know about the past," said Adil Khan, a stamp collector who works for National Bank of Abu Dhabi and also collects 18th and 19th century currency.
"It's a history. Whatever is printing now, in the future it's a history."