Sunday, June 9, 2019

Guest Post: On Completing a Big Blue Volume One

Last April Fools' Day, I did a silly post on completing a Big Blue Volume One. Long time reader Bud was inspired by my post to ponder more seriously the implications of just what completion means in the context of the Intentional. With his permission, I am posting his thoughts which I hope you will enjoy as much as I have.

Congrats to the as yet unnamed 1000 collectors who this year completed a Scott International Volume One (Big Blue, or BB for short), and especially to Philip Tellick. It’s a milestone, and a cause for deep reflection.

Imagine 1000 completed BB V1s! Each would have to be housed in at least six binders, and the binders are exactly one foot long. That means, if the 1000 collectors were to lay their albums end to end. the blue streak would be over a mile long. What’s more, each album has 34,706 stamps (+ or -, depending on the edition) and the average size of a stamp is about 1.25 inches. So, if the stamps were laid end to end, they would stretch Montgomery AL to Baltimore MD. Still further, if the 1000 collectors have an average age of 70 (I guess they would probably be older), and if the years of their lives were in sequence or, so to speak, laid end to end, they would go back 70,000 years to the time of the Toba volcanic catastrophe when humans almost vanished from the earth. Maybe they had stamps back then, too, but all of those who collected them perished in the conflagration and their collections with them. Enough statistical nonsense.

Your news does, however, make me wonder under what conditions we can judge a Scott International Volume One as being “complete.” Did the album publishers give us the gold standard for what “complete” means? (Obviously not. You have repeatedly pointed out BB’s glitches and mistakes in your blog.) Does “complete” mean there is some stamp or other in every space provided? (That’s complete, yes, but not a very satisfying notion.) Does “complete” mean a collector, having done the best she can, is finished with collecting and declares that, in so far as she’s concerned, "it’s complete”? (Well. maybe. Many of the collections sold on ebay are said to be “complete” in this way.)

What we need, before judging any particular album as being “complete”, is not some precisely given definition of completeness for all BBs, but is a notion of what constitutes sufficient grounds for judging any particular album as being complete. I’m helped in making such a claim by a new philosophy book I just finished reading. I’ve listed the book’s title at the end of this post in case you’re of a philosophical bent and want to burn some brain dust. It’s short, but may take you weeks to read.
So then, what constitutes sufficient grounds for judging when a BB V1 becomes “complete”? Jim is providing the best notion of what this might look like in his blog ( His sufficient grounds are uncomplicated, and in summary are (my wording):

•    Each stamp should be placed in the album space that corresponds to the Scott Catalog number for that stamp. The album provides color, value, and date clues for this task, but they’re not always reliable.
•    In many instances, multiple stamps are eligible candidates for single space. Any one of them will do. Likewise, both mint and used stamps will do.
•    Blank spaces should be filled, in so far as possible, with any stamps, of any value/variation, selected from the same series that do not already have a designated album space.
•    When the above guidelines cannot be followed because of album inconsistencies, select stamps that approximate the date specifications.
•    Damaged stamps qualify. Condition is not a consideration for determining completeness of the album.
•    Avoid fakes and forgeries.
•    Fill all spaces.

That’s about it. These are the sufficient grounds for judging an album as being “complete”. And there’s nothing more authoritative out there. The idea that Scott editors defined, once and for all, what makes the album “complete” is a myth. They didn’t do that, nor could they if they had tried.

I’ve been putting the word “complete” in quotation marks because any particular album that conforms to the above criteria is still in many ways incomplete. The notion “completeness” has embedded within it the reality of incompleteness. Take my own album as an example (it’s being serialized in Jim’s blog). When I had filled all spaces, friends ask me what I was going to collect next. I said that I was going to continue completing my “completed” album. And that’s what I’m doing and will continue doing.

If someday there actually are 1000 “complete” BBs, all qualifying on sufficient grounds as being “complete”, no two of them will be alike. That’s 1000 different definitions of what “complete” means. And they all -- at one and the same time -- are not perfectly final definitions and are final definitions that are perfectly good. That’s the charm of stamp albums. Confusing? Ask Sebastian.

The above-mentioned book: Sebastian Rödl, Self-Consciousness and Objectivity: An Introduction to Absolute Idealism, Harvard University Press, 2018. It’s not about judging album completeness, exactly. It’s about all judgments.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Everybody complains about the ...

...Browns but no one does anything about it. No wait, that can't be the case. I surely mean the Blue International Volume One that only houses a subset of stamps released between 1840 and 1940, with numerous missing common stamps and mistakes galore. The Browns, and more specifically the Vintage Reproduction reprints of the Browns, are legendary among serious worldwide collectors who surely have few if any complaints about coverage or editing.

Just kidding. We have known in broad outline issues with the Browns for some years. But until now, no one has documented the depth of the problem, much less provided a solution. Enter Phil Pritchard who has painstakingly identified what needs to be done and is in the midst of a three year project to create additional or replacement pages for the Vintage Reproduction version that will rectify deficiencies in coverage. 

Mr. Pritchard will be going into great depth about his project in two articles that are slated to appear in The Philatelic Literature Review (American Philatelic Research Library). Because you need to read these, I won't go into details about even the basic categories of problems he is trying to address (many of which are similar to those plaguing the Blue Volume One). But to give you a flavor of the breadth of his project, here is an example of changes he proposes to the pages for Japan that are in Volume 5 of the Vintage Reproductions reprint:

Japan 171-252 – Vintage page 369, part 1; add #171 and #175a which are 1937 stamps although listed with the start of those designs in 1922; Scott lists the “a” stamps as minor varieties but they should be majors as they represent different dies and all designs appeared first in 1922 but you would see only 2 of these then going by what is a major number, add #247 which for some unknown reason Scott left off the page although it is a part of the 1937 set, rearrange the #239- 252 set by design, remove the coils that are repeated on Vintage page 312 for 1939-40 although 3 of them are 1938 and thus belong in volume 5 (see related pages).

If you are interested in more information about this unique project, you may contact Mr. Pritchard at 
philpritchard AT  
(to make this a working email address you will need to change the 'AT' to '@' and eliminate the extra spaces).


For some examples in this blog about problems with the Brown, see my 2015 post:

For a similar study prepared by Arthur Palmer done for the Blue, see

If you need a refresher on the various flavors of worldwide albums including the Browns and Blues, see

Monday, April 8, 2019

Interesting catalog announcement from Michel

On 5 April 2019 Michel published a new catalog titled MICHEL Raritäten: Marken, die Sie kennen sollten! Cost is around 30 Euros. To quote from their English prospectus:

So you can join the debate: MICHEL introduces issues that are either world-famous, extremely pricey or extraordinary in other aspects.
First edition!
    History, development of the value in the past decades and things worth knowing regarding significant stamps from around the world
    A “must-know“ for anyone interested in “social philately“: issues that have been well-known or famous for a long time as well as those that are currently “hot“
    All chapters are illustrated with high-resolution colour pictures, diagrammes and other graphs
    Extensive background stories and further details
    Perfect for collectors and everyone who wants to become a collector.
Presumably there will be few stamps in this catalog that are in the Big Blue (perhaps US #1 and 2) so why mention it here? Well, for one, I think it is an interesting concept which would, of course, be relevant to those working on the Brown Internationals.

But, second, is the intriguing end of the prospectus:

"The exciting launch of the new MICHEL Rarities series that focuses on highlights of philately. The second volume, featuring first issues worldwide, will follow in December [2019]." Now number ones of the world is surely a topic that would be interesting to many of us.

Monday, April 1, 2019

April 1 Breaking News: Another (Yawn) Big Blue world record set

Phillip Tellick was certified by Guinness World Records this morning as the 1000th person to complete a Scott International Volume One this year.

As a consequence, Bob--proprietor of the moribund Filling Spaces blog--says that he may stop tracking completed Big Blues. He went on to explain: "Filling the album is obviously no longer a challenge. I wouldn't be surprised to find someone's pet wombat has accomplished the feat." (As Bob's own Big Blue is barely 70% full, it is possible that he is out searching for a stamp collecting wombat at this very moment.)

[Coincidentally and this part is not made up, Guinness recently awarded a world record for largest stamp collection: 400 million. My guess is the organization isn't clear about the difference between collection and accumulation.]

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Czur Aura Book Scanner

UPDATE: Numerous delays but the ship containing my unit will arrive in LA by the end of May and presumably I will have the scanner in early June 2019.

Although I no longer have the need I once did, I continue to be fascinated by inexpensive, non-destructive approaches to book scanning. On paper at least (no pun intended), the Czur Aura scanner looks like a viable solution. It is still a crowd funding project, but 50x the amount needed has been raised, and shipping is projected for December 2018.

According to the website, the scanner will:

* Digitize books without unbinding them;
* Convert them to PDF, editable Word (2.5sec/page);
* Scan a wide range of documents and objects up to A3 size (i.e., what the US calls tabloid);
* Double as a versatile lamp with 4 light settings.

The company estimates that a 300 page book can be scanned in 30 minutes if saved as jpeg images. (There is foot operated button included for speeding up the process.)

You can buy the scanner at the moment for $179 (shipping extra). A battery powered version is $30 more for those wanting to take this portable device to libraries and other locations.

Lots of information can be found at

I have ordered the scanner and will report back on the results of scanning pages in the Blue Volume One as well as other philatelic materials.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

2019 Scott Classic Catalogue

Right on schedule is the November release of the 2019 Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue Of Stamps And Covers 1840-1940. One new thing about the Amos Website is that they are finally showing some actual examples of pages and listings. Here is a summary of what Scott thinks are the most important aspects of the 2019 edition. This is an abbreviated version of what is given on the Amos website:

    Classic Germany received a complete review this year, resulting in more than 1,900 value changes, with a mix of increases and decreases. Increases are especially notable among never-hinged and on-cover values.
    Collectors of Portugal and its colonies should pay special attention to Mozambique Company. The listings from Scott 1 through 104 have been completely reorganized by the paper on which the stamps were printed, and by perforation gauge. More than 160 value changes were made
    Almost 1,200 value changes were made to the listings of the Colombian States of Antioquia, Bolivar, Boyaca, Cundinamarca, Santander, and Tolima.
    Significant value increases are found among the listings of Transvaal.
    A complete examination of Australia resulted in more than 700 value changes, with more decreases than increases
    New never-hinged listings have been added to Jordan, Kuwait, and Lebanon
    Almost 770 value changes were recorded for Italian Offices Abroad in Aegean Islands.

As a reminder, you can type "Classic catalogue" in the search box in the upper left hand corner of this page to see changes in earlier editions. I had access to the actual catalogs until recently, so my comments for many of these are rather more detailed.

Friday, August 17, 2018

William H. Gross Collection Catalog

Robert A. Siegel has just published their sumptuous auction catalog United States Stamp Treasures: The William H. Gross Collection which can be downloaded as a PDF. Although collectors will focus on the mouth watering items with their thorough documentation, I did want to mention the interesting introduction by Scott A. Trepel titled "The Sixth Wave."

Mr. Trepel divides formation of the greatest stamp collections into six waves. The first wave collections were largely worldwide and put together by the titans of philately, of which Ferrary was arguably the greatest. (I particularly like Trepel's observation that "... these [first wave] collectors had to collect in Ferrary’s world, which limited the availability of many outstanding items"). Many of these collections were dispersed around the First World War in turn making possible the Second wave. Caspary and Burrus are among this group. The Third wave dates from the 1950s and these collections are almost all specialized with Lilly being a notable exception. Trepel's remaining waves are seen through the lens of United States collections, with the sale of the Gross collection making possible a sixth.

For each of these waves, in addition to the collectors, there are also associated legendary dealers and auctioneers who were instrumental in their formation, such as the Weill Brothers. (Included in the catalog are thumbnail photos of some of the most famous collectors from each of these waves.)