Tuesday, July 29, 2008

International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors

One of the interesting aspects of any type of collecting is that the activity can be enjoyed as a social pursuit or by determined individualists. (For more about why collectors collect, I recommend Hunter Davies entertaining "Confessions of a Collector.") Turns out that even worldwide collectors have our own group. I've known about the ISWSC for awhile and now that I've embarked on this project, I thought I would try the organization out. The Society is an APS affiliate and its "375+ members in more than 50 countries believe that worldwide stamp collecting is the most fun and challenging area of philately today." The ISWSC has a well-edited newsletter, sales and swap circuits, trading lists, auctions, stamp ID service, and a strong commitment to encouraging youth stamp collecting. For more information and a sample copy of their newsletter, "The Circuit," visit http://www.iswsc.org/.

Their March-April 2007 Newsletter contained the roster of the organization which indicates collecting interests. Of the 375 members, most don't discriminate chronologically in their worldwide collection (but most have other more specialized collecting interests, too.) I count 92 individuals who collect worldwide between a specific set of years. While 1840-1940 appears to be most popular, the ranges vary widely. Many start with 1840 but end at a different year: 1980, 1972, 1950, 1970, 1948, to name just the first few. Several start at 1900. Others have chosen a range using criteria that isn't obvious to me (1870-1982, for instance). A few collect a single year, for example the year of their birth or stamps issued in the first year of the millenium.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


As much as I have enjoyed having every country housed in a single volume, this 1300 page behemoth was a little unwieldy to handle, especially when working with stamps at the inside margins. And I was increasingly running into a stamps on facing pages catching at the corners. So when Subway Stamp Shop announced a sale, I bought two 4 inch G&K International Binders ($20 each, cheaper than I've seen them on eBay), stocksheets made specifically for the Internationals, and glassine interleaving. While watching TV, I split the single volume into two binders and inserted the interleaving between each page--in addition to solving the problem of adjacent pages rubbing against each other, it actually adds a touch of class to the albums. The downside is that with interleaving, the dual volumes are still pretty heavy. But the pages do lie flatter and it is easier to work with stamps no matter where they fall on the page.

The stocksheets are an experiment. If you aren't familiar with these, the International ones are thinner and more flexible than standard stocksheets. I put a set of the 5 row ones at the back of each of the volumes. The idea is to have a place to put random stamps until I can place them where they belong. This includes stamps that on occasion have fallen out the volume proper. I'll report back when I learn if this system works.

Friday, July 11, 2008

More on "They Collected the World"

I posted a variation of the following a couple of days ago on the Virtual Stamp Club message board:

A poster had asked why there were so many more albums visible in a photograph of the two collectors than the eleven Internationals they had completed. There is some information on this in an article by Stan Cornyn that appeared in Linn's Stamp News in early 1978 (sorry I don't have the exact citation). The original seven International volumes in 1971 were expanded to eleven after the collectors added interleaving. I assume they did this with the subsequent volumes that were published between 1971 and 1977. The rest of the holdings, as another poster thought, were comprised of duplicates or stamps that weren't in the albums. For example, they had several complete plate reconstructions of the Great Britain #33 penny red. More numerous, were complete sets of stamps that were represented in the Internationals as short sets. They would add the remaining stamps on extra pages. According to the Linn's article, in the first year they filled two closets with "amateur collections bought at auction."

Here a a couple of other quotes from the Linn's article that shed life on this project:

The two collectors split their duties. Cornyn maintained the collection and provided the financing. Geller compiled statistics and maintaining the wantlists. Both were "responsible for the hardest part: placating our wives and hiding the amounts of money being spent."

In the first year, the collectors "came closest to pure, amateur collecting. [Sorting through and identifying] those great ranges of nickel stamps that are incredibly hard to locate: ...China overprints, Argentine officials, India States..."

They found that the Iron Curtain countries were the easiest to complete. The only difficult series was the Romania 1952 surcharges.

"The toughest set to acquire was Spanish Sahara 36-50."

Interestingly, some then recent issues were problematic (Paraguay 704-07 and Central African Republic 126-8).

One problem that I wouldn't have guessed was spaces in the albums for sets that were announced but never issued (e.g., "the Jamaican Human Rights set that was shown in our album, but withdrawn in favor of Jamaica 271-73.")

In spite of all of the barriers, they kept true to there original goal of filling every blank space in all of the albums.

I especially like the last paragraph: "Would we recommend that others follow our path and collect the whole world? 'Absolutely,' Geller offers. 'For all the problems--and the International Volume 1 is really a bit of a mess--it's been the most fun I've had since my honeymoon.'"

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"They Collected the World"

The article mentioned in my earlier post about the two collectors who successfully completed the first eleven Scott Internationals makes a very interesting read. (Thanks to Len Beasley who posted the Washington Post article on the Virtual Stamp Club message board).

The two collectors were Stan Cornyn, a record industry executive and Murray Geller, a planetary astronomer. The impetus for the project came when Cornyn bought a set of Scott Internationals for his 12 year old son who turned out to be more interested in skateboarding. The two men first thought about only filling the volumes with stamps costing less than a nickel. They then agreed that a dime wouldn't be too bad. At some point, the desire to fill all those spaces triumphed over economy.

Not unsurprisingly, dealers felt this was a foolhardy endeavor: nobody collects the world! And their fellow collectors who were specialists argued that acquiring 195,219 stamps was something anyone could do and not fit for real philatelists. Why didn't they put their time to better use by researching, say, "19th-century ship arrivals showing mail service to Latin America."

The collectors had 11,965 stamps in July 1972. By January 1975 they had filled all but 1394 of the 195,219 spaces. At this stage, "the hunt [became] more important than the object of the hunt." Some of the last acquisitions took a lot of effort. After all, these were the days before email, much less the World Wide Web. Syria Scott # 106a, Syria RA12, Paraguay 704-7, and Spanish Sahara 36-50 were toughies--especially Syria 106a which is an error that doesn't belong in the album in the first place (2007 catalog value is $125). They purchased it from a dealer in Damascus. The last stamp to be acquired was from a New York City dealer: the Malaya Kelantan # 10 overprint. And then it was done. Every space in 29 binders filled.

Cornyn and Geller claimed to not know how much they had spent, although the estimated value of the completed collection was six figures in 1978. They are less reticent about the time it took: around 8000 hours.