Friday, October 31, 2008

The Scarcest Stamp in Scott International Volume 1?

I just obtained a copy of Syria #106a--reputedly the most difficult to acquire stamp in the Scott International "Blue" Volume 1. Even though I'm only a third of the way towards completion, I've been searching for 106a ever since I learned how difficult the stamp would be to locate on the assumption it might take years to find. I've been checking daily on eBay and about once a week on the APS Stampstore, et al, and found a copy a few days ago on StampWants. It turns out that it only took three months so I don't know whether the stamp is more available than I thought or if I just lucked out. If any of you see a 106a for sale in the coming months, please let me know. I don't need another one--just would like to get a better feel for its scarcity.

So, what is Scott 106a? It is one of the numerous surcharges and overprints that were applied to the stamps of France after World War I for use in Syria and Lebanon.

The French Mandate issues of 1923 are part of the set Scott 104-115. The "normal" 106 is a 50 centimes surcharge on the 10c Green French Sower. The surcharge reads "Syrie/Grand Liban/50 CENTIMES." The error, 106a, prints "Syrie/Grand Liban/25 CENTIMES" on the 10c Green. (The 25c surcharge should be on the 5c Orange.) There were 630,000 of the "normal" stamps printed. I don't know whether anyone has estimated the number of 106a's that might exist. (Because of 106a I've learned some interesting facts about the pre-1940 stamps of Syria--I'll talk about this in a later blog.)

The 106a stamp has been in the Internationals at least since 1937--the earliest edition I have access to. Now what makes this interesting or frustrating, depending on your perspective, is to ruminate on why the editor of the Junior Internationals, an album marketed largely at kids, would include a space for an obscure surcharge error. As far as I have been able to determine, Scott did NOT include the error in the big "Brown" Internationals or in the Scott Speciality album for Syria! It isn't listed by Stanley Gibbons or in Michael Gebara's Syrie Liban Catalogue. While I don't know about Michel, it is Yvert & Tellier 90a. It is also covered in Alexander Kaczmarczyk's comprehensive The Postal Issues of Syria, Lebanon and the Alaouites 1919-1945.

It isn't like the "Blue" Internationals are particularly lavish in providing spaces for the various Syrian overprints and surcharges. A couple of dozen stamps cataloging under $1 each were skipped including several distinctive sets of overprints.

So how does one explain the inclusion of 106a (Scott catalog value $125, Yvert, approximately $310) when the next most expensive included stamp is $8.75 and the majority of included issues catalog under $1? Caprice, perversity, or ??? I suppose we'll never know.

FYI, if you are looking to fill those difficult spaces for stamps of the Classic era, here are some sites I've found with large selections:
APS StampStore (
Zillions of Stamps (
Delcampe International (
StampWants (
Sandafayre Auctions (

Can you recommend other sources International collectors should add to this list?

I will also use the appropriate APS circuits when I'm at the stage of needing a few stamps to complete a country or area. I'm still at the point where it is most effective to purchase large collections from eBay to build up my International a couple of thousand stamps at a time.

OK, it is not like I just scored the US 1861 series 3-cent"B Grill" for $1,035,000 or the position 36 inverted Jenny for $388,125 at the recent Siegal auction. But still, it feels good to checkoff 106a. Now that leaves only 23,000 more stamps to go.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The World of Classic Stamps 1840-1870

Unless I missed it, no one has written a book entitled Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Every Stamp in the Scott International Volume One, so I suppose we are going to have to make do with books having a narrower focus. One that I've found useful is James A. Mackay's The World of Classic Stamps 1840-1870. Although it was published in 1972 and is now out-of-print, you can find affordable copies on Amazon, Abesbooks, and even eBay, usually for under $30. To quote from the jacket blurb, "this is the first book to trace the birth and development of the adhesive postage stamp on a global scale." One particularly nice feature is the inclusion of 500 photographs of classic stamps, 200 in color. Most of the illustrations are double or more the size of the originals allowing one to appreciate the production quality of many of the classic issues. The writing is accessible as well as informative, as for example:

When the first of the German states, Schleswig-Holstein and Hanover, were swallowed by Prussia as a result of the Seven Weeks' War of 1866, the philatelic press of the period was sufficiently well organized to be able to warn its readers of the impending disappearance of these countries from the stamp album, while enterprising dealers in Hamburg and elsewhere capitalized on the situation and acquired vast stocks of the obsolete stamps. The international market in the intervening years has absorbed these stocks, although to this day, nicely used copies generally have the edge of mint specimens (page 11).

My only real complaint is that Mackay concentrates on the first issues of a country and tends to give short shrift to later stamps even when they too are pre-1870. But regardless, this book is a very handy overview of the first thirty years of postage stamps, many of which are just waiting to be added to our "Blue" Scott International Volume Ones.

An eBay International Sells for Over a Grand

There haven't been any large "Blue" Volume One's on eBay in over a month, but a recent partial volume 1 containing only countries A-Crete just sold for an impressive $1348 (Item number: 120320288085). Not too shabby when you consider that this represents less than 20% of the pages in a complete volume one and isn't even "padded" with Czechoslovakia. Most pages appeared 80% or more full with lots of stamps mounted around perimeters of pages, not to mention on additional pages the collector had inserted. There are also Scott numbers penciled in for most issues (if only Scott itself had included numbers). Unless the collector who put this together had an abnormal fear of the letters D-Z, I wonder if we can look forward to seeing the remainder of the stamp collection on eBay?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

No Takers for Complete Scott Volume 1

Lot 2507, the complete "Blue" Volume 1 offered in H R Harmers Collections of the World Sale G194 on 10 October 2008, did not sell. The lot had an opening bid of $10K but I assume there must have been a reserve that wasn't met. This sale was held on a Saturday after a week of brutal Stock Market losses so potential buyers may have been hoarding cash, gold, bits of string, etc. But most of the other worldwide collections/accumulations sold, although many at less than or near the low end of Harmer's estimate.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Interesting Ad for WWI Era Scott International Junior

While browsing Google Book Search, I came across the following advertisement promoting the Scott International Junior stamp album as "a war souvenir." It appeared in St. Nicholas by Mary Mapes Dodge, Scribner & Co., 1915. St. Nicholas was "An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks" that was edited by Ms. Dodge.

The "Blue" Junior International album line was first released the previous year by Scott (April 1914 to be specific).

In case the scan isn't clear, here is a transcription of the first paragraph:

"When you are Daddy's age you will be telling your children all about the great war of 1914 that changed the map of Europe. You will want to show them the splendid collection of stamps you made of all the countries now at war, and tell them about Belgium and Russia and France and Germany. And you will be very proud of your collection, too, because, 'way back in 1914, when you realized how interesting these stamps would be some day, you arranged them neatly, as shown above, in your new JUNIOR INTERNATIONAL ALBUM."

ADDENDA 11/16/09. The following advertisement appeared in the 1916 Scott Catalog:

A New Album for the Beginner and Medium Collector!

The International Junior Stamp Album.

For some years it has been impossible to publish a satisfactory complete album of the stamps of the world in a single volume, owing to the resulting immense size. At the same time, many collectors have been calling for an album in a single volume to include both 19th and 20th Century stamps and provide spaces for a representative collection.

This new album solves the problem by providing spaces for some 15000 varieties of all countries, from the earliest issues up to the time of publication, including both 19th and 20th Centuries. To accomplish this, the rare and high-priced stamps have been omitted, but separately described printed spaces are included for over 15000 different stamps. In addition, there are extra spaces provided for such rare stamps as may be acquired. All included varieties are illustrated with full size cuts.

This album has been designed after a careful analysis of a large number of general collections and we believe that for the beginner who wishes a separate space provided for each stamp and who does not expect to obtain at once the higher-priced varieties no better album has ever been offered.

We believe that many philatelists who have as high as 10,000 varieties will find separate spaces for at least 95% of their stamps in this book, with plenty of extra squares for the rarer varieties. This book when filled will make a remarkably satisfactory display of the stamp issues representing the entire world.

It has 400 ages and contains not only spaces for the stamps, but for the Coats of Arms, Flags and Portraits of Rulers of the various countries.



No. 1. Bound in boards, half cloth with red cloth corners. $2.00, 4 Lbs. Shipping Weight
No.2. Bound in Cloth, gilt title. $3.00, 4 Lbs.
No. 3. Bound in Cloth, and numerous Blank Pages. $4.00, 6 Lbs.