Thursday, December 30, 2010

Buying Collections at Auction

Before Christmas there was an interesting thread within a thread on the Virtual Stamp Club concerning collections and large lots at public auctions (as opposed to eBay). The thread began with VSC member jkoshel noting a trend of such items "going for rather high amounts as of late" and wondering if it was because "the market of breaking down such lots and then reselling on eBay is becoming more lucrative." (Message #*41975.174) There was no consensus on this issue, but Weiss111 posted that [some percentage] of auction houses purposely underestimate the value of large lots because they want to sell them to individuals who have examined them personally. He goes on to say that the primary purpose of underestimating lots is so that mail bidders will underbid persons actually in attendance who can physically examine the lots and come up with a more accurate (and higher) value. This helps prevent complaints from bidders who otherwise would buy unseen and makes the auction house look good to sellers when their holdings realize more than was estimated.

Another poster, gsquared2k, who is a regular buyer of lots, wrote that in his experience different auction houses have different practices (including some firms who try to accurately estimate their value) and that these practices can be divined with enough patience.

Another set of comments in the discussion had to do with whether valuable (i.e., $500+ retail) stamps were automatically removed by auction houses from large lots and sold separately. According to gsquared2, and I'm quoting here as my paraphrase would just be more wordy and less clear than the original: "There are some firms that will leave in better items that do not meet their individual lot criteria or are just instructed by a consignor to leave the collection intact and sell it as-consigned. Then there are other firms that have lower requirements for per-lot values and will remove the slightly higher priced items that are in better condition and lot them individually. Then you have other firms that will completely strip out all of the better material and leave collections as beginner lots." (Message *41975.191)

For what it is worth, it is my anecdotal experience that better Blue Volume 1 collections are bringing more on eBay than they did in 2008 when I started my album. A few weeks ago a collection of 16,000 stamps sold for $2300 and there have been a number of smaller Volume Ones that sold for over $1000 earlier in the year. Whether this is true for Volume 1 collections offered through public auctions I cannot say.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

"The Importance of Condition"

A few days ago the website posted an article from the firm of Stanley Gibbons concerning "what exactly does ‘fine’ mean, and what effect might a slight defect have upon the price?" My understanding is that the piece is from the Stanley Gibbons’ 2011 Commonwealth and British Empire Stamps 1840-1970 catalogue.

In spite of what might appear to be a narrow focus, this 7000+ word article is a mine of information about Commonwealth stamp collecting. Making it even better, most of the comments could apply to many countries. Topics covered include Gum; Margins; Perforations; Nibbled, Short or Pulled?; Wing Margins, Marginal Premium; What's the Damage?; Perfins; Fading; Cancellation Quality; Circular Datestamps; Manuscript Cancellations; Telegraphic Postmarks; Forged Cancellations; and Cancelled to Order.

Here are just some sample quotes that hopefully will send you to read the main article:

"Just as in the case of wing margins and perfins...fashions are changing in relation to cancellations. In the past, the aim was to find stamps on which the cancellation fell across just one corner of the design, leaving the major part of it clear. Today, interest in exactly where and when the stamp was cancelled, not to mention the possibility that such partial cancellations may have been forged, have made clear, centrally applied or ‘socked-on-the-nose’ cancellations much more desirable – although, again, they do need to be lightly applied."

"Fiscally used stamps are normally much cheaper than postally used examples, even with the significant increase in interest in revenue stamps which has taken place in the last decade. However, individual post offices in a number of countries have resorted to this form of cancellation from time to time and examples are sometimes even more desirable than the same stamp with a clear dated postmark."

"While on the subject of ‘drawn in by hand’, collectors in the past – including some very eminent ones – were in the habit of ‘enhancing’ slightly unclear postal markings by drawing over them in Indian ink."

"Many businesses in Asian countries, especially forwarding agents, were in the habit of cancelling their stamps with ‘chops’, while individuals frequently wrote across them in manuscript in order to discourage theft."

"As the volume of worldwide stamp issues has escalated in the last 30 years and the cost of having postally used stamps removed from envelopes, soaked, dried and sorted has risen, it is no longer practicable for the stamp trade to supply fine postally used examples of most modern issues. They are therefore supplied cancelled by the postal administration concerned at the same price as mint examples...."

You can find the entire article on the website.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Overview of Stamps Missing from Later Editions of the Blue

Consider the following scenario. You've purchased a used Blue Volume 1 on eBay. As you thumb through your new purchase looking for items to add to your collection, you keep coming across rows and sometimes pages for stamps that are nowhere to be found in your Blue. Do you ignore these stamps and leave them for another collector? What if you decide in the future that you want these stamps. After all, if they were once good enough for Scott, aren't they probably still of interest to you? But there aren't any spaces to mount the stamps so what are you to do with them in the interim.

As remarked on in many of my posts, Scott regularly dropped stamps that had been in earlier versions of the Blue when preparing a new edition (and, less often, vice-versa). In a few cases this was a conscious decision by Scott--for example, removing all of the US Revenue pages. But most of the time the dropping of a row or two of stamps most likely was to cut corners on costs. This leaves the Blue collector in a quandary when transferring stamps from an album bought on say eBay to their permanent collection when the editions differ. For example, the 1947 and earlier editions of the Blue have spaces for Austria Military stamps from 1915-1918 but these are missing entirely from my 1969 edition. In most cases, there are too many missing stamps to add if Scott hasn't provided a blank page at the appropriate point.

What I decided to do was to temporarily house stamps like the Austrian Military issues in a stockbook. Now when I come across "deleted" stamps in an older International I can put them in the stock book until I make a decision in the future about what to do. (I envision adding them on blank pages to my album or perhaps using Scott's stockpages that are pre-punched for the International.)

Here are the categories that Scott provides spaces for in the 1943/47 edition but are not my 1969. Your milage may vary but in general many of these are missing from all later editions. At some point I need to recheck and refine, but hopefully even in this form the list may be of some use to other collectors.

(Note that I'm not talking about the tens of thousands of stamps missing from all editions of the Blue. This is just to highlight stamps that were once in the album but are now MIA.)

∗ United States. Envelope cut squares 1925, 1925-34, 1926, 1932
∗ United States. Letter sheet 1896
∗ United States. Official Envelopes. Post Office 1873-76, 1877. Postal Savings 1911. War Department 1875.
∗ United States. Revenues 1862-1936, including Documentary, Proprietary, Future Delivery, and Stock Transfer.
∗ Algeria. Newspaper 1924-26
∗ Andorra. Postage Dues 1935
∗ Austria. Military 1915, 1916-17, 1917, 1918
∗ Austria. Military Newspaper 1916
∗ Baden (entire country)
∗ Bergedorf (entire country)
∗ Bremen (entire country)
∗ Brunswick (entire country)
∗ Basutoland. Postage Dues 1933
∗ Bechuanaland Protectorate. Postage Dues 1932
∗ Canada. Registration 1875-79
∗ Carinthia (entire country)
∗ Cayman Islands. War Tax 1917, 1918-20
∗ Central Lithuania 1920 (missing 6 imperfs)
∗ Central Lithuania 1920 (missing 6 additional imperfs)
∗ Central Lithuania 1921 (missing 6 imperfs)
∗ Central Lithuania 1921 (missing 6 additional imperfs)
∗ Central Lithuania 1921-22 (missing 6 imperfs)
∗ Central Lithuania. Semi-Postal 1921(missing "same perf")
∗ Central Lithuania 1920 Surcharges (imperf)
∗ Central Lithuania 1920 (same with inset imperf?)
∗ Ceylon. Official Stamps 1895-1904
∗ Ceylon. War Tax 1918
∗ China. Offices Abroad 1911 (Tibet)
∗ China. Offices Abroad 1929 (SinKiang)
∗ China. Offices Award 1925 (Yunnan)
∗ China. Offices Abroad 1929 (Manchuria)
∗ Colombia. Registration Stamps 1889-1917
∗ Colombia. City of Bogota 1889-1903 [more?]
∗ Colombia. Antioquia. Acknowledgment of Receipt 1902-03
∗ Colombia. Antioquia. Too Late 1899-1902
∗ Colombia. Cundinamarca 1904
∗ Colombia. Registration 1904
∗ Colombia. Bolivar 1879, 1880, 1882, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1891, 1903, 1904
∗ Colombia. Boyacca 1903, 1904
∗ Cuba. Newspaper 1888, 1890, 1892, 1894, 1896
∗ Cuba. Special Delivery 1936
∗ Cuba. Airpost S.D. 1936
∗ Curacao (Netherlands Antilles). Postage dues 1892-1915
∗ Czechoslovakia. Newspaper 1918-20, 1925, 1926
∗ Czechoslovakia. Special Delivery 1918-21
∗ Czechoslovakia. Bohemia & Moravia. Newspaper 1939
∗ Czechoslovakia. Bohemia & Moravia. Personal Delivery 1939
∗ Czechoslovakia. Slovakia. Semi-Postals 1939
∗ Czechoslovakia. Slovakia. Newspaper 1939
∗ Dalmatia (entire country)
∗ Eastern Rumelia (entire country)
∗ Eastern Silesia (entire country)
∗ Ecuador. Offical Stamps 1886-1887 (various issues)
∗ Falkland Islands. War Tax 1918
∗ Gabon. Surcharges 1933
∗ Germany. Newspaper 1939
∗ Gibraltar. War Tax 1918
∗ Gilbert & Elice Islands. War Tax 1918
∗ Greece. Postage Dues (extra spaces)
∗ Greece. Occupied Turkey. Postage Dues
∗ Hatay. Regular issues 1939
∗ Hatay. Postage Dues 1939
∗ Hamburg (entire country)
∗ Hanover (entire country)
∗ Heligoland (entire country)
∗ Hejaz. Regular issues 1916-18
∗ Hejaz 1917, 1925
∗ Hejaz. Postage dues 1925
∗ Honduras. Offical Stamps 1890, 1921, 1924
∗ India. Feudatory States
∗ Ireland. Postage Dues 1925
∗ Iraq. Official Stamps
∗ Iraq. On State Service 1932, 1934
∗ Italy. Official Stamps 1875
∗ Italy. Pneumatic Post 1913-28
∗ Italy. Offices in Turkish Empire 1901-20 (Albania, etc.)
∗ Italy. Occupation Stamps 1930
∗ Italy. Occupation Stamps. Aegean Islands 1932
∗ Yugoslavia. Newspaper Stamps 1919
∗ Yugoslavia. Semi-Postals 1933 (XI International Kongress 6 values)
∗ Liberia. Postage Due 1893
∗ Liberia. Registration Stamps 1903
∗ Liberia. Offical Stamps (2 pages!)
∗ Lithuania. Semi-Postal 1939
∗ Lourenço Marques. Newspaper 1895
∗ Lourenço Marques. Surcharges 1920-21
∗ Lourenço Marques. Semi-postals 1917
∗ Lubeck (entire country)
∗ Madeira. Newspaper stamps 1876
∗ Madeira. Postal Tax, Postagal Tax Due 1925
∗ Malta. War Tax 1917-18
∗ Malta. Air Mail 1928
∗ Manchuko. Regular issues 1939-40
∗ Manchuko. Air Mails 1936-37
∗ Martinique. Postage Dues 1927, 1933
∗ Martinique. Semi-postals
∗ Mauritania. Semi-Postals 1915-18, 1938
∗ Mauritania. Airpost 1940
∗ Mauritania. Postage Dues 1914
∗ Mecklenburg Schwerin (entire country)
∗ Mecklenburg Strelitz (entire country)
∗ Mexico. Porte de Mar 1875, 1879
∗ Modena (entire country)
∗ Middle Congo. Surcharges 1936
∗ Montserrat. War Tax 1917
∗ Mozambique. Postal Tax Stamps 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930
∗ New Caldonia. Semi-Postal 1915, 1917-1938
∗ New Caldonia. Postage Dues 1906, 1928
∗ Nicaragua. Official Stamps 1896-97 (red)
∗ Nicaragua. Offical Stamps 1900, 1905, 1909
∗ Nicaragua. Official Airmail Stamps 1939
∗ Nicaragua. Postal Tax 1921, 1922, 1928-29, 1928-35, 1937
∗ Nicaragua. Postage Due 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899
∗ Nicaragua. Province of Zelaya 1904-08, 1908, 1909, 1912
∗ Nicaragua. Cabo Gracias a Dios 1907, 1909
∗ Oltre Giuba. Parcel Post 1925
∗ Oltre Giuba. Postage Dues 1925
∗ Oltre Giuba. Special Delivery 1926
∗ Oldenburg (entire country)
∗ Parma (entire country)
∗ Prussia. Regular Issues 1850-60
∗ Persia. Parcel Post 1915
∗ Persia. Officials 1881
∗ Romagna (entire country)
∗ Saseno (entire country)
∗ Siberia (entire country)
∗ Straits Settlements. Postage Dues 1924-26, 1936-38
∗ Syria. Surcharges 1920
∗ Syria. Postage dues 1925, 1931
∗ Trinidad & Tobago. War Tax 1917-18
∗ Trinidad & Tobago. Semi-postals 1915-16
∗ Trinidad & Tobago. Officials 1913-16
∗ Trinidad & Tobago. Postage Dues 1923-29
∗ Turks & Caicos Islands. War Tax 1916-18
∗ Tripolitania. Regular issues 1933-34 (14 spaces)
∗ Tripolitania. Semi-postals (various years)
∗ Tripolitania. Air Special Delivery 1934
∗ Tripolitania. Semi-Postal Airs 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934-35
∗ Tunisia. Parcel Post (various)
∗ Turkey in Asia. Postage Dues 1922
∗ Turkey. Newspaper stamps (full page)
∗ Turkey. Offices in Thessaly 1898
∗ Tuscany (entire country)
∗ Two Sicilies (entire country)
∗ White Russia (entire country deliberately removed from the Scott catalog and later editions of the album)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Want a Penny Black? Try China.

If that space for Great Britain Scott #1 is still unfilled in your Blue International album, you may want to add it to your Holiday wishlist. Don Schilling's The Stamp Collectors Round-Up brought to our attention a recent press release from Stanley Gibbons. SG sold all of the Penny Blacks they took to a Beijing stamp expo in November and have an order for 10,000 more. SG says that "We normally sell no more than a hundred penny blacks in any given year so this trade order creates a demand 100 times the normal market size...We might end up with most of the penny blacks in the world going to China. The Chinese are already paying twice our catalogue price to get their hands on them."

While a non-collector might assume that the world's first stamp issued 170 years ago would be rare, the reality is that more than 68 million were printed. A textbook example of supply and demand, even though the Penny Black is readily available today (at least in China!), the demand keeps the price up. Something that Stanley Gibbons, a firm that actively promotes stamps as an investment, is no doubt happy to see.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Latest Lawrence Block 'Generally Speaking" column in Linn's

Mr. Block's latest column, "Stamps and their Infinite Variety" in the 29 November 2010 Linn's is of even more interest than usual to the Blue collector. For one thing, he hints at some problems with the Brown Internationals. The Browns, of course, are always referred to with hush reverence as the ne plus ultra of Classic Era worldwide albums. (As opposed to one author who called the Blues their "bastardized offspring.") But I've always wondered if the Browns had their eccentricities just like the Blue Internationals but which no one has bothered to comment on.

In terms of album scope, what Scott primarily advertised for the Brown series was that each album "Contains spaces for every major variety of Postage Stamp issued by any Government." Some advertisements were a little more specific: "Containing spaces for all varieties of watermarks, inverted pictures, etc., etc." But what does every "major variety" mean? One thing we do know is that cost or scarcity isn't a criteria for inclusion or omission.

What Mr. Block says is the Brown "doesn't bother with perforation varieties…It includes major watermark varieties, and makes room for some minor varieties and omits others, recognizes a few shades, has spaces for some errors of colors." So it appears that the Brown also may be eccentric in coverage, just perhaps less so than the Blue.

The most tantalizing bit in Block's column is that there are stamps in the Brown that he can't find in the catalog. Unfortunately, he doesn't name names.

Truth be told, I'm leaving out the charm of this particular column which focuses on whether Block should feel obligated to acquire stamps that will fill spaces for minor varieties that he might otherwise happily ignore if they weren't in the albums as well as how the margins of his albums contain "in some respects, the most interesting items in [his] collection." He goes on to discuss some of his favorites in both categories. Both issues are near and dear to the heart of the Blue collector, too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Scott 2011 Classics Catalogue Published

It is November again and that means another edition of the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers. As usual, even though stamp coverage (of non-British Empire) ends with 1940, the editors have added more than 1000 new listings for varieties from 52 countries. To emphasize, these are new listings for stamps, not simply changes in value of which there are more than 10,000.

While most of the additions are minor Scott numbers, there are a handful of new major numbers for Albania, German stamps used in Austria after the Anschluss, and Cyprus. New minor numbers appear in Alaouites, Bosnia and Herzegovina (248! new varieties), French Congo, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Martinique, Mauritania, New Caledonia, Ile Rouad, Rhodesia, Russia, Senegal, Somali Coast, and Syria.

The most costly new listing this year is Greece 47g, one of the Large Hermes Heads with its control number both inverted and on the front. The stamp is unique and valued at $210,000.

Check out the online press release which gives more detailed information about this impressive catalog.

No doubt the editors of the Scott International album series are busy revising Volume One to reflect these changes, with their highest priority to find a place to put Greece 47g.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trick or Treat? eBay Item Description of the Day

Of course, I try to monitor all of the Blue Volume Ones that appear on eBay and enjoy reading the seller descriptions which vary from forthright to delusional, sometimes in the same listing. I particularly like this description which I saw today for a Blue Volume One: "Virtually the same as the famous Brown Books with the following differences. These album pages are printed on both sides, the very high value stamps are not shown, and the watermark and perf. Variations are not here, but hey it is a looseleaf addition so you can add pages if you like."

"Virtually the same." It's Halloween Eve so I guess I can ask: Is this a trick or a treat?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cover chosen for 2011 Scott Classics Catalogue

Although for the second year in a row I didn't win the contest to pick the cover for the upcoming Classics Catalogue, I suppose I should be a good sport and report that the winning choice was China Scott C9. According to the special October issue of Linn's, C9 "won in a landslide, garnering more votes than the other two stamps combined." Here's a picture of the winning stamp depicting a Curtis "Jenny" flying over the Great Wall of China from Dr. Cheng Chang’s website (I have the first two stamps in this set but not C9):

Thursday, October 21, 2010

International Album Article in October 2010 American Philatelist

The latest issue of the American Philatelic Society's journal contains an interesting and nicely illustrated article by Rick Thompson titled "Judging an Album by Its Cover" (pages 915-918). Mr. Thompson rightly notes that the type of International being offered for sale on eBay, etc. can provide clues as to the value of the collection when other details are missing.

Mr. Thompson's information largely comes from the advertisements in the back of contemporaneous Scott Catalogs. He concentrates on the period between 1939 and 1956 during which Scott transitioned the albums from the Brown Internationals to the Junior Internationals to the Blue Internationals. While he has researched a lot of interesting information, I found particularly intriguing that Scott sold the Brown Internationals through circa 1941, after which they offered them on close-out until around 1945 when only three out of five volumes were still for sale.

Mr. Thompson provides a handy dandy chart of the various bindings available for purchase between 1939 and 1956. Interestingly, the 1955 edition was still offered bound with blue cloth although by 1956 it looks like the only version available was "Loose Leaf with dark blue Fabrikoid cover," the same binders available to this day.

One characteristic I never thought to consider was heft. Mr. Thompson indicates that the full 5 volumes Brown Internationals weighed in at 43 pounds (shipping weight) versus 11 pounds for the Blue. As the author points out, even ignoring the extra bindings of five volumes versus one, the Brown appears four times more comprehensive than the Blue even though the Brown only goes through mid-1938. (I find it interesting that no one, including Scott, has estimated the number of stamps in the Brown. The Blue, of course, contains approximately 35,000 spaces.)

While the author does not specifically address this point, it appears the catalogs confirm that the Brown Internationals as published by Scott stopped their coverage with August 1938. As I have suggested in an earlier post, it is possible that collectors could have supplemented their Browns for the stamps between September 1938 and December 1939 by purchasing one of the annual albums but I have never seen one of these for sale and cannot confirm that they ever existed except in advertisements.

Kudos to Mr. Thompson for writing this fascinating article.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

International Blue-per #6 : Armenia [Scott 268-277]

From Wikimedia

Several stamps in the Blue fall into the category of stamps that were once in the catalog but have been delisted. I think one can argue that if they were in the catalog at the time the album was issued, then, of course, they belong there and the compulsive Blue collector needs to fill those spaces. (In every case I've discovered so far, delisted stamps like these are still readily available.) But does it become a "Blue-per" for those editions of the album that Scott has made other changes to, but "neglected" to remove stamps it no longer recognizes as officially issued?

The first case in point are the Armenian stamps printed in 1920 that are still in the International and occupy the entire second line for that country. According to my 1943 Scott Catalog, the stamps "were printed in Paris. A large quantity was lost on the way to Armenia. Before the balance was delivered the National Government had been driven out by the Bolsheviki and the use of the stamps was prohibited." The Scott Classics Catalogue prices the set at $5 and notes that you can find some of the stamps fiscally used and with specimen overprints and imperforate. Adding to the fun, the set of ten has been reprinted. Scott says that the colors of the reprints are brighter. Interestingly, these stamps are also in Yvert&Tellier (I don't know about other catalogs) as numbers 94-101 without any notes questioning their authenticity and valued at 5.50 Euro.

There is a little more information on the Web about these stamps that you can find through Google. You can also see them in the Antonius Ra Collection with a notation that they weren't issued.

So should Scott have just dropped these stamps and left a blank at row at the bottom of the page? Well no, they could have given collectors spaces for Scott 300-309, the set of ten stamps from 1922 that catalogs a whopping $6.95. Now there's something that even I can afford.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Minkus Supreme Global Back in Print!

I was minding my own business, looking at the latest Linn's, when I saw a full page Amos Advantage advertisement for their Minkus and International worldwide albums. I've seen this advert often and so I wasn't prepared to pay much intention to it until, lo and behold, I noticed a price by the base version of the Minkus "Global" album which has been out-of-print for a number of years. In addition, there is a new sentence in the description, "...on-demand printing has brought some parts back."

The relevant parts of the ad are:
Item Retail AA*
MGLV1A 1840-1952 $224.99 $199.99
MGLV1B 1840-1952 $224.99 $199.99
MGLV2A 1953-1963 $150.00 $120.00
MGLV2B 1953-1963 $150.00 $120.00

I immediately emailed Customer Service at Amos Publishing to find out more details. According to their answer, the 1840-1952 parts are for the more comprehensive Supreme Global, not the Master Global. And they will be printed on 80-lb stock (as opposed to 60-lb for the Scott International and who knows what lesser weight for the originals).

If these are indeed the Supreme Global pages (see below), this is great news for worldwide collectors. I don't know how long the complete Supreme Global has been out of print, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was sometime in the 1980s. The Supreme Global represents what IMO is a reasonable compromise between the coverage in the Blue Internationals and the Browns. You have most of the stamps that a collector will acquire without unfillable spaces for the great rarities. You also have the convenience of the pages fitting in 2-3 binders versus 8-10 for the Vintage Reproductions of the Browns.

Now why do I qualify my enthusiasm as to whether these are indeed the Supreme Global pages when Amos has told me as much. Well, the problem is that I am reasonably certain that the Supreme Global wasn't published until the year 1954 when it appears in the US Copyright Register for that year (the Supreme Global is not in the Register for 1952; unfortunately, I don't have access to 1953). The Master Global on the other hand does indeed date from 1952. But there certainly is confusion about the history of these albums, so I could easily be wrong.

One thing the reprinting has encouraged me to do is to deduce how many stamps are in the Supreme Global versus the equivalent Blue Internationals. This is easiest to estimate for 1955 editions of these two albums. The 1955 Supreme Global contains spaces for 76,000 stamps where the equivalent albums in the Blue International contains 66,000 spaces.

I must say I'm somewhat surprised that there is only a difference of 10,000 stamps between Scott and Minkus for this year range--about 15%. Is ten thousand sufficient spaces to cover the more common stamps that the Scott is missing and do these mostly fall between 1840 and 1940?

Then again, Timothy P. Holls "totaled the number of pages in his Minkus Supreme Global albums through the 1999 supplement. There were 22,014 pages, with spaces for 354,310 stamps (more or less)." (Quoted from As of 2008, Scott says that the Blue Internationals only number some 16,000 pages and 220,000 stamps. That is a difference of a whopping 48%.

As I own a copy of a "real" Supreme Global from 1840-1955 for countries A-J, I need to make some more detailed comparisons of the coverage in the Minkus. In the meantime, if anyone finds anything more about these pages, please let me know.

Regardless, thank you Scott/Amos Publishing. First you bring back the Scott Part 1, now (what I hope is) the Minkus Supreme Global. Together with your excellent Classics Catalogue, this shows a real commitment to the hobby.

UPDATE 2/2/2011: There is a Buy-It-Now on eBay for a 2 Volume Set 1952 Minkus SUPREME GLOBAL STAMP ALBUM. The seller says that there are "Spaces for 93,255 Stamps. 2,688 pages." So this proves that the Supreme Global was indeed first published in 1952 (as was the Master Global). What is especially interesting is that the number of spaces and pages is greater than that of the later 1955 edition. Is it possible that Minkus cut back after the initial edition? The seller doesn't reproduce the title page so we can only assume they've gotten the details right.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

O' Canada

As you may know, the American Philatelic Society frequently offers its members "one-time direct circuits" of a particular country or area during a specific month. I decided to take advantage of September's offer of Canada. Most of the circuits I regularly receive contain multiple countries (e.g., France and Colonies) so it was nice for a change to be able to sit down with my album opened to a single place instead of constantly having to thumb through the books, especially fun for those countries that Scott helpfully didn't put where they belong in the alphabet.

Since an APS circuit contains well over 1000 stamps, some of which exist in multiple copies mounted in several different books, I modified the wantlist worksheet I keep in Excel to help me track which books contained the stamps I needed with the best price.

You can see the top part of my tracking sheet below. The left column is the Scott catalog number ("1/4/12" indicates that there are three different Scott numbers that would work in the space provided). I use the second column to compare the price of more expensive stamps in the circuit books, usually $20+, with the same stamps in the APS Stampstore. The third and subsequent columns correspond to individual circuit books.

On several occasions I've thought that a stamp in a circuit was a good value only to find a better price elsewhere. Of course, if we're only talking about a small difference in price, I would rather purchase a stamp that I can examine in person. But as you can see from the second item, the StampStore has a acceptable copy of Canada #17 for almost half of the one in the circuit book.

Before this circuit, I lacked 54 Canadian stamps. I now need 33. Unfortunately, that includes most of the Large Queens and some other pricey stamps, including that perennial favorite, the "Blue Nose." Actually, Canada has several lovely 1840-1940 ship stamps of which I have two:

Friday, August 27, 2010

International Blue-per #5: Australia, Austria, Austria Lombardy-Venetia, etc., etc.

The Lombardy-Venetia 3 shilling 1863, Scott #16, catalogs a rather dear $100. While there are stamps in the "Blue" cataloging more than this, $100 still is rather out of keeping with the rest of the album. For that matter, it is out of line with the preceding five stamps from Lombardy-Venetia which all catalog between $6 and $20. Is there a good reason that the editors included a $100 stamp? Well, no. Lombardy-Venetia #21, the same design and colored stamp issued one year later but with a different watermark/perforation, catalogs almost two thirds less: $37.50. Similarly, while #16's sister issue from 1863, the 5s Rose, #17, catalogs a not too expensive $27.50, the even more affordable 5s Rose #22 from 1864 goes for a wallet-friendly $6. Again, the only difference is watermark and perforation gauge.

I checked and the 1863 date in the album for these two stamps goes back at least to the 1943 edition so these stamps were probably in the album from the beginning. So does the "Blue" collector cheat and change the date above these two stamps from 1863 to 1863-64 so that #21-22 work, or does he or she buck it up and pay the premium for the two more expensive stamps?

There are other stamps that raise similar issues. For example, Scott includes a space for the 1863 Austria 2kr Coat of Arms which must be Scott 17 because of the date shown in the album. Used catalog value (2007) was $95. Scott #22, the same color and design but issued in 1864 with a different perforation (and perhaps watermark), catalogs for $11.50. Again, changing Scott's date header from 1863 to 1863-64 will save a mess o' money. To be clear, this is not the case of Scott providing spaces for the 1863 stamps and the 1864 stamps. No, the less expensive 1864 stamps are not represented in the album at all.

And one last example. Scott provides spaces for six Australian postage dues from 1909, total catalog value of around $90. But if you change the dates to 1909-1936 (again, same face just differences in perfs/watermarks), the catalog drops to around $23.

But is this cheating? Nah! If I owned one of the Brown Internationals or Scott Specialties, I would expect to fill a space with the described stamp or leave it blank. If Scott calls for British Guiana #13, the 1856 1c magenta, then by golly that's what needs to go in there (if you have this stamp, may I suggest you use a nice mount rather than a hinge!). But unlike the Brown or Green albums, the Blue was intended for collectors to fill with readily acquired, face different stamps.

My thought when I first started my Volume 1 collection was that part of the fun would be the challenge of finding the exact stamps that Scott chose to include. Rather like a scavenger hunt, not that I couldn't scavenge additional stamps over and beyond those described. This is part of the appeal for the Blue collector. We know that it is possible to complete the album, something our Brown or Green colleagues can never hope to do (not that they care).

However, the more I discover about the editing of the Blue Volume 1, the more I realize there were some poor editorial decisions about what to include/omit that cry out to be ignored as they clearly violate the intended scope of the album. I do intend to pencil in notes for the stamps I substitute and I will do so with a clear conscience. OK, now that this earth-shattering decision is out of the way...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Worldwide Album Shootout: Mozambique Company

I have a real fondness for many of the Colonial African pictorials which I still remember from my childhood collection. Not surprisingly, several of the APS Circuits I receive are for such colonies.

While going through the latest circuit for Portuguese Colonies, I had the impression that the pages for the Mozambique Company in the Scott International were a real mess, i.e., a noticeable number of stamps in the circuit books didn't seem to be in the album. So many that I didn't bother to check the Scott Classics Catalogue and just made a mental note to do a thorough comparison at a convenient time in the future.

Last night was that convenient time but I can only conclude that I was under some stamp-induced hypnosis when going through the circuit books. In other words, the International's editor(s) did a good job.

While the Mozambique Company's issues are quite affordable, there still are some stamps that are more difficult to obtain than others. Scott has omitted a few high denominations--not that these are particularly expensive--as well as most of the overprints other than the "Republica" ones. Many of these overprints don't seem to be readily available from the "usual" sources I normally check so that may have been a good editorial decision.

This almost leads me to wonder if I'm remembering wrong and it was another Portuguese Colony that had so many missing stamps. But until the next Portuguese Circuit arrives and I hopefully pay more attention, it's Scott 1, Me 0.

For an overview of this country, see You can also view many of these stamps on Antonios Ra's collection website:

One interesting piece of "Blue" trivia: the Mozambique Company quit issuing stamps in 1941 so Scott decided to include them in Volume 1 even though the album's coverage normally ends at 1940.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Are Stamps Stuff?

One of my favorite quotes about collecting is that it is "an obsession organized." Some of you may know about a new book titled Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Dr. Randy Frost and Dr. Gail Steketee. While the book focuses on compulsive hoarding, the chapter "We are what we own: Owning, Collecting, and Hoarding" does have some interesting bits relevant to stamp collecting.

So, why do we collect? It may be instinctual or cultural or both. The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm "suggested that acquiring things is one way that people relate to the world around them." But regardless of the motivation, collectors exist in practically every culture.

What constitutes a collection? Collections must contain multiple objects and "the items must be related in some way--they must have some kind of cohesive theme." Even that doesn't get completely encompass the essence of collecting. To riff on one of the author's analogies, a handful of stamps in your desk drawer intended for postage doesn't constitute a collection. But put them in an Blue International Volume 1 and voila.

In our country alone, perhaps one third of adults collect something. But collecting is practically universal among children, "sometimes beginning as early as age three. Not coincidentally, it is at that time that children begin to understand possessive pronouns such as 'mine' and 'yours.'"

In what reminded me of the Kübler-Ross 5 steps of grieving, some scholars find collectors follow a typical pattern:

1) deciding what items to collect;
2) planning how to acquire the item(s);
3) fantasizing about the item(s);
4) hunting for the item(s);
5) cataloging new acquisition(s); and
6) displaying them.

The authors provide some interesting insights on these steps. During the planning stages, "the fantasies increase the object's subjective value and give it a magical quality, and soon the value of the object outstrips and becomes disconnected from any functional utility it may have. Next comes the hunt, frequently the most pleasurable part of collecting. Many collectors shift from a self-focused state to what some have described as a 'flow state,' a mental state in which the person is so absorbed in the activity that he or she is unaware of his or her surrounds."

"When the acquisition occurs, it is accompanied by a wave of euphoria and appreciation of the object's features, which become part of the 'story' of the acquisition. Finally, the excited collector catalogs the object and adds it to the collection, arranging for its display. Often subtle rituals accompany newly acquired objects. For instance, Freud used to place new acquisitions on his dining room table so that he could admire them while he ate." I, myself, about as normal a person as you will find who writes a blog on filling spaces in a Blue International Album, has been known to leaf purposely through specific pages in my album to admire the "Penny Black" and other stamps I have looked forward to acquiring.

Some scholars believe that "collecting is a way of managing fears about death by creating a form of immortality" whereby our collections "can live on after we die." Others suggest a compensation theory is at work where "people who question their self-worth" need the objects in their collection to boost self-esteem.

If all of this has you worried about whether stamp collecting is pathological, the authors offer this reassurance: "It hardly matters how much stuff anyone owns as long as it doesn't interfere with his or her health or happiness or that of others." Well, that's a relief.

UPDATE 8/20/10: Normally, Lawrence Block's "Generally Speaking" column in Linn's consists of topics that I wish I had thought of first, even if I could never treat them as well as he does. But his column in the 23 August 2010 Linn's titled "Philately and the 'H' Word" is about hoarding--the topic of this blog entry. Of course, he brings in some aspects that I had never considered, namely do you do any of these:

1) save stamps that you receive in the mail without intending to add them to your collection?
2) save the glassines that you receive stamps in from others?
3) save stock cards that you receive stamps in from others?
4) save auction catalogs or pricelists?
4) save old stamp catalogs?
5) save back issues of stamp periodicals?

I have to plead guilty to all but the last two. I only keep catalogs that I use in my collecting and every month or two I tear out the articles I'm interested in from newspapers, newsletters, and magazines and recycle the rest. So there may be hope for me yet.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

APS Circuits

[This post is really part 2 of "Some Preliminary Observations on the Cost of Building a Volume I Collection" that appeared earlier this month.]

I'm currently building my collection largely through American Philatelic Society Sales Circuits. I've subscribed to these several times in the past with previous collections, and know they can be a good way of acquiring stamps at a reasonable percentage of catalog value.

If you aren't familiar with circuits, the APS website provides a succinct overview: The Sales Division acts as an agent for members who wish to sell some of their philatelic material using blank sales books (see below for a page from one of these books). The 42,000 sales books generate more than $1.8 million in sales annually. Books are divided into 165+ categories. "Items priced from one cent to $1,000 -- Majority in $1 to $40 range."

Typically, one receives 3-4 mailings (circuits) in each category during a given year. Circuits typically contain ten sales books each. You keep the circuits for up to 1 week before forwarding to the next person on the list.

I subscribed to six categories a couple of months ago: US Cut Squares, British Pre-Elizabeth, France & Colonies, Global 1840-1940, Italian Colonies, and Portuguese Colonies. (I've just added China.) I chose Cut Squares because this is the weakest US area in my album. Obviously, Global 1840-1940 and Pre-Elizabeth British were added because they match (more or less) the years contained in the Volume 1. France, Italy, and Portugal were selected more for hoping to add to my holdings of their colonies than for the mother country.

Here is a sample page from a recent World 1840-1940 circuit. (Not shown here is that when you buy an item, you use a personalized rubber stamp to mark the now empty space.)

My thought is that I would subscribe to a category for a year or two and when I'm not finding many new stamps to purchase, I will cancel and move on to another.

One thing I particularly like about the circuits is that they encourage you to spend more time studying the stamps. For example, I found that it wasn't obvious where some of the overprinted 19th Cuba stamps in a Circuit book belonged in my Blue, so I took the time to fire up the Scott Catalog (on my iPad!) and write in the numbers for each space in my album. This is something I rarely made the effort to do when I was adding hundreds of stamps at one time from an eBay album purchase. I generally add catalog numbers for at least a couple of countries per Circuit.

You could compare buying albums versus sales circuits to flying in an airplane versus a car trip. The plane takes you to your destination faster but you don't have nearly as good a feel for the journey. And I think every stamp collector would agree that it is the journey rather than the destination that matters to us.

Another bonus benefit is the chance to examine interesting stamps that you might normally not see up close. For example, there have been three of the Cape of Good Hope triangles, even though none of them were inexpensive enough for me to take the plunge. I was sorely tempted by a Suez Canal Company 1868 Blue Local. But these locals aren't in the Blue International so I gave it a by.

So far, the sales circuits are meeting my expectation. As you can see from the table below, I've been able to pick up stamps at no more than 1/3 catalog. Admittedly, this is somewhat skewed because I have control over what I purchase and can always pad my purchases with a few high catalog items that are listed as a fraction of catalog value, usually because of minor faults. So, for example, I picked up a F-VF appearing Great Britain, Scott #96, for $7, catalog $140, because it had a minor hinge thin on the back.

So far I've received circuits in four of the seven categories, one of them twice. Here's a summary of my purchases.

# of stamps
Cat Value
Purchase Price
% of Cat
Avg cost per stamp
World 1840-1940
France & Colonies
Portugal & Colonies
Pre-Elizabethan British

For this group, I paid an average of 79 cents a stamp or 26% of 2007 Scott catalog value.

A goal I've set for myself is to add 2000 stamps a year for the next few years. It will be interesting to see if I can keep this up through APS circuits alone. I would like to bring the cost down though or these 2000 stamps will run me about $1500 annually. Maybe buying another big album wouldn't be such a bad deal! But then there's a big difference in spending this figure over twelve months as opposed to in one fell swoop.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More on the Cost of Building a Volume I Collection

You may have heard about the recent craze where (mostly) teenage girls upload "Haul" videos of their fashion purchases to YouTube and similar venues. Surely it is just a matter of time before stamp collectors start to do the same. Well, maybe not.

Over the past 6 weeks, I've added about 500 stamps to my Blue. My collection is now large enough that buying large albums is getting to be prohibitive, so I've begun to search for other cost effective and efficient ways to fill in the remaining spaces. One possibility is to look for sellers who have broken up an International, Minkus Global or comparable album into individual countries. Another is American Philatelic Society Circuit Salesbooks. I'm currently exploring both.

I thought it might be interesting to compare the cost of acquisition of each of these methods, recognizing that my experiences so far may be so limited as to be misleading. But I'll keep records and refine this over the coming years.

Vis-a-vis the first option, there were perhaps three dozen countries from a Blue offered recently on eBay. I managed to win 11 of these. Now a prudent collector in deciding what to bid would no doubt have guesstimated the approximate catalog value of the stamps that weren't in his or her album. But I couldn't get enthusiastic about the time required to do that, knowing that I wouldn't win everything I bid on. Instead, I did a rough count of the number of stamps shown in the eBay images that were missing from my album and based my bid on that. So how did I do? I spent $181.11 to add 489 stamps, paying 35% of catalog or 42 cents per stamp.

In the following table (also known as a Haul Matrix), 'Cost' is what I paid on eBay. 'Catalog' is the 2007 Scott Catalog value of the stamps I actually added to my album. 'Avg' is the average cost per stamp I added. '% Cat' is the percentage of the 2007 catalog value I paid. '# to Sell' are the stamps I didn't need for my Blue.

Country Cost CatalogAvg% Cat# to Sell
Allenstein $12.05 $45.75 $0.46 26%4
Argentina $13.00 $40.00 $0.35 33%131
Cameroun $7.55 $35.55 $0.20 21%27
Dahomey $10.50 $35.80 $0.29 29%18
Ivory Coast $14.50 $26.50 $0.44 55%18
Lebanon $7.01 $28.20 $0.18 25%20
Lithuania $20.50 $43.95 $0.26 47%32
Middle Congo $28.12 $57.85 $0.54 49%39
New Caledonia $7.83 $35.05 $0.20 22%26
St. Pierre & Miquelon $22.05 $52.56 $0.31 47%34
St. Thomas & Prince $19.00 $64.00 $0.90 30%34
Tripolitania $19.00 $64.00 $0.90 30%17
$181.11 $529.21 $0.42 35%400

Looks like I overbid on the Ivory Coast and probably Lithuania, Middle Congo, and St. Pierre & Miquelon. Ah well.

How does the cost of acquisition for these individual countries compare to buying entire albums? I don't know the catalog value of the stamps in the albums I've purchased, but I do know my cost figures to 8 cents or so a stamp. So my brief foray with buying individual countries has so far come out to more than five times that of buying entire albums. That doesn't sound good. However, my actual cost will drop some as I'm preparing to sell the stamps I don't need through the APS. I have 400 stamps to sell and assuming I can get as much as $100 total when all is said and done, that will drop my actual cost per stamp from individual country pages down closer to twice what I've been paying for stamps from the whole albums. That sounds better.

Next week I'll post my early experience with buying stamps from the APS Sales Circuits.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yvert & Tellier Updates Classics Catalog

I just noticed that there is a 2010 edition of the Classiques du Monde: 1840-1940, the first new edition since 2005. Unlike the Scott Classics catalog which details how their coverage expands each year, Yvert is mum on improvements. The number of pages in the new edition is 1116 which compares to 1078 pages in the 2005 edition. So, I wonder what is on the 38 new pages?

In trying to dig up some info on the Yvert, I just came across the Klassische Philatelie site of Dr. Christoph Ozdoba that compares the 2005 Yvert catalog, the equivalent Scott, and a volume I didn't know existed, Michel's Klassik-Katalog Europa 1840–1900. Note that unlike the Scott and the Yvert, Michel's catalog is more restricted, both by date (1840-1900) and by region (Europe).

The rest of Dr. Ozboda's Classical Philately site is worth the visit. I look forward to exploring it.

Update 7/9/10: There is a short thread on StampChat about the Yvert catalog with a couple of page scans from the 2005 edition.

Monday, June 21, 2010

2011 Classic Specialized Catalogue Cover Contest

For the second year, Scott is asking stamp collectors to pick the cover for the upcoming edition of the Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers of the World 1840-1940. This year there are three choices each matching the theme chosen for all of the 2011 catalogs, UNESCO World Heritage sites:

  • Bohemia and Moravia Scott 29, the 60-haleru View of St. Barbara's Church in Kutna Hora stamp of 1939
  • China Scott C9, the 60-cent Curtiss "Jenny" over the Great Wall of China stamp of 1929
  • Greece Scott C2, the 3-drachma Flying Boat over the Acropolis stamp of 1926.

Spaces for all three of these are in the Blue International. I own the Czech stamp, two of the lower denominations of the China, but nothing from the Greek set. Does anyone reading this have all three?

According to the August 2010 Scott Stamp Monthly, the contest began last year because the editors couldn't decide between two of their favorites. More than 1700 votes were cast with the Falkland Islands' Penguin stamp winning by a 2-1 margin.

To vote, click here. The deadline for voting is 31 August 2010. The Catalogue will be issued in November.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Worldwide Album Shootout: Portuguese Colonies

If you mainly add to your "Blue" collection from other International albums, you are only rarely jolted into reality by stamps that don't match the spaces in your own album. But once you start using other sources to build your collection, missing spaces become more apparent. I recently received a circuit of sales books for Portugal and its Colonies from the American Philatelic Society. One thing that stood out were some affordable stamps from the 19th century (i.e., under $5) that were missing from the album. But not from all of the colonies. I'll say up front that what I initially thought was going to be some major lacuna in 19th century coverage of these colonies in the "Blue" turned out to be less than I had feared.

While I'm sure everyone but me has these memorized, for the record, here are the Portuguese Colonies in the Scott Catalog: Angola, Angra, Azores, Cape Verde, Funchal, Horta, Inhambane, Kionga, Lourenco Marques, Macao, Madeira, Mozambique, Mozambique Company, Nyassa, Ponta Delgada, Portuguese Africa, Portuguese Congo, Portuguese Guinea, Portuguese India, Quelimane, St. Thomas & Prince Islands, Tete, Timor, and Zambezia.

In the "Blue" International Volume One, most of the above colonies include at least a space or two for stamps like the following:

The differentiating point is the 1898 King Carlos set, an example from which is to the right of the white line. The Colonies that Scott supplies spaces for stamps issued before this set are: Cape Verdi (7 spaces for stamps before 1898), Funchal (3 stamps), Horta (2 stamps), Lourenco Marques (3), Macao (23 stamps), Madeira (9 stamps), Mozambique (12 stamps), Mozambique Company (11 stamps), Nyassa (7 stamps), Ponta Delgada (4 stamps), Portuguese Africa (5 stamps), Portuguese Congo (3 stamps), Portuguese Guinea (14 stamps), Portuguese India (19 stamps), St. Thomas & Prince Islands (14 stamps), Timor (19 stamps), Zambezia (4 stamps).

The exceptions are Angola, Angra, Azores, Inhambane, and Kionga. (Scott is off the hook with Kionga as its issues don't begin until 1916.) The other four colonies start with the 1898 King Carlos issues, ignoring anything earlier even though similar stamps are represented in the majority of the album's other Portuguese Colonies. What seems particularly strange is that Scott devotes 3 pages to Angola, 5 to the Azores and even 1 full page to Inhambane. In all fairness, the earlier stamps of Inhambane are expensive and don't belong in the "Blue." But that doesn't explain why they are missing for Angola or the Azores which have multi-page coverage.

The Minkus Supreme Global provides 29 spaces for Angola before the 1898 issues; 3 spaces for Angra; 21 spaces for the Azores, but none for Inhambane (where the first stamps are expensive). The Master Global also omits the earlier stamps for the Azores and Inhambane, but includes examples for Angola and Angra.

The corresponding coverage for the Scott Brown is: Angola (37 stamps before the 1898 issues), Angra (12 stamps), and the Azores (98! stamps). Interestingly, I cannot find Inhambane in my copy of the 19th Century Scott Brown (c1930).

Finally, the counts for Steiner's album pages are: Angola (37 stamps), Angra (12 stamps), the Azores (94 stamps), and Inhambane (14 stamps).

I was surprised that the Scott Brown had more stamps for the Azores than Bill Steiner's album pages as, in my previous comparisons, the coverage of Steiner's pages has always been equal or greater. The difference is Scott 16-19A, four stamps which are no longer in the Scott Catalog but were when the Scott Brown was created.

For a quick overview of the Portuguese Colonies, see this Refresher Course on the Linn's website.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scott's Commemorative Stamp Album

Fellow worldwide collector Tim recently sent me an interesting email. Tim has given me permission to quote his comments on a Scott album that I had not seen before as well as his general remarks on collecting that I think you will enjoy reading:

"I would like to share with you a Scott album I purchased on ebay recently that is one of the most novel albums I’ve yet to acquire and, I think, one of the rarest of Scott album publications. It is “The Commemorative Stamp Album”, labeled inside, “The Specialty Album for Commemorative Postage Stamps of the World”, copyright 1934. There also is a book that describes all the stamps listed in the album. I have the bound version and a loose leaf, 2 volume version was produced. I’ve attached a scan of the front (I’ll send better) and a scan of an advertisement from a Scott 1936 catalog (colleague did a horrible job!).

I collect classic airmail to 1940 (though I cheat and purchase sets after that time) as I hold a pilot’s license... I collect for that reason and also I can approach a very high percent of completion. Problem is, I can’t decide whether to go loose or have the bound rebound and use that.

I’ve discovered that the WW commemorative album includes commemoratives, semi-postal’s and airmails. There is overlap with the classic airmail, and of course, overlap with the commemoratives with the Blue.

I enjoy collecting. It allows me to detox.... It also gives me some sense that, eventually; through time and MONEY, I will get close to filling the album. There is a certain sense of personal intellectual accomplishment in completing a specialized collection while also knowing that you acquired the best specimens you could afford (M/MLH/MH). As they say in the trade, “Better material usually increases in value”. That being said, this “Green” album presents an opportunity to accomplish the same in the commemorative area.

One subject I would like to research, and I don’t think it would take too much time, is to calculate the total CATALOG cost to fill each album would be. Before I got this album, I would have put my money on the Air Post album. Now, I think the Green would cost far, far more. Recently a set of Greece 1st Olympic stamps in MLH?MH were sold on ebay for well over $800!!! I’ll be more than happy to pass on my findings when completed."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aden versus Allenstein Redux

After several years of avoiding it, I have finally begun making a wantlist using the countries for which I have no stamps as a start. Motivating me out of my lethargy was a desire to investigate if there were obvious reasons why my album doesn't have a single stamp from 70+ countries: what makes them different? While I've only gotten as far as the letter C with my wantlist, I was pleased that with one (aberrant) exception, the total catalog value (2007) for the A-B countries isn't too bad. Of course, the "Blue" collector knows that low catalog value doesn't translate into low retail, or, perhaps more important, into easy availability for purchase.

Here is a summary of the A-B countries missing from my collection:

Aguera: 7 stamps in the "Blue" album, $7.70 total 2007 Scott catalog value
Alaouites: 25 stamps, $86.75
Allenstein: 28 stamps, $48.50
Anjouan: 7 stamps, $7.95
Austria Lombardy-Venetia: 7 stamps, $182.00 (or maybe under $100--I'll explain in a future post)
Barbuda: 5 stamps, $8.30
Benin: 7 stamps, $15.65
British Central Africa: 7 stamps, $19.05

Well, total catalog value obviously doesn't explain it. I mean, what's up with Aguera or Anjouan and their 7 stamps cataloging not much more than a $1 each? To see if these countries are an example of stamps more difficult to find than the catalog values suggest, I checked my nascent wantlist with three sources: the APS Stamp Store, Poppe-Stamps, and Zillions of Stamps. I was pleasantly surprised that at least 75% of my wantlist was available from one or more of these sources for all of the countries except Aguera. Stamps from La Aguera weren't available from any source I checked, including eBay.

In my earlier post I wondered why I have a country like Aden complete, for example, and what was different about it vis-a-vis Allenstein or, to choose one of the other countries for which I have no stamps, Aguera? Scott provides spaces for 19 Aden stamps at a catalog value of around $37.50 (I say around because there are several blank spaces to be filled at the collector's discretion). Aguera is represented by 7 stamps with a total catalog value of $7.70. On the surface, doesn't it seem like my collection should be the other way around? Just brainstorming, I wonder if the reasons are:

1) Popularity. Aden is a former member of the British Commonwealth and this remains a popular area with American collectors.

2) Stamp Types. Aden in the "Blue" is all pictorials and commemoratives, including the popular 1937 Coronation set. The stamps of Aguera are what some dealers derisively call "little nothing stamps."

3) Each of Aguera's stamps catalogs $1.10. While Aden has stamps cataloging more than the $1.10 there are still 7 Aden stamps that can be acquired at well under $1 each. I might imagine that the stamps most likely to make their way into Junior collector's albums were those valued at or near the base catalog (which, for many years, was 2 cents).

I'll post something in the future about the "deal" with Austria Lombardy-Venetia (hint, it involves a Blue-per).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Status Check (Or why Aden and not Allenstein?)

As I blogged a few months ago, I've pretty much given up on being able to afford another "Blue" Volume 1 on eBay large enough to add a substantial number of stamps--i.e., at least a 1000--to my collection. Such an album would probably need to contain 10K plus stamps at a minimum and these have been selling recently for more than I want to pay. So future additions to my collection are likely to come from worldwide albums that have been split into individual countries, single country collections, the APS Stamp Store, APS circuits, etc.

That being the case, I thought I thought this would be a good point to look back at how my collection made it to this stage. The nucleus of my collection was a 1969 "Blue" with about 10,000 stamps (it contained several thousand additional stamps, but these were "outside the spaces" stamps and aren't included in my counts). The cost of this album was $625 or a little more than 6 cents apiece. At the time I was buying, 3 to 6 cents a stamp seemed like a reasonable way of judging whether an album on eBay was a bargain.

I added to my original purchase with three other "Blue" albums. The first contained a little more than 9000 stamps, i.e., about the size of my original album, but I was happy that it still yielded a couple of thousand additional stamps for my collection at minimal cost. The next album was only countries A-E but it contained a lot of stamps within this range. This album boosted my collection by another 1500 stamp. Finally, I purchased an album with only 7000 or so stamps based on photographs showing a number of better issues not usually found in the typical eBay Volume 1. This yielded 700 new stamps.

The total cost of all the albums including the starter collection was around $1475. Because I didn't want the hassle of selling the other albums after having removed the stamps I needed for my collection, I consigned them to a local dealer. That brought in $450 after commission. (Someone who had been willing to sell the stamps themselves might have gotten $700-800, not including eBay fees, postage, etc.) In any event, the net cost of my collection so far is a little over $1000 which, of course, includes the pages themselves and two binders. I currently have 14,575 stamps which works out to 7 cents per stamp. Needless to say, future additions will never average nearly that low!

Its not uncommon when you read descriptions of "Blue" albums for sale to see the phrase "includes the usual suspects." That is, the countries represented by a lot of stamps are the ones most commonly found in collections of this time period, such as Germany, Austria, and Hungary. I have a 100 plus stamps each for 44 countries, many of which fall into the usual suspects category.

And there are countries that seem obscure but are almost always well represented, such as Azerbaijan. I assume this is because they were widely available in packets or on approval at little cost. (Interestingly, the common countries may or may not include the United States--I've been surprised at the number of world albums for sale that are missing the U.S. Now whether this is because the collector didn't collect our country or had a separate album for American stamps, I don't have a clue.)

Just as there are countries frequently found in abundance, I soon learned that certain countries were often empty because of average cost for their issues, even though they issued enough stamps to be represented in the "Blue" by multiple pages. Cyrenaica and Tripolitania come to mind. But it may also be due to happen chance. Why is Aden complete in my "Blue" and yet none of the albums I purchased had a single stamp from Allenstein, even though the entire country is frequently available complete for under $50?

At this stage in my collecting, the number of countries for which I have zero stamps stands at a pretty amazing (embarrassing?) seventy-six. Five of these, Alaouites, Cape Juby, Columbia Santander, Italian Colonies, and Spanish Sahara are allocated at least two pages in the "Blue;" the rest one page or less. The complete list of the countries for which I have no stamps as of yet are: Aguera, Alaouites, Allenstein, Anjouan, Austria Lombardy-Venetia, Barbuda, Benin, British Central Africa, Cape Juby, Caroline Islands, Castellorizo, Cochin China, Colombia Santander, Colombia Santander Cucuta, Colombia Tolima, Danish West Indies, Elobey, Annoleon & Corisco, Far Eastern Republic, France Offices in Crete, French Offices in Turkish Empire Cavalle, French Offices in Turkish Empire Dedeach, French Offices in Turkish Empire Port Lago, French Offices in Turkish Empire Vathy, French Offices in Zanzibar, German New Guinea, German South West Africa, Germany Offices in Turkish Empire, Germany Polish Occupation, Grand Comoro, Great Britain Offices in China, Guam, Hatay, India Feudatory States Kishengarh, India Feudatory States Sirmoor, Italian Colonies, Italy Occupation Stamps, Italy Offices in China, Italy Offices in the Turkish Empire, Japan Offices in China, Japan Offices in Korea, Karelia, Kiauchau, Kionga, Kuwait, Madeira, Maldive Islands, Marienwerder, Marshall Islands, Mesopotamia, Moheli, Nevis, North Ingermanland, North West Pacific Islands, Northern Nigeria, Nossi Be, Obock, Penrhyn Island, Poland Occupation Stamps, Poland Offices in Danzig, Poland Offices in the Turkish Empire, Poland Official Stamps Issued under German Occupation, Rio de Oro, Russia Offices in China, Sarawak, Senegambia & Niger, Somaliland Protectorate, South Russia, Spanish Sahara, Ste. Marie de Madagascar, Tahiti, Tibet, Tobago, Transcaucasian Federated Republics, Uganda, Western Ukrainia, and Zululand.

Obviously the list contains a lot of Offices and Occupations, but still there are rather more than a handful of complete countries missing. I'm surprised that there are still that many political entities where I don't have a single stamp yet--76 out of 408 possible or 19%. It will be interesting as my collection progresses to learn if the lack of stamps from these countries can eventually be attributed to cost, scarcity, or just luck of the draw.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How Many Stamps Were Issued Between 1840 and 1940? Part 3

When collectors have made counts of how many stamps have been issued, the sensible ones have limited themselves to totaling Regular Issues and Commemoratives. Using that approach, I come up with a little more than 60,000 regulars and commems released between 1840 and 1940. But when making my count, I had the bright idea of including everything in the 2007 Scott Classics Catalogue even though that added multiple layers of complexity as well as increased the opportunity for counting mistakes. With that in mind, when looking at all issues, I found that regular issues/commems account for about two-thirds of the stamps in the Catalogue. The other one-third are Back-of-the-Book (BOB).

Below is a table of my counts for the various stamp categories in the Scott catalog according to Scott's prefixes. These are sorted from the most stamps in a particular category to the least. Again, I caution you in placing too much faith in the exactness of the counts.

60,107 [No prefix] Regular issues, Commemoratives
5778 O/OX Officials, Post Office Seals
5248 J/JX Unpaid Postage
4885 C/CE/CO Airmail
4035 B/BK Semi-postals
3001 A*, AR Mandates, Plebescites, Provisionals, Postal-fiscal
1139 N Mandates
1113 R/RA/RAJ Revenues
1056 #L Local stamps
739 Q Parcel post, special handling
682 P Newspapers, periodicals
670 1N Occupation issues
614 U Envelopes
408 M Military
371 L Local
321 #X Provisionals (e.g., US or Confederate Postmaster Provisionals)
277 E Special Delivery
136 F Registration, Certified
62 Carrier Carrier
45 H Acknowledgment of Receipt
33 I Late Fee
32 G/GY Insured Letter, Marine Insurance
28 S Franchise stamps
18 D Pneumatic Post
18 K Offices Abroad
5 Y Revolutionary
90,821 TOTAL

When I started, I listed every prefix separately: for example, I initially separated Airmails from Airmail Special Deliveries, etc. This quickly became tiresome and so I went back and subsumed these all under a single prefix letter, in this case, C. Unfortunately, I shouldn't have done this for all categories. Mixing the various prefixes where A is the first letter intermixes the AR category which is cut from a different cloth than the others. I should have left that separate.

It should also note that the prefixes K, L, M, N, and Y can be used with any category. Consider the Military Stamps of Austria. There are regular Military issues, Military Semi-Postals, and Military Newspaper stamps. In my count all of these are included in the M count, not with the B or N counts.

Finally, some categories are deceptive. There are hundreds of Offices Abroad listed throughout the Catalogue but the only stamps assigned with the "official" K prefix are for UNITED STATES OFFICES IN CHINA Shanghai.

The last table breaks down the percentage for the most numerous prefixes. The most common type of BOB stamps are Officials--they constitute almost 19% of BOB issues. (Note that this is 19% of the thirty thousand BOB stamps, NOT 19% of the ninety thousand total stamps issued between 1840-1940.)

18.81% O/OX Officials, Post Office Seals
17.09% J/JX Unpaid Postage
15.90% C/CE/CO Airmail
13.14% B/BK Semi-postals
9.77% A*, AR Mandates, Plebescites, Provisionals, Postal-fiscal
3.71% N Mandates
3.62% R/RA/RAJ Revenues
3.44% #L Local stamps
2.41% Q Parcel post, special handling
2.22% P Newspapers, periodicals
2.18% 1N Occupation issues
2.00% U Envelopes
1.33% M Military
1.21% L Local
1.05% #X Provisionals (e.g., US or Confederate Postmaster Provisionals)

For the first two posts in this thread see: Part 1, Part 2.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The iPad and Stamp Collecting

I am an unabashed gadget geek. One example of this is that I have owned an iPad since the first day it was available for purchase. Since then I've found a couple of good uses for the iPad with my "Blue" collection which I would like to share.

I spend a lot of my time with my albums sitting on the couch rather than at a desk. This means I'm usually trying to balance an album, catalog, and laptop at the same time. Turns out for a couple of tasks, the iPad provides a viable alternative for the laptop, the catalog or both!

Off and on I will select a country that is largely complete and see what it would take to fill the remaining spaces. I usually start with the APS Stamp Store. I was happy to find that the iPad's screen size is fine for viewing this site in the Safari browser and it is easy to go back and forth between listings and zoomed views of the stamps. Most important is that the size and weight of the iPad vis-a-vis a laptop made this task much more convenient. I would expect other websites such as Zillions of Stamps to work equally well unless they use Flash to serve up their content or shopping carts.

I own the last DVD version of the Scott Classics Catalogue. As you may know, the DVD contains the catalog in Adobe PDF format. I transferred the PDFs over to the iPad and viewed them using the GoodReader software. Although it is little bothersome to find the exact page you want, the overall convenience is hard to beat. It is especially nice if you find yourself refering between the website and the catalog.

Incidentally, this post was typed on the iPad but I had to add the images "manually."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Miscellaneous Info on the Scott Internationals, etc.

I had a little time to visit the Wineburgh Philatelic Library at UT Dallas this weekend and tried to dig up some more information about the the history of the "Blue" International and its competitors. I'll be retroactively updating some of my earlier posts to reflect what I have found, but here is a summary.

First, I had assumed that there was a smooth transition between the two part "Blue" and the four part "Blue," but an October 1994 ad in Scott Monthly shows that a collector purchasing the set then would have bought three parts: Part 1A1 (US to Ethiopia), Part 1A2 (Falkland Islands-Latvia), and Part 1B (Lebanon-Zululand). My working supposition is that perhaps Part 1A went out of print before Part 1B. Later when Scott decided to reprint 1A, they split it into two parts. Now whether 1A1 and 1A2 represent the re-editing we find in the current 1A1 and 1A2, I do not know. Several years later, the 1998 Scott World Catalog lists 1A1, 1A2, 1B1, and 1B2, just as today.

An ad in the 1975 Scott Catalog gives a little more information on The Grand Award Album, which I assume Scott published to compete with the Minkus Master Global. Specifically, it had 1,300 pages and sold for $21.50.

I don't think I was aware that the original Brown albums in looseleaf form were printed on one side only, just like the Vintage Reproductions. (The bound volumes were double-sided.) The number of pages in the 19th Century volume was 732 and 1034 in the 20th Century Part 1 (i.e., 1900-1910).

Speaking of Vintage Reproductions, according to an ad in the 1996 Scott Classics Catalogue, their authorized copies of the Brown Internationals first included only 1840-1938 in 4540 pages. Another ad a year later shows that 1939-40 was available.

At one point in the late 1990s, Scott sold original stamp cuts from when their catalogs were still letterpress at $9.95 per cut. I wonder if these ever show up on eBay?

I confirmed from an ad that The Minkus Supreme Global did go from two to three volumes with the 1966 edition.

Although my lone hour at the Library meant that I was madly flipping through pages, I'm a little more skeptical now on how easy it is going to be to find some basic information that is still missing. I had assumed that Scott Monthly, the Scott Catalogs, and other publications would commonly have ads for the Internationals. Such ads seem to be much rarer than I had thought for significant periods of time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How Many Stamps Were Issued Between 1840 and 1940? Part 2

When I was making my count of stamps in the 2007 Scott Classics catalog, I kept the totals in an Excel spreadsheet. Not to let this go to waste, I'm doing some sorts on the data that may be of interest.

Here are the top 25 countries ordered by number of stamps issued between 1840 and 1940. This count includes all of the various types of stamps in the Scott catalog, regardless of whether they are represented in the "Blue" International. Please do not place too much trust in the totals--for reasons outlined in the Part 1 of this post, I would expect these counts to be off by a percentage point or two.

1238 SPAIN
1034 IRAN

You may be surprised that Colombia ranks number 2 but remember all the hundreds of SCADTA airmails. To see whether there were any other "anomalies," I decided to run the sort again looking at only Regular Issues/Commemoratives. But while the rankings changed, most of the first group of countries were still in the second sort, just in a different order. Perhaps the surprise in the second list is the addition of Portuguese India with some 450 regular/commems.


It is harder to do a meaningful bottom group because most of the entries are along the lines of Yugoslavia's Carthinia Plebiscite. Nevertheless, here are the countries (as opposed to occupied areas, states, etc.) with the fewest stamps issued between 1840 and 1940:


For my next post, I'll look at whether there have been more postage dues than newspaper stamps and similar burning stamp collecting questions. I'm thinking that Pneumatic Post Stamps are going to rank pretty high. What about you?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

How Many Stamps Were Issued Between 1840 and 1940? Part 1

Seems like a reasonable question concerning this popular collecting area. And yet, as far as I can find on the Internet, no one has posted a count. Interestingly, there are estimates of the total number of stamps issued from 1840 until the present day. Michael Weatherford made a reasoned estimate of 600,000 or so by the end of the last century. But the total number of stamps issued is a perpetually moving target--surely, it should be easier to come up with a more exact number for the first one hundred years of philately? Well, yes and no. I've spent the last four months working on this off and on and here's what I've found.

To cut to the chase, there is not likely ever to be a definitive number. I don't know that this is a big deal as an approximate figure is probably good enough for most of us. But here is a list of the problems I've encountered in trying to count classic era stamps.

First, the catalog you pick will dictate the total. That is, every catalog, whether it is Scott, Gibbons, Yvert, et al, will list some stamps not in the others. I assume we aren't talking about a difference of many thousands for 1840-1940, but is still something to be aware of. For my count, I used the 2007 Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps & Covers. Even after choosing a catalog, the publishing date will make a difference. Scott has added hundreds of stamps in subsequent editions, although how many of them would have figured in my count is unclear.

Second, it is surprisingly difficult for some countries to obtain an accurate count at a glance, even for Regular/Commemorative stamps. For example, the numbering for country X may start at 1 and end at 100, but that doesn't mean there are 100 stamps. Catalogs are renumbered and some numbers previously used may be dropped. Or conversely, an issue might be given an intermediary designation to avoid a wholesale renumbering, so you could have both a 21 and 21A. Now, a careful person would compensate for all these anomalies, but I didn't take the time to do it. So there may be 100 stamps, or there could be 98 or 103. My hope is over the 500+ political entities involved that such differences will average out.

Third, some categories of stamps are not in a single numerical sequence. Here are a few examples of issues which required manual counts of a 100+ stamps: Confederate Postmaster Provisionals, Colombia SCADATA airmails, Ukraine Regional Issues (I did not count these), Stamps of Germany used in Cameroun, Canadian perforated Official Stamps, and United States Private Carriers--check these out and you'll see that one can't simply take the ending numbers but rather must do manual counts.

Fourth, for the British Commonwealth in particular, Scott includes issues to 1952. Where an individual stamp or set are clearly dated after 1940, these are easy to spot. But sometimes, stamps that don't belong in our count are intermixed within a set that contains some stamps issued in or before 1940 plus a few after. I didn't take the time to ferret out those few stamps that were issued after 1940 if the majority of the set was issued before. So my number for most British Commonwealth countries is likely overestimated by a few stamps.

So, what final count did I come up with? 91,000 stamps more or less. This means that the "Blue" contains about 40% of the stamps issued in the Classic Era and that are cataloged by Scott.

In Part 2 of this thread, I'll look at some interesting statistics, e.g., which countries issued the most stamps between 1840 and 1940 and what are the most common types of BOB stamps--i.e., were there more airmails or official stamps issued during this period?

UPDATE 6/2011: When I wrote this post I had not found any estimates for the number of classic era stamps. Today I came across the following on the website for the William J. Uihlein Collection: "Estimates vary, but one source declared that from 1840 to 1928 the world's governments had released about 57,000 regular issues of stamps, not counting minor varieties or revenue stamps." I have no idea what that source is but the number certainly seems plausible.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Differences between the Scott International Junior and the Current "Blue"

A reader emailed me the other day asking about the differences between the "Blue" Volume 1 that Scott currently sells in four parts and the International Junior, which I took to mean one of the earlier single part editions. This is a question that much interests me and I thought I might try to summarize what I've found out so far.

By way of introduction, the editions of the "Blue" between 1943 and 1969 were sold in one part. Beginning in the 1970s, Scott split Volume 1 into two parts and most recently into four.

Number of Countries
There are more countries in the 1943 or 1947 editions than in any of the later volumes. The two part "Blue" editions are missing the most countries. Some of those countries in the 1943/47 editions were restored in the four part version but not all. For a complete list, click here.

Number of Stamps
The 1943/47 editions have spaces for the most stamps. Hundreds of stamps were unceremoniously dropped when Scott created the two part version which offers the worst coverage. However, there are stamps in the later versions that weren't in the 1943/47 editions.

The single part volumes are the least compatible with later volumes in the International series, the four part, the most. The single part volumes will have some countries that begin on the reverse of pages as well as multiple countries on a single page, making it impossible to seamlessly integrate the pages in Volume 1 with those in Volume 2 and later. This also means that countries are in a single alphabetical sequence in the latest editions.

As in the "compatibility" category, the four part edition is the most expandable. In the four part version, all countries are their own units and the different classes of stamps (i.e., regular issues/commems, airmails, etc.) within a country are graced with their own pages. This arrangement makes it easier for collectors to create their own pages within or at the end of a country. Two byproducts of the four part arrangement are 1) there are many blank back (verso) pages in the four part version that can be used for mounting additional stamps, and 2) there also tends to be fewer stamps on many pages, leaving the collector room to make his or her own additions--perhaps those that were dropped from earlier editions--without necessarily having to add new pages.

The four part version is on thicker paper than any of the one part editions (I haven't physically examined a two part "Blue") and I suspect the paper may be of more archival quality. There is some variation in the paper thickness in the one part editions I've seen, but as albums can sometimes have collector-added replacement pages from other editions, I don't feel certain as to the state each edition was originally published.

While probably not a big deal for most collectors, the earlier editions of the "Blue" had spaces at the top of the page for a portrait of the ruler and coats of arms as well as some gazetteer information. (Actually, I wish the latter were still in there.)

The single volume versions, usually the 1943 or 1947 editions, appear weekly on eBay and you might be able to score one with few or any stamps for as little as $50 or so. New copies of the four part version will set you back $400+ from Amos Advantage or another dealer. Now whether it is worth the $400 to have some of the advantages of the four-parter is up to the individual collector. If you do buy an earlier volume, note that these may not be complete (not infrequently the US pages are missing), there may be hinge remnants, tears, etc., and you probably want to make certain the edition is loose-leaf rather than hard bound.

Have I left anything out?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lawrence Block on "The Abiding Patience of Stamps"

As usual, the latest Lawrence Block column in the 3/22/10 Linn's resonates. This time he is discussing how actively one has to be engaged to enjoy stamp collecting.

You will sometimes see the statement, "Sharks Need to Continuously Swim to Live" applied to stamp collecting. In other words, if your collection isn't growing, what's the point?

What the analogy misses, and Block's column documents in a variety of ways, is that stamp collecting doesn't demand daily involvement to still be a satisfying hobby. It is possible not to feed your collection for days, months, or perhaps even years at a time, knowing that it will still be there when you are ready. For some reason, I'm reminded of the "Nike" commercial from the movie What Women Want. The commercial within the film was about running, but if we switch to a collecting motif, then you might have

"And you can call on the [collection] whenever you feel like it...The only thing the [collection] cares about, is that you pay it a visit once in a while."

There have been several recent threads in discussion groups from collectors thinking about cutting back. The reasons vary but often include that all of the items still missing from their collection are too expensive to acquire. This is not a problem I expect to have with a Classic Era collection built around the "Blue" International. I own in another album what is likely the most expensive stamp in Volume 1 and I've already found the stamp that supposedly is the most difficult to acquire. So I can forge ahead, confident there is a reasonable chance that the last stamp I hinge in the album could come in at under a dollar.

(For accuracy, I should add that the need to continuously swim is only true for some varieties of shark.)