Monday, February 22, 2010

The Worldwide Album Shootout: Great Britain, Pt 2

Click this link to read Part 1.

3) The Minkus Supreme Global

I've been anxious for some time to see if the Supreme Global bridges the gap between the "Blue" and the Scott "Brown"/"Green" series. By bridge I mean does the Supreme Global provide additional coverage without leaving the collector with perpetually blank spaces for the great rarities found in the Scott albums?

The Supreme takes not quite four pages, front and back, to cover Scott 1-173 in comparison to two in the "Blue," although the Minkus also includes several sets of Officials and Postage Dues.

The Supreme Global houses 136 regular stamps between Scott #1 and 173 or 82% of the major Scott numbered issues. This compares with 49% in the Scott "Blue." The majority of missing stamps are expensive, cataloging up to $29,000. However, there are three missing early engraved Queen Victorias cataloging under $100 which perhaps Minkus considered minor varieties.

Later editions of both the Master and Supreme Global albums include catalog numbers, although, of course, these are Minkus numbers not Scott. Minkus provides more illustrations, Scott more descriptions and blank spaces. Specifically,

"Blue" - 23% of the spaces in the entire album have illustrations
Master Global - 43% have illustrations
Supreme Global - 53% have illustrations.

I do not know the corresponding percentages for the "Brown" and "Green" series.

Surprisingly, I sometimes find myself prefering, within a set, to have text for the colors and values as the illustrations are not always as helpful as text. One place where I think the "Blue" is superior is that its cuts are larger than in the Minkus albums.

I do like how the Supreme Global typically provides the collector with more information than does the "Blue." For example, the Supreme Global describes watermarks, both with text captions and small cuts as well as sometimes as a large "stamp size" cut. The album also sometimes uses small arrows to point out identifying features between similar issues as well as gives useful descriptions, such as "Small White Letters in Corners." The Master Global doesn't offer as much help in this regard as the Supreme Global but still more than the "Blue."

Here are examples of these different approaches:

One thing I dislike is the Supreme Global gives fewer dates. For example, all of the stamps on page 1 for Great Britain in the Supreme Global are subsumed under the heading 1840-80. Similarly, page 2 is 1880-1901.

My initial impression, for Great Britain at least, is that the Supreme Global is a worthy alternative to the "Blue." What will be more telling is comparisons for other countries where the "Blue" is known to be weak with certain common issues that should have been included.

4) The Scott "Brown" International 19th Century Edition

I don't own any of the "Brown" Internationals but a scan of the 1902 version is available via Google Books and that is what I used for this comparison. As the Brown was in print until the 1940s, it is possible that Scott made revisions over the years. Can anyone verify if there were changes?

As I only looked at the 19th Century volume, the last stamp included is Scott 126. Out of the 119 major numbers in the Catalog between #1-126, the "Brown" contains 111. Actually 112, because the first space is for O1, the black Queen Victoria with V R in the upper corners. Most of the missing numbers are from the 1854-57 types of 1840 and 1841 with different perforations (e.g., a single space that can contain either #8 or 11).

The "Brown" finishes out the Great Britain pages with Offices in the Levant, Officials, and the 1p and 2p Mulready envelopes.

One of the attributes I find I like about the "Browns," the 19th Century volume at least, is the number of stamps per page. The Harris approach much too crowded for my taste and the Scott Specialty albums too generous with space. (I realize this is a consequence of logically relegating related sets to their own pages and I further suspect that most single country collectors like the uncrowded appearance of the Specialty pages to better show off their treasures.) I had expected the "Brown" pages to be sparsely populated like the Specialty series, but this is not the case at least with this album.

5) The computer generated pages from William Steiner's Stamp Albums site

This wonderful website provides affordable computer generated album pages for almost every stamp listed in the Scott Catalogs. Although his pages go up to the present day, Mr. Steiner very helpfully provides pages specifically for the Classic collector. Steiner takes 11 pages to present #1-173. Of the 166 possible stamps in this range, Steiner provides spaces for 171 of them. Now how is that possible? Because he includes some stamps like 158A and 158B that I rightly or wrongly ignored as subvarieties when doing my count.

Steiner's pages are 8.5 x 11 inches as opposed to approximately 10x11.5 inches for the "Browns" and 9 x 12 inches for the others.

Steiner doesn't include any cuts of stamps although some pages have illustrations of overprints. (He may consistently do this--I haven't checked.)

Of all the publications, Steiner's was the easiest to match spaces with the Scott catalog number. Those few items "out of sequence" are usually because the catalog conflates sets of regular issues issued at different times into one denomination sequence whereas Steiner may separate them. (For example, the 1883-84 regular series is split between two lines depending upon whether the stamps were issued in 1883 or 1884.)

So how much is the catalog value for all of the stamps on these 11 pages? Almost $120,000 compared to $3200 for the "Blue"!

6) The H.E. Harris Masterwork Deluxe Album Album (Volume II: Europe)

I picked up this album years ago at a garage sale and I still see worldwide Harris albums on eBay periodically, but the appeal of these to the worldwide collector would have to be the coverage of post-1940 issues, not the Classic Era. In the case of the stamps between Scott #1 and 173, Harris contains 30 of them or 18%. It takes about 2/3's of a page for Harris to get to Scott 172. Harris provides 5 blank spaces. With the exception of what I assume is the Penny Blank, all of the included stamps catalog under $25 and are reasonable choices for inclusion. However, there are almost as many stamps cataloging under $25 that are NOT included.

Although I will glance at the Harris pages when I look at other countries, I won't bother posting the comparison in the future unless their coverage is closer to the others.

7) The Scott Specialty Album for Great Britain

While I don't own it, you can see pages from this album on Dr. Cheng Chang's website.

The Specialty album takes 14 pages to display Scott 1-173, compared with Steiner's 11 pages, confirming my impression that the "Green" albums have fewer stamps per page than the other albums. Of the 166 possible stamps in this range, the "Green" provides spaces for 171 of them--the same as Steiner. Unlike Steiner, the "Green" includes illustrations for many of the stamps as well as Scott numbers. The "Blue" only provides Scott numbers for the U.S. Later editions of both the Minkus Master and Supreme Global albums have catalog numbers but, as noted above, these are Minkus. Harris never had numbers and Steiner can't include Scott numbers because they aren't licensed to do so.

The only other Scott worldwide album to include numbers that I am aware of was the short lived Grand Award album which I believe was intended to compete with the Master Global.

I will do more country comparisons in the coming months. If anyone has other albums they would like to scan so I can post on this site (or link to) for comparison purposes, I would be most happy to do so.

The Worldwide Album Shootout: Great Britain, Pt 1

I've long been intrigued with how the major worldwide albums covering the Classic Era compare even if this smacks of second guessing the choice of the "Blue" International for my own collection. Having finally acquired part of a Minkus Supreme Global, I want to have a go at comparing the coverage of some sample countries in the albums that I either own or have access to:

1) The "Blue" International Volume 1 (1943, 1947, 1969, and part 1 of 1997 editions)
2) The Minkus Master Global
3) The Minkus Supreme Global (I have A-J countries only)
4) The Scott "Brown" International 19th Century Edition (c1902, from the Internet)
5) The computer generated pages from William Steiner's Stamp Albums site
6) The H.E. Harris Masterwork Deluxe Album (Volume II: Europe, 1987 edition)
7) Scott "Green" Specialty albums (other people's online websites)

I've decided to start with early Great Britain because this is a popular country that should receive extra editorial attention in any album. While no doubt I should thoroughly think the process through and perform a number of these comparisons before posting anything, I know this would bog me down and I would never finish. So, let's get started even if a few months from now I wish I had done things differently.

My working method will be to use the "Blue" as the baseline and look at corresponding pages in the other albums as well as the Scott Classics Catalogue. I suspect I won't normally be making detailed comparisons against the catalog, but I'm going to make an exception with Great Britain and tally which specific stamps have been included.

1) Scott International "Blue" Album, 1840-1940 [Volume 1]
For this part of the great album shootout, I'm starting with the first two pages of the "Blue" which takes us from Scott #1 issued in 1840 through Scott #173 from 1912-13. My assumption is that for later, less expensive Great Britain issues the "Blue" is comprehensive so I should concentrate on differences in the early issues.

I've checked my 1943/47 albums against the 1969 edition and there is only a minor difference between the two: the 1969 edition has a blank space within the 1862-65 years and the 1943/47 editions has the blank space in the 1880-81 years. The cuts and descriptions for all of the remaining stamps are the same.

If my math is correct (and what are the chances of that?), we're looking at a possible 166 major varieties during this period according to Scott (the more specialized Stanley Gibbons, of course, would give a different count). Interestingly, the total is 166 rather than 173. Scott, even for Great Britain, has apparently eliminated some major numbers it had assigned to this country in the past.

Of these 166 potential candidates for inclusion, the "Blue" contains spaces for 81 stamps, of which two are "fill in the blank." This translates to the "Blue" containing 49% or about half of the possible major varieties of Great Britain during this time span. (All of these counts should be considered a little squishy as a single space might properly be filled with two or more stamps that match the cut.)

But that of course ignores that "Blue" collectors, unlike their overly ambitious "Brown" and "Green" colleagues, neither expect or want spaces for the most valuable stamps in their album. Thus the more proper question to ask is whether there are inexpensive stamps we're likely to acquire that Scott has omitted? Now that begs the question as to what constitues inexpensive. At least initially, I'm going to arbitrarily set $10 as a figure that shouldn't give the intrepid "Blue" collector too much pause if that were all standing between him or her and the completion of a page.

So, are there any stamps cataloging under $10 between Scott #1 and #173 that are not included in the "Blue" Volume 1? I'm pleased to say that the answer is no. Admittedly, Scott does provide only two spaces where there are twelve stamps between #151 and 158B. But while most of these catalog under $10, I think the stamps have been rightly omitted as they are examples of different dies, reengravings or perforations. Moreover, all 12 varities are represented by the same two cuts in the catalog.

Some other statistics: The average 2008 Scott catalog value of these 81 stamps is $42. The total catalog value of all 81 is around $3200. The catalog value of the most expensive stamp on these two pages is $275 for Scott #1, the Penny Black.

2) The Minkus Master Global

The Master Global puts on one page what Scott reproduces on two for #1-173 and additionally manages to throw in four postage dues. (Remember that Minkus intermixes BOB stamps within the regular and commemorative issues. Whatever else one may think of the practice, it does make it much easier to integrate supplements.)

The Global has spaces for 57 stamps compared to the "Blue's" 81 (not counting the postage dues). Does the Global leave out any stamps cataloging under $10? Yes, two, ignoring again Scott 151-158B. These two stamps are Scott 111 and 143.

So you could argue that Minkus has provided for almost all of the low cost stamps without leaving out many affordable issues. But there is one troublesome anomaly, a space for the 5 shilling Seahorse. When you encounter situations like this, one has to wonder whether the people who edited the album actually collected stamps. Scott 174 cataloged in 2008 for $310 and this is more expensive than any other stamps on this page including the "Penny Black." My bet is that the editor included this oblong stamp for no other reason than symmetry which is why I ask whether a collector would ever think that layout trumped other factors when deciding to provide a space for a stamp that was excessively expensive in comparison to others in the album. (I suppose I should note that one could substitute Scott 180 for 174 and then you are looking at only $125, but the stamp still doesn't fit within the scope of the album.)

Minkus crams more stamps on a page than the "Blue." One difficulty with this is that the collector has little or no room on most pages to add additional stamps along the margins. The advantage is that you need fewer binders for a large collection and fewer pages should mean a lower price for the album. (The latter point is not an issue now as the Minkus Master and Supreme Global albums are out of print.)

There are significant differences in how Minkus and Scott describe the stamps belonging to each space which I will discuss in the next section.

To be continued in my next post.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

This post is pretty much off the wall but I came across a set of album pages on eBay titled 19th CENTURY BRIEFMARKEN CUT-SQUARE ALBUM. These are 305 or so pages only for envelopes, wrappers, postcards and money orders (?), world-wide, through about 1913 (?) according to the seller. I assume these are reprints. I don't recall having seen anything like this before and couldn't find more information on the set via Google. So just in case the set is new to anyone else, I thought I would mention it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Stamp Dens

A fun thread on the always entertaining and informative StampChat board has been "Who has the MESSIEST stamp room(s) ????" It is a relief to know that there are collectors who are messier (actually, way messier) than I am. But although we have a study, I usually work on my stamps at the dining room table. Having feared that this arrangement would forever subject me to shame in professional stamp collecting circles, I was pleased to read the following in Lawrence Block's "Generally Speaking" column in the January 25, 2010 Linn's: "When I settle into my stamp room (and it's not a dining room, no matter what fantasies my wife is able to entertain)...."

Here is a photo of my setup where for the past few days I've been transferring stamps from a recent eBay purchase. As indicated in an earlier blog, the albums are sitting on Ikea plastic drafting tables which also act as holders for hinges, etc. You will note a beer to show that stamp collecting is indeed an adult hobby. Missing are a watermark detector and perforation gauge. One "feature" of the International is that usually watermarks are irrelevant (except for some of the US Bureau Issues). Perforation differences aren't usually critical either, although I was reminded only today that one is necessary for early twentieth century issues of Ecuador.

The "Album Count Sheets" are how I keep track of the number of stamps in my Blue Volume 1. I've mentioned this before but will cover it in more detail in a future entry.

Even if you are fortunate enough to have a separate stamp room, don't feel too sorry for me. In case I get bored, here is the view from our dining table, I mean Stamp Den:

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Approvals from Another Era

An album I recently purchased on eBay had several old approvals inserted between various pages. The format of these is very familiar and I'm sure I saw them as a kid, but the name of the company is no where on the sheets. Does anyone recognize these? If I were to guess, I would say H.E. Harris, but I can't imagine why they would leave off their name and address. Here are two examples. One is a facsimile of the famous British Guiana 1 cent Magenta and the other of two Bulgarian stamps from 1901. Interesting, several decades later these "rare" Bulgarian stamps only catalog $11 unused, $3.20 used. I hope no one was killed in putting these stamps into the hands of collectors--the accompanying blurb suggests that blood may have been spilled.