Monday, February 22, 2010

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.

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