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.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Worldwide Album Shootout: Afghanistan

I've pillaged a half-a-dozen or so Worldwide collections in the past year and have repeatedly noted that Afghanistan seems to cause International collectors a lot of problems. Everyone seems to be able to identify stamps belonging to the country without difficulty; we just have problems getting the right stamp in the right space. It doesn't help that the Blue Volume One illustrates only about 10% of the stamps that were issued.

The big loser this time in the Shootout is, incredibly, the Brown International. At least, in the 1897 edition which is the only one I have access to. Scott supplied only World Almanac style information for this country--not a single dedicated space for an actual stamp. I'd like to think this was corrected in later editions but I don't have a clue if Scott made editorial changes in the Brown volumes over the years as they did with the Blue. If anyone can confirm one way or the other, please let me know.

The winner from the standpoint of comprehensiveness, not a surprise here, is the computer generated album. It takes Steiner thirty pages to cover the issues from the early 1871 Tiger's Heads through 1939. Unusual for Steiner's pages, there are actual illustrations for many issues, not just descriptions.

The Scott Green Specialty Album for Afghanistan allots about 24 pages for the pre-1940 issues. One interesting difference between the Steiner and the Green album is that the earliest Tiger's Heads are displayed on the diagonal in the Specialty series--i.e., maintaining the Tiger's Heads in the up position rather than at a 45 degree angle.

The Minkus Master Global provides spaces on a page and a half for some 40 Classic Era Afghanistan stamps out of an approximate universe of 375 (which also counts BOB). The Supreme Global has room for 100 or so stamps on four pages.

The Blue International provides spaces for 36 stamps on two pages, ignoring everything before Scott #205. In spite of this low number, Scott omits fewer than ten face different stamps cataloging under $1, although there are many missing in the $1-$5 range. Scott begins with the 1909 regulars but might have included a couple of earlier issues that catalog only a few dollars. Having said that, a check of the standard Internet retailers (, et al) showed practically no stamps before Scott 205 for sale (and the few available were the more expensive values).

The Scott Catalogue lists air post stamps, registration stamps, parcel post stamps, and postal tax stamps, none of which are in the International although the 1936 postal tax stamps were in the 1947 edition of the International. I am surprised that at least one of the stamps from the first airmail set (1939) has never been in the Blue albums.

I’ve always been intrigued that early Afghan issues were canceled by tearing or cutting so will certainly look for an example of this to add to my collection, even if the Blue provides no spaces for issues contemporary with this practice.

From Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

International Blue-per #4: Korea Scott # 3-5

Korea issued its first stamps, a set of 5, in November 1884 but the postal service came to a grinding halt during the December uprising of that year. The "Blue" has spaces for the 25 mon, 50 mon, and 100 mon values from this set. Scott subsequently withdrew the previously assigned numbers for 3-5, and notes that "these [3] stamps were never placed in use." In spite of their non-official status, Scott does suggest values so an argument can be made that the stamps still belong in the "Blue," even if they've been orphaned by recent Scott catalogs.