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.


Keijo said...

Hi Bob,

very interesting post. And I'm definitely looking for the second part.

Have you already seen my posts about the topic of stamp numbers? First entry is about total number of stamps between 1840 and 2009, and second post is about stamp set numbers between 1840 and 2009.


Bob said...

Keijo, I'm very familiar with your excellent blog and am embarrassed that I neglected to site your count numbers in my post. Thanks so much for posting the links. If anyone reading this isn't familiar with Keijo's Stamp Collecting Blog, do yourself a favor and check it out: