Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thank You

The recent spate of comments on a couple of my posts reminds me that I should thank all of you who have provided so much information and insight on the topics of this blog over the years. I have learned so much and really do appreciate each of you taking the time to share your knowledge. And a special thanks to Jim and Keijo for their own blogs.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Page Density for Popular Worldwide Albums

In preparing my 2012 New Year's Resolutions, I made the mistake of going back to relook at the ones I posted for 2011. I say mistake, because I am chagrined to admit that I only accomplished one of the three. In fact, I had forgotten about two of them! While I have changed my mind about the value of one of these, Joe's recent comment reminded me about the remaining resolution--to look at the density of stamps per page of the major worldwide albums. So here goes.

For printed albums, the maximum number of spaces is provided by those albums that don't give individual boxes for stamps, but rather rows and columns with lines separating the illustrations. This is a layout I associate with albums from H. E. Harris, although you can find plenty of examples back into the 19th century. The illustration shows a part of a page from the 1890 Scott Challenge Postage Stamp Album by way of example.

In the H E Harris Masterworks album for Europe that I still own for some unknown reason, the maximum number of stamps that "officially" can be housed on a page is 90: i.e., no country header and 10 rows of 9 columns for definitives. If you have a mix of small and large Classic era stamps, you might expect a page to hold between 50 and 70 stamps.

Next in maximizing the number of stamps per page is Minkus. The Master and Supreme Global albums, of course, provides boxes for individual stamps. The maximum number of stamps per page looks to be 9 rows of 9 stamps each or 81 spaces. But this is highly unusual as most pages have between 6-7, or less commonly, 8 rows and fewer than 9 stamps per row.

For the Scott Blue International Volume One, I didn't find any pages with more than 7 rows; 6 or 7 rows appeared to be the most common. Eight definitives was the maximum on a row, so this gives the theoretical maximum per page of 56 stamps.

For the Browns, I only browsed the 19th Century volume. It was the same as the Blue, maximum of 7 rows with 8 stamps per row. Most pages had fewer than 8 stamps per row. I remember that this was my biggest surprise when I first saw the Brown albums. I had just assumed there would be fewer stamps on a page than in the Blues.

From what I have seen of the Stanley Gibbons Ideal album pages, the maximum number of rows is 7 and the theoretical maximum of stamps per row is 7, giving us 49 total. Note that the page size of the Ideal is smaller than all but the Steiner.

Finally, the Steiner pages available from John checked Malta and came up with an average of 13.6 stamps per page. If I may quote his message: "Sets are together and will start on a new page if they don't fit on the previous page. Each set also has a brief description at the top of the set. The pages tend to have no more than five stamps on a row (definitives) and no more than 6 rows (most pages have 5 or less). Note that the Steiner pages are on letter size paper, a bit smaller than Big Blue." To use the same maximum calculation as above, this should mean no more than 5x6 or 30 stamps per page, about one third of the Harris albums and close to half of the density of the most packed Scott pages.

Obviously, all of this is quick and dirty, but it does give some idea of the differences between albums in terms of how many stamps you can house on a page (and, by extension, whether you need to clear off a shelf in your bookcase or build an addition to your home to house your collection).

Addendum: I randomly checked a number of Scott "Green" Specialty pages and it looks like the maximum density is 7 rows with 7 small stamps per row, or 49 spaces. (I trust everyone is in awe of my impressive multiplication skills. If only there were math checkers like there are spelling checkers.) Of course, most pages have fewer stamps. I believe the Specialty albums have the least dense layout of the Scott albums.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Stamp Image Bursting Software

Jason Drake is a software developer who created a program for his own use that takes an image of a group of stamps and automatically bursts--i.e., crops--them into individual images of each stamp that can be saved separately. When he discovered there was interest from other collectors in his program, Jason made it available via this link. It runs on Windows, Macintosh and Unix operating systems. The app is free although donations are appreciated.

I've been working with the software for about a week and have found it useful. The application works especially well with stamps housed on dark backgrounds, such as black stockbook pages. Unfortunately, white or cream color album pages can be problematic, although I have had some success.

Regardless, kudos to Jason for making this available and his willingness to incorporate suggestions from users. You can find a nice discussion about the program on the Stampboards website.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

SG Worldwide Albums. Part 2: Images

As the Ideal and Imperial albums are unfamiliar to most US based collectors, I thought it would be helpful to post some pictures. As indicated in Part 1, images of the Imperial album are not plentiful. However, a copy of the 1874 edition is available on Google Books. As a reminder, only the British Empire volumes are sold today.
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Image 1, from the Regency Stamps Website, shows the Imperial Album currently available for sale. Note on the left side of the pages are abbreviated Catalog listings for the stamps that are on the right. Incidentally, the image of the Imperial (and Ideal) album on the American distributor's site are much better than on the Stanley Gibbons website and light years better that the one SG uses on eBay.

Image 2. A closeup of what one of the Imperial's "catalog" pages looks like.

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Image 3. A page of Egypt from the Imperial.

Image 4. A page of Great Britain showing spaces for different Penny Red plates.


Image 5. An "ancient" picture from the Imperial's Local Posts volume.

Now on to the Ideal. As a reminder, only the Foreign (i.e., non-British Empire) volumes are available for purchase today.

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Image 6, from the Regency Stamps Website, shows the Ideal Album currently available for sale.

Image 7. Preface to the 8th edition of the Ideal.

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Image 8. Preface to the 2nd edition of the Ideal by which Stanley Gibbons means the 2nd edition after the 8th. Confused?

Image 9. A warning about not coloring outside the lines from the Index to the 2nd edition. Boy, Stanley Gibbons was really strict.


Image 10. The first page of Mauritius in the Ideal. Yes, there are, or rather, were two spaces for your copies of the "Post Office" Mauritius.

Image 11. A page of Bavaria from the Ideal.

I have several dozen images from the Ideal albums. Let me know if you are curious about a particular country and I'll see if I have any.

Part 3 of this series will compare the Ideal and Imperial with other worldwide albums.

ADDENDUM. I forgot to put in a couple of images from the Imperial Sectional album.


Image A1. Note the high section number. As I mentioned in Part 1, there were over a 100 different sections.

Image A2. A page for Bosnia. Has the same format as the main volume so I assume we are looking here at a page for "new issues." I also assume that there was a catalog on the facing page but I can't verify that.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

SG Worldwide Albums. Part 1: Overview

I've been curious about the Stanley Gibbons albums that can be used to collect worldwide classic stamps ever since Tim put me on to them. What SG offers today in that regard is a combination of two different sets: the New Imperial Album for British Empire and the New Ideal Album for Foreign Stamps. Both sets stop with the end of King George V's reign (mid-1936) although the Imperial is more comprehensive than the Ideal for the countries it covers. Both contain more stamps than the current Scott International does for the same time span which is why I think they deserve investigation.

Unfortunately, I've found even less information on the Internet about the SG albums than I did on the Scott Internationals. This is partly because there are far fewer of these albums offered on eBay than the Scott Internationals. Moreover, I've never seen in person an Imperial album and only the pages for a dozen or so countries cut from an Ideal. But that's not going to stop me even though I must warn you in advance that there will be a lot of hemming and hawing. Addenda and corrigenda welcomed, as "they" say.

When you purchase the current Imperial or Ideal albums, you are buying only a subset of their original scope. That is, both albums initially covered the entire world with the Imperial being the more comprehensive of the two. What has happened over the years is that the parts of the Imperial album that were non-British Empire are no longer published. Similarly, the part of the Ideal volume that was devoted to the British Empire is no more, which is why you need both sets to cover the world according to Philately.

The Imperial album began in 1873 and I'm reasonably certain that it was still worldwide as late as the 9th edition which appeared around the turn of the last century. It is possible that the last worldwide edition was The Imperial Postage Stamp Album 10th edition for Issues to 1902. It and perhaps the 9th edition were supplemented by something called the Sectional Imperial Album. I can't decide whether the Sectional was sold by country or by year and whether it was intended to replace the non-sectional Imperial. In any event, it looks like the Sectional was discontinued around World War I. (There is a list of stamp albums in the British Library and the listings for the Sectional number a hundred or so entries between 1908 to 1919; unfortunately, there is no indication online as to what is in each section.)

The Imperial postage stamp album at its greatest extent consisted of four volumes:

Volume I, The postage stamps of the British Empire;
Volume II, The Postage Stamps of Foreign Countries;
Volume III, The local postage stamps of the world; and
Volume IV, Envelopes, wrappers, &c. of the world.

All? of the above were edited by Gordon Smith, MA (1856–1905), a director at Stanley Gibbons and a well known philatelist of the era. The volumes contained 4500 engravings and a comprehensive catalogue, as well as a series of the national arms of various countries. The spaces for stamps were on the recto sides of pages; on the opposite pages (i.e., the versos) were abbreviated catalog listings which I find a very interesting idea.

The Imperial has always been sold fastbound--i.e, you can't add or rearrange pages. One impact of this was that SG had to struggle with the problem this created for collectors using its earlier albums who would have to remount stamps when a completely new edition was published. SG originally tried to deal with this through supplemental volumes by date and later through the Sectional Imperial Album. It is a non-issue now that the album is frozen in time.

At some point, volumes 2 through 4 of the Imperial were dropped by SG leaving only the volume for the British Empire available for purchase. This remaining Imperial volume is still published today, and is according to the SG, "great for a straightforward Empire collection and includes spaces for changes of colour and watermark as well as postage dues and officials, special delivery stamps and visible plate numbers on GB stamps. Perforated, removable pages in the album allow for expansion without distortion, as your collection grows." I say "volume," but because the pages are printed on one side only, what originally took one volume now requires two with interleaving or four if the pages are printed on one side only. The two volume version splits with Volume 1 covering Great Britain and Antigua to Malta and Volume 2 for Mauritius to Zululand. I don't know how the four volume version divides.

So much for the Imperial. For the rest of the world, you need the Ideal album. The Ideal was first published around 1900 and contained then about 600 pages. According to SG, the aim of the album was to "give collectors a one-volume album with printed spaces for the whole world at a popular price." They accomplished this by confining the album to "ordinary postage stamps," and excluding Postage Dues, "Officials," etc. Note that this is why the Imperial is more comprehensive for the countries it covers because it includes Postage Dues, "Officials," etc.

By 1922 the Ideal album was in its 7th edition and had expanded into two volumes, the first for stamps issued from 1840-1914 and the second for issues after 1914. By 1933, a third volume was published 1930-1933 issues. At this point the Ideal had grown to 1424 pages for the foreign countries alone. Recognizing that the rate of new issues was only going to increase, SG decided in 1937 to stop the main volumes at mid-1936 and divided the album into two sections. Section 1 was devoted to the British Empire. Section 2 was Foreign Countries. It was at this point that the name was changed from Ideal to the New Ideal.

In addition to freezing the end dates, according to an advertisement, "Countries such as the Old Australian States and India Native States have been cut down where too much space was provided, and the space so gained has been used for the stamps of various colonies with Multiple Crown CA watermark, which previously were not distinguished from the issues on Single C Paper."

At its greatest extent, the Ideal was comprised of 3 volumes and contained spaces for almost 50,000 stamps:

Vol 1. British Empire with Egypt and Iraq. Spaces for over 11,000 stamps;
Vol 2. Foreign Countries Abyssinia to Jugoslavia. Spaces for over 18,500 stamps;
Vol 3. Kiautschou to Zanzibar. Spaces for over 19,250 stamps.

According to a contemporaneous SG Catalogue, the New Ideal was "designed for moderate collectors--neither beginner nor specialist, but just sufficiently advanced to be no longer content with sticking stamps in nameless squares." SG intended to publish "new issue" albums for later years but I do not know whether it did so. I do know that at some point after 1936, SG decided to drop the British Empire Volume 1 leaving only the volumes for foreign countries in print.

Clearly, what to do about the Ideal/New Ideal album vexed SG. In an article on "Our Publications Programme" in the SG Stamp Monthly for April 1947 (no. 8), one reads "Increasing costs and the large amount of paper required, makes us wonder whether we should be able to republish this album (i.e., the New Ideal), in its old form. Possibly we might do smaller albums for groups of the more popular foreign countries in this simplified form. We should be glad to hear our readers' views on this."

As with the Imperial, the Ideal was only sold fastbound. It was originally published with facing pages separated by tissue interleaving in 6 volumes as well as without interleaving in 3. Today what were Volumes 2 and 3 are printed on front pages only. While this means that the interleaving is no longer required, the set now occupies three voumes.

This ends Part 1 of my look at the Imperial and the Ideal. Part 2 will consist of images from these albums. Finally, Part 3 will compare coverage of some of the countries in the Ideal Album with the Scott Blue and Brown Internationals and similar albums.


"Stamp Albums in the Printed Book Collections of the British Library" by David R Beech, FRPSL

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blue Collectors are Singing the Blues Today

Jim, who authors the "Big Blue 1840-1940 Blog," has decided to discontinue his checklists for the Scott Blue International Volume 1 as he is migrating his collection to Bill Steiner's comprehensive Classic-era pages. Fortunately, Jim "will continue to do a country by country analysis of the classical era." I'm particularly keen to read the comparisons he intends to do of the coverage of the Steiner pages versus the Scott Classic Catalogue. And, I'm also interested in the logistics of using the Steiner pages. Does it work well, in practice, to print pages only as you have stamps to put on them? Just how many binders does it take to hold the 6814 Steiner pages? How many individual stamps in Steiner are worth more than all the stamps in the Blue? Inquiring minds want to know!

Monday, November 14, 2011

International Blue-per #8: An Overpriced Overprint of Mauritius

I haven't been making posts on random problems in the Volume One because Jim is doing a comprehensive country-by-country analysis, but I couldn't resist commenting on an errant overprint from Mauritius that I came across the other day. As shown in the illustration, the current Blue has spaces for three overprinted stamps issued in 1891-92. So if we go to the Scott Classic Catalogue to lookup the numbers, the first stamp is Scott 89, 70¢ used; no problem there. The second is #90, $1.50 unused, again, straight forward. I'm preparing to pencil in 91 for the third stamp, but no, 91 belongs to the first of the Coats of Arms set from 1895. As I stare more closely at the album cut, I'm not even certain what I'm looking at and have to fetch the scanner to enlarge the illustration enough to identify. And the winner is not the reasonable choices of #86 or 87 from 1891 which catalog $4.50 and $3.25 respectively, but Scott #85 (SG 119) which is worth $110.00 according to my 2007 catalog.

OK, such an unnecessarily expensive stamp is irritating but there is precedent elsewhere in the album. But still curious, I dutifully haul out my trusty dusty first edition of the Blue to verify that #85 had been in the album from the very beginning. But it wasn't. In the first edition, the first two stamps are the same but the third stamp is #86 ($4.50). So what happened? Perhaps in redesigning the page at some point before 1947, the cut for #86 was lost/damaged, and the editor in a panic substituted the much more expensive #85. Perhaps the editor intended to keep the same stamp but mistakenly picked the wrong cut. Or perhaps the editor just thought it would be a fun joke to play on collectors. Unlike some of Scott's "jokes," at least you can find this one without much trouble for around $50-$60.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's New in the 2012 Edition of the Scott Classic Catalogue

The 2012 edition of the Scott Classic is being released this month and Donna Houseman, Associate Editor, gives us details in the 21 November edition of Linn's about what is new. The superiority of coverage between the Classic and Standard catalogs continues to widen--the Classic this year has 600 additional stamps not in the Standard. There are over 44,000 price changes, 12,500 for items that are only in the Classic Catalogue. A substantial number of price changes fall in three areas: 3,500 for the German States, 1000 for the Italian Offices Abroad and Aegean Islands, and almost 500 for Australia. Among the new additions to the Classic are Brazil's semiofficial airmails, which include some issued for Graf Zeppelin flights. Other countries singled out in the article for improved coverage include Denmark (Scott #2), Epirus, Fiume, and Shanghai. There are 1312 pages in the 2012 edition, compared to 1240 page in the 2011, and 877 pages in the 1995 first edition. Keep the improvements coming, Charles Snee et al, and don't forget we are waiting for the iPad version.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vintage Reproductions Collection for Sale on eBay

If you watch collections for sale on eBay, certain trends become apparent. For one, the great majority of the Volume One Blue Internationals for sale are albums printed in 1947 or before. There are sometimes collections housed in the 1955 and 1965 editions, but anything later is uncommon. For the Brown Internationals, the 19th Century volume is the one you are most likely to see, followed by 1900-1920 and 1920-1929. The volumes for the 1930s are comparatively rare, especially the last one with pages into 1938.

Also rare are unused volumes from the Vintage Reproductions copies of the Brown Internationals, although you do see them on occasion. But, I believe for the first time since I've been monitoring the International series on eBay, there is a complete (?) set of the Vintage Reproductions up for auction that were actually used to house a working collection. The set is being offered as 9 separate volumes by seller nystamps with the title "Pre-1940 Stamp Collection Scott Album...." This actually is a quite informative title from this seller as usually their International albums have titles along the lines of "Old Worldwide British German Italy Stamp Collection." If I could figure out how to stuff this collection into 3 binders (the maximum I am prepared cope with), I might even bid!

UPDATE: The albums sold for $2348.79, apparently all to the same bidder (not me!).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How Many Stamps Could a Stamp Collector Collect If....

I did a count awhile back of the number of stamps issued between 1840-1940 according to Scott, but I note that two other collectors are investigating this earth shattering question. Keijo has just updated the worldwide count on his blog. He uses the Michel catalog but inexplicably continues past 1940 to the present day (do people collect stamps issued after 1940?). Click here to read his fascinating post which also includes a breakdown by stamp type and other criteria. Also, on the Stamp Community Forum there has been a nice thread about Scott International Albums. One of the posters, Philatelic Pfool, is doing two separate counts: stamps issued through 1940 and those from 1941-1952. He's up to the letter I. If you want to see what is required to house all these stamps, Floortrader, another contributor to that thread, has posted a photo of his stamp albums (Steiner pages in Scott Blue Binders). Wow!

UPDATE 10/31/2011: Philatelic Pfool just finished his count using the 2006 Scott Catalog. The results: 1840-1940 total of 83,589 stamps and 1941-1952, 31,499 stamps. You can find a more detailed breakdown and interesting discussion here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Evolution of the Scott Classic Catalogue Part 3

Continuing on from Part 2:

2004 (tenth edition).
The color imaging was now within a few percentage points of completion, with dozens of firms and individuals contributing stamps for scanning (including upgrading the quality of some previous images). More than 1750 major and minor listings were added, including 95 forerunners for Aden, additions to Lombardy-Venetia and Austrian Offices in the Turkish Empire used in Albania, 330 Albanian forerunners, 40 Great Britain stamps used in Ecuador, Portugal stamps used in Funchal, and 288 major varieties of France used in Monaco. Listings for several countries were expanded to distinguish paper and perforation varieties as well as new shade varieties. One thinks that not that much needed to be done with major countries, but Great Britain, for example, had 93 new minor numbers. Cover listings were added for ten countries not previously included. Tannu Tuva collectors were particularly well served with not only 72 minor varieties but also 103 major number. most notably for the 1934-43 issues which have never appeared in a Scott catalog. And throughout the catalog were new explanatory footnotes.

2005 (eleventh edition). A new coated paper was used for this edition and unspecified "more perfected printing techniques." There were some 75,000 value changes and 1600 stamps were newly listed. More than 600 forerunner and special use stamps were added with the most in Great Britain stamps used abroad. The editor noted that the collectors of GB forerunners emphasize clear, readily identifiable cancels as many of the stamps themselves are "notoriously poorly centered…Because of this, it is not uncommon to find that values for British stamps used in the United Kingdom are substantially higher than for the same stamps used abroad, although the latter are much scarcer." Among non-UK forerunner, there were additional listings from Austria, Lombardy-Venetia, and Crete. The British Commonwealth, France and colonies, Portugal, Egypt and Mexico. Egyptian Suez Canal Company issues appear for the first time. One usually doesn't think there would be major numbered regular issues or commemoratives from the Classic period still to be added, but this edition included for the first time the 1938 Submarine issues from Spain (#605A-605G) which had been previously excluded because of their philatelic nature.

2006 (twelfth edition). More than 75,000 value changes were recorded, many of which were for listings (such as covers) that do not appear in the "regular" Scott catalogs. Several hundred new minor listings were added for a variety of countries plus a handful of major numbers for countries such as St. Christopher. The Western Ukraine was thoroughly reorganized and revalued. Eritrea now included cover listings. The image-scanning project neared 99% completion with this edition.

2007 (thirteenth edition). This was the first edition to include the 1920-1928 Colombia SCADTA Consular overprints (which did not appear in the Scott US Specialized Catalog until 2012). As usual there were hundreds of minor varieties as well as a few major numbers added for countries throughout the catalog. For example, Victoria had 50 new minor numbers and there were almost as many for Sudan.

2008 (fourteenth edition). In addition to the many valuation changes that first appeared in the standard Scott catalogs, there were 12,000 changes for issues that are found only in the Classics Catalog! In addition, there were more than a thousand new numbered items in the 2008 edition. Several French areas countries received significant attention, as did Hungary and British colonies. In a number of places, items that had been mentioned only in footnotes (such as some of the French Peace and Commerce keytype stames for its colonies) now have their own numbers. French Guiana, Fiume, Hong Kong, Hungary, Dungarpur, Morocco, and Czechoslovka's Legion Post in Siberia also received attention.

2009 (fifteenth edition). This edition won a gold medal in the APS's literature competition. There were over 26,000 value changes for stamps that are only listed in the Classics Catalogue--double the number from the previous year. The main reason for the number of increases was the weak US dollar. Austria boasted the largest number of increases in valuation. Editorial enhancements added 23 pages to this edition, including first time listings for the Canadian Semi-Official Air Post stamps and the forerunners for Puerto Rico. Eight new countries received cover listings. New major numbers were added for Afghanistan, Queensland, Rhodesia and Tasmania plus many new minor numbers including some for the US.

2010 (sixteenth edition). The scanning project has evolved from its goal of simply including an image of the stamp to concentrating on images of VF condition stamps and paying more attention to color accuracy. There were also new images for surcharged and overprinted stamps. Coverage for British stamps used abroad, including pre-stamp markings, was improved and two new Indian Feudatory States joined the catalog. Additional French Railway Parcel Post stamps were added as was some additional detail for French Colonies such as Memel. All in all, there were some 2,300 new numbered listings, far more than in any previous edition. Countries with new numbers included Cilicia, Belgian Congo, Ruandi-Urundi, Fiume, Hungary, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Sweden.

2011 (seventeenth edition).
The 17th edition sold out in the first 6 months. There were more than 10,000 Classics catalog-only valuation changes. Among the nearly 1,000 new numbered listings in 2011 was Greece 47g, the 20 lepta ultramarine Hermes head from 1875 with its control number both inverted and on the front, catalog value $210,000. While most of the other additions to this edition were minor Scott numbers, there were 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.

2012 (eighteenth edition). To be released in November 2011.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

APS Circuits

I started receiving APS Circuit books in May 2010. While I always knew I would eventually want to do this, the immediate motivation was the scarcity of large worldwide albums on eBay, a situation that has gotten even worse this year. (The albums housing even ten thousand stamps are few, and the only larger albums I've seen lately have borne ridiculously high price tags--there is one now on eBay with an ask price of $29,999 which might have 15,000 stamps, probably fewer.)

Now after examining some 300 sales books, I thought it was appropriate to report whether these are a useful way for the Volume One collector to build his or her collection. (I originally posted some of this on

In case you aren't familiar with the circuits, the American Philatelic Society operates a Sales Division for its members which, according to the APS website, circulates some 42,000 sales books with close to $2 million in sales each year. A typical sales book contains 16 pages with 12 spaces per page. Members of the APS purchase blank sales books in which to mount the stamps they wish to sell. Cost of each stamp is set by the individual seller and can range from a few pennies to a $1,000. The APS encourages sellers to price their stamps reasonably for quick sale (but see below!).

The stamps mounted in each book are supposed to correspond to one of 165 or so categories, categories being countries, areas, or topicals. The greatest specialization is, of course, within U.S. stamps: for example, there are separate circuits for U.S. General, U.S. Fancy Cancels, U.S. Revenues, etc. Because of the popularity of the British Empire, there are also a fair amount of categories here, such as British Atlantic Islands and Australia States. In addition to individual countries, there are also more generic categories, such as Southeast Asia and Southern Europe.

APS members who wish to buy inform the Society which categories they wish to receive. The APS keeps track of who wants what and assembles circuits of ten or so books from different sellers which are sent round robin to up to 10 members who live in roughly the same geographical region. Each member has one week to decide what they want before forwarding the circuit to the next member on the list. Once the last person on the circuit returns the books to the APS mothership, another circuit is sent out and the process starts all over again.

So, to begin with, are there any categories specifically tailored to 1840-1940 collectors? Yes, a few: US 19th Century, British Empire-Victorian Era, British Pre-Elizabethan, Great Britain 19th Century, Europe (1840-1940), France 19th-Century, Germany Pre-1945, and Global (1840-1940). But, of course, there are many other single country and area choices that will contain stamps from the first 100 years of philately.

Because I collect the world 1840-1940, there are far more circuits of potential interest than I can cope with. So I tend to subscribe to some circuits for a year or two and then switch to something else for awhile. So far, at least, the APS staff have been very accommodating.

I have received 31 circuits in the past 15 months or 300+ individual books. From these I've purchased a total of 857 stamps at a cost of $692.88 which works out to about 81 cents a stamp. What is missing, of course, is how that compares to the catalog value. The majority of what I am currently buying are inexpensive stamps, i.e., under $5, and these probably average out to 40% of Scott catalog. (It usually works out a little better than this as the seller may be using a Scott catalog that is a couple of years old.)

But I have bought some more expensive stamps--perhaps a hundred--and these have typically been at a fraction of catalog value because of defects invisible from the front, usually small thins or, my favorite, "no gum, priced as used." I only kept a record of the catalog value of the first four circuits I received, but these worked out to almost $600 catalog value for a little over $100 or 17%.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of the circuits (the fact that there are more disadvantages doesn't mean I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages--the opposite is the case):

--Prices are generally pretty good, certainly better than most dealer's prices for individual stamps. Fine to Very Fine appearing expensive stamps with defects invisible from the front can be real bargains.

--You can verify the condition of stamps on the spot.

--Most stamps are priced individually allowing one to fill in short sets (although, of course, you will find complete sets offered which are either bargains or frustrations depending upon whether you already own some of the stamps).

--You can drool at your leisure over rare or expensive stamps that you might not otherwise see in person, even if you can't afford to buy them.


--If you subscribe to many circuits, especially those that have only a few other members on the circuit, you will simultaneously receive multiple mailings on occasion. My record is 5 within 3 weeks. Contrarily, the more popular the circuit, the longer it takes to make the rounds. I tend to receive circuits more often as there are only 4 or 5 of us on several of my circuits. By the way, if you know you are going on vacation, the APS can arrange for you to be skipped.

--Because I receive a lot of "general" circuits with multiple countries, I too often encounter sellers who make little effort to mount countries in alphabetical order or stamps within a country in order by catalog number. For a worldwide collector, this can be really irritating and I've cancelled two circuits that just were more trouble than they were worth. I don't mean this to be a tirade against a few mistakes but I saw one book where literally every page was random.

--It typically costs $5-$7 to mail circuits to the next recipient plus a 5% buyer fee. I still think I come out ahead as I would in any case be paying postage and perhaps tax when purchasing a similar quantity of stamps by other means.

--While most sellers price their stamps at no more than 50% or so of catalog, you will find a few books priced at less and sometimes rather more. You have to wonder why the latter bothered to take the time.

The APS has started sending a single mailing of selected circuits to members. I have requested these on a couple of occasions for countries that I don't normally see in my other circuits. So if you are "on the fence," watch the APS Journal for what is available. The APS has also started offering the possibility of purchasing complete "clearance" books, but I haven't tried this yet.

For more expensive stamps that look to be a bargain, I suggest checking out the same stamps in the APS store. For example, I was considering buying one of the Cape of Good Hope triangles recently from a sales book only to find a slightly better copy of the same stamp for $10 less on the APS store site.

The bottom line is I really think this is one of the best services offered by the APS.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Cheatsheet for Problematic Classic Era Stamps

The American Philatelic Society has a handy-dandy overview of countries whose stamps are frequently misidentified, forged, reprinted, etc., as part of its advice to sellers using their circuit books. I've known about the document for a while, and have been meaning to post a link to this three page pdf.

A few examples:

Australia, 1-76, 113-129, Misidentifications, because watermarks are not noted.

Bolivia, 1–59, Forgeries and fake overprints (40–46 oval cancels with heavy bars are suspect).

United States, Washington/Franklins, Misidentifications, perf. alterations, and regumming.

While a lot of the document is too general to be of much use by itself (for example, watch out for forgeries on the early issues of Trinidad), I still think the list is worth checking out by other general collectors.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Evolution of the Scott Classic Catalogue Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1:

2000 (sixth edition). Another 45 countries received cover listings for the first time bringing the total to 131 countries. Some other countries with cover listings in earlier editions were expanded, such as Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, Luxembourg, Monaco, Philippines and Spain. Eleven countries received listings for bisects. Canada gained 14 additional pages, largely because of the O.H.M.S. Officials, but also plate blocks, coil pairs, line pairs, and paste-up pairs, not to mention die types, etc. First or early issues of many countries received extra attention in this edition. Many of these are what could be termed Forerunners, such as those of Angra, Ascension, Cayman Islands, Cyprus and Egypt, Horta, Kiauchau, Madeira and Porta Delgada, New Zealand, Seychelles, and Strait Settlements. Fifty-five countries were given new minor listings for shades which, Scott notes, "usually reflect[s] new printings of definitive stamps."

2001 (seventh edition). The seventh edition boasted 46 more pages than the sixth. Australia and its North West Pacific Islands were one of the principal beneficiaries, both with expanded coverage of the Roos and the Perf OS Officials of Australia. In Europe, the France Occupation Stamps were beefed up and a page was added for the Balloon Montes covers. Danzig, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Netherlands also received attention. (I like the phrase that Mr. Morrissey used to describe the nearly doubling of coverage for Danzig, terming it "one of the liveliest 'dead' countries.") Germany, very much alive and issuing, received 1/3 more coverage. Fourteen countries had cover listings for the first time. Postage dues on covers were added for seven countries, and eight countries received more listings. Continuing with the addition of forerunner issues that began in 2000 were listings for "the stamps of a parent, or other country, used in a colony or other country," e.g., the stamps of Great Britain used in Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.

2002 (eighth edition). This edition was the first with James E Koetzel writing the "Letter from the Editor." There were new or reinstated major numbers for Barbados, Bermuda, Egypt, and Somaliland Protectorate. There were additional Forerunner listings for Bangkok, British East Africa, Brunei, Cape Verdi, and South Africa. Twenty-two countries had either expanded listings or joined the Catalogue for the first time. This brought the total of countries with cover listings to more than 150. There were new valuations for never hinged stamps for 16 countries plus listings for multiples for 18 countries. Specimen stamps are included for 13 countries. There were more listings for plate and printing varieties plus many minor listings for color shades, overprint/surcharge varieties, etc. Perhaps most noticeable was the additional of high quality digitally scanned images replacing the velox prints used in earlier catalogs. These scans were from the stamps kindly loaned to Scott by an unnamed Ohio collector who we now know was Dr. Hsien-ming Meng.

2003 (ninth edition). With this edition, the percentage of color stamp images hits the ninety percent mark. More than 2300 new basic listings were added to the Catalogue, including massive new coverage of the China Treaty Ports. Coverage for the Ukraine was "revamped and expanded," including all of the early issues. World War I Occupation issues for the British Operations in German East Africa were added. Coverage for Saar was, in Kloetzel's words, "dramatically expanded," to the tune of 201 varieties. This was the first year in a multi-year project to expand Portuguese Colonies including more than a 100 new varieties. More forerunner stamps, 246 in all, were added. I should note that some (all?) of the Classic Catalogues have an Additions, Deltions and Changes page which drills down to specifics even more than the editor's letters.

To be continued....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The First Edition of the Scott International Junior

I recently purchased a copy of the first edition of the Blue for dirt cheap because it was missing around 10% of its pages. Still, I thought it would be interesting to do some comparisons to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

As a reminder, the first edition of the Blue was published in 1914. The latest stamps I saw were from the 1913 but not even through the end of that year.

First thing you notice is how much thinner the original edition was than today's Volume 1, even allowing for the missing pages in my copy. I can see that this album wouldn't have appeared terribly daunting to a beginning collector, "Hey, this is something I can fill up!"

A surprise was that the maps in the front are the same color maps with Alphonse Mucha styled titles found in the Browns. Another surprise was that many countries did not have spaces for flags, rulers or arms. I say surprise because the title page brags that these are present for all countries, and, in fact, there is a tipped in advertisement selling the labels for a buck.

Those of us with earlier editions of the Blue before 1997 regularly complain about the order the countries appear and it was interesting to note that originally the album was largely in alphabetical order. Unlike the Browns, not completely, because Scott would try to cram two or three countries on a page when there were only a few rows of stamps involved.

The illustrated cuts match up well between the 1914 and the current editions. As a general rule, I would say that there are more spaces with descriptions in the later editions and consequently more blank spaces in the 1914.

As you will see below, there are many cases where there are more stamps in the 1914 edition than on the equivalent pages in the 1943/47 editions, the most comprehensive of the Blue Volume Ones. There are a few exceptions, and these are generally for popular countries, such as Canada, where the later editions added some more expensive stamps that had originally been omitted.

Because of the pages missing from my copy of the 1914, I didn't do a lot of comparisons between the 1943/47 edition (referred to as '43 below) and the 1914, but here are some notes:
--US: my copy of the 1914 is missing most of the US pages but I see that, as in the Brown albums, Scott has placed the US envelopes, Revenues, and Telegraph stamps at the back of the album. These had moved up to the front by the '43/47 edition but the Revenues and Telegraph stamps have now been dropped from the Blue.
--US Confederate States: 8 spaces in the 1914 vs 7 in '43.
--Abyssinia: the 1914 has a row for the 1901-05 stamps missing in the '43 plus 3 additional stamps for 1909.
--Afghanistan: the 1914 allotted half a blank page (unlike the Brown which had a full blank page; early Afghanistan obviously flummoxed both the Blue and Brown editors).
--Albania: missing from the 1914 as its first stamps were't issued until December 1913.
--Angra: 13 spaces in 1914 vs 7 in '43.
--Anjoun: 8 spaces in 1914 vs 3 in '43.
--Annam & Tonkin: in 1914, missing in '43.
--Antigua: 17 spaces in 1914 vs 11 in '43.
--Austria: 41 spaces on the 1914's first page vs 38 in the '43; 1914 includes the Austrian Offices in Liechtenstein missing in the '43.
--Austria Lombardy-Venetia: 11 spaces in 1914 vs 7 in the '43.
--Azores: 1914 has 16 nineteenth century stamps that are missing the the '43. This is one of my pet peeves about the Blue: many inexpensive earlier stamps for Portuguese Colonies are missing from some colonies but not all. Also the '43 is missing Newspaper stamps present in the 1914.
--Baden: 18 spaces in the 1914 vs 7 in the '43. You may remember than in the earlier editions of the Blue, Baden, Bergdorf, Bremen and Brunswick (sounds like a law firm!) were all on the same page. In the 1914 edition, Brunswick had its own page.
--Bolivia: 59 stamps in 1914 vs 48 in '43.
--British Guiana: 35 stamps in 1914 vs 14 in the '43, the biggest percentage loss I saw between the 1914 and the '43.
--Canada: unusually, the 1914 edition only has spaces for 5 of the earliest stamps (i.e., through the Large Queens) compared to 11 in the '43.
--Cape Verde Islands: 58 spaces in 1914 vs. 35 in '43.
--China: the 1914 has a blank page for Issues of the Treaty Ports.

So, bottom line, if the state of coverage found in the first edition could have been maintained, the current Blue Volume 1 would be an improved album.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Evolution of the Scott Classic Catalogue Part 1

With the release of the 2012 Scott Classic Catalogue approaching (November), I thought it might be interesting to look at the evolution of the catalog from the 1995 first edition through the 2011 edition. As Scott has striven to improve the catalog annually, this is going to occupy some space and consequently I will be posting the overview in multiple parts. Even so, I'm leaving out smaller details and you are welcome to ask for me to check to see if there is additional information.

Unless otherwise stated, all of the information is extracted from the Editor/Publisher pages that appeared at the front of each catalog. From 1995 to 2001, the author of the "Letter" was the publisher Stuart Morrissey; from 2006 through 2011 it was the editor, James E. Kloetzel.

1995 (first edition). The Scott Classics Catalog began in 1995 and the first publisher's letter documents its genesis: Gerald Bodily, a specialist British Empire Collector, was talking to Scott Publishing Company Executive Stuart Morrisey at Philanippon, the International Stamp show held that year in Tokyo. He suggested that a catalog containing only older stamps would be very useful. My understanding is that this first edition was a repackaging of the information in the regular catalogs. Sergio and Liane Sismondo of the Classic Collector lent the stamps for the cover of the first edition and would be increasingly involved with future editions.

1996 (second edition). Even this early Scott was already planning improvements, as it would continue to make every year. To begin with, the work was renamed the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps & Covers. The improved listings for the 1996 edition centered around 19th century cover listings, a popular specialty for Classics collectors. These included coverage for the United States and Possessions; Confederate States; Canada and Provinces; France; German States; Germany, including Offices Abroad and Colonies; Great Britain, including Offices in Morocco and the Turkish Empire; Italian States; Italy and Offices Abroad; Eritrea; San Marino; and Lombardy-Venetia. If there were changes in the 1996 listings for off-cover stamps beyond price changes, they weren't indicated.

1997 (third edition). Additional listings for covers were added for the following countries: Austria, Belgian Congo, Belgium, Brazil, France, German Colonies, German States, Germany, Germany Offices Abroad, Italian Colonies, Italian States, Italy, Italian Offices Abroad, Portugal, Portuguese Colonies, Spain, and Switzerland. 1997 was also the year that Scott switched to pricing both on- and off-cover stamps in very fine condition

1998 (fourth edition). With the 1998 edition came a surprise: coverage for British Commonwealth countries extended through the end of the reign of King George VI--i.e., 1952. Coverage of covers continued to expand with 13 additional countries appearing for the first time: Argentina (Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Corrientes), Cuba, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Iceland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Sweden. With this edition, we started to see listings for off-cover stamps that went beyond what was in the regular catalog and appear only here. The examples cited in the Letter were Forerunner cancellations (Antigua), Shade varieties, Paper varieties, Separate listings for die types, retouches, inverted frames, quality of impression, Expanded explanatory footnotes, Overprint and surcharge varieties, Printing varieties, and Bisect/trisect cover listings.

1999 (fifth edition). There were now nearly 100 countries with cover listings, including for the first time French Colonies, Greece, Malta, and Somalia. Speaking of covers, there were new listings for bisects and/or quadrisects (no trisects?) for five countries. With this edition, Scott adopts for the first time the concept of "full margins" developed by Edwin Mueller in his Catalog of the Imperforate Classic Postal Stamps of Europe. That is, "a measurement of one half the average distance between stamps in their settings on the plate both horizontally and vertically is given for all the countries…" For example, with France Scott #1-9, full margins equals 3/4mm. This edition added British Crowned Circle postmarks on covers for more than twenty British America colonies. New grading standards were adopted for the rouletted stamps of classic Finland and Ireland. For the first time the "Letter from the Publisher" drills down to mentioning major varieties for individual stamps. (I won't go into most of these in my posts, but if anyone is curious, please ask.) A number of stamps were added representing perforation varieties, shades, surcharge and overprint varieties.

To be continued....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pick the Cover for the 2012 Scott Classic Catalogue

It's another year and another opportunity for me not to win the "pick the cover" contest Amos has been sponsoring since 2010. According to the July 2011 special monthly issue of Linn's, the three choices this year are "the 1932 Australia 5/- Sydney Harbor Bridge stamp (Scott 132), the 1929 Canadian 12¢ Quebec Bridge stamp (156), and the 1932 French Andorra 10-centime Bridge of St. Anthony stamp (27). To enter the contest, follow this link, but with the understanding, of course, that if you win, you'll let me have your prize :). This year as an added enticement, the winner's Catalog will be autographed by the Scott Editorial Staff.

Unlike previous years, all three stamps already grace my Blue so perhaps this is a good omen!

UPDATE: The winner was announced in the 17 October 2011 Linn's, the Australia Sydney Harbor Bridge stamp.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Big Blue Checklist

I've been faithfully following Jim's progress on documenting the stamps in the Blue. I can't emphasize enough how helpful his blog is. Even if you don't plan to use the checklists, his blog is worth reading not only for his comments about the stamps of the individual countries, but also for his more overreaching posts on topics such as the most expensive stamps in the album.

I use Jim's blog for two purposes beyond learning more about the countries and stamps in the Big Blue: 1) notating those stamps I own or need on a copy of his checklist I've printed; and 2) using his checklists to pencil into my album the catalog numbers for stamps I still need.

I've played around with a couple of ways of printing his information to use as a checklist. I finally settled on putting the information into a MS Word document, 3 columns, using the Arial Narrow 10.5 pt font. What I was trying to do is to find a compromise format that would reduce the total number of pages to as few as possible but would still be easily readable and allow room for notes, such as the specific catalog number of the stamp in my album if there is more than one choice, or a reminder I need to return and carefully check such and such a stamp to make certain I've got the one in my album identified correctly. I also note if I own the stamp but need to replace with a better copy.

What I recommend if you are experimenting with your own formatting is not to chose one that obscures Jim's arrangement of stamps by the row they occur. That is, most of the time Jim's checklist makes clear which stamps are on a particular row in the album. I've found this very helpful in efficiently penciling in the catalog numbers for the stamps I don't own yet directly in the album.

I've also experimented with how to mark which stamps I own and which I need. After a couple of trials, I settled on marking X's through those I have and circling the numbers for those stamps I still need. When I acquire one of the circled stamps, I put an X through it. I had originally started by circling the stamps I owned and leaving the ones needed without any marking, but I was having trouble spotting the lacuna among all of Jim's helpful verbiage. Of course, your mileage may vary. I know that many collectors would want to be more thorough, indicating if their stamps were used or unused, and perhaps other details.

In addition to the penciling in the catalog numbers of missing stamps, I also make a note of the catalog value for stamps over $20 or so as a way of helping me watch out for these in collections for sale on eBay.

So to conclude, I can only hope Jim is not reading this because I need him to devote all his time to the checklist :)

UPDATE: I played around with bolding the Scott numbers so that they would stand out more and I think this worked nicely; eliminates the need for circling the stamps I still need. Although not necessary, I also underlined the year/description headings while I was at it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dansco Binders

I think of Dansco as a producer of coin albums, but a couple of current eBay auctions reminds me that they also sold stamp-related materials. According to Thomas Moll's Guide to Vintage Coin Folders and Albums (and why hasn't someone written a similar guide for stamp albums, he asks innocently?), Dansco stands for the Daniel Stamp Company now of Venice, California. It was started in 1937 and was still making stamp supplies until at least the 1970s.

In any event, on eBay are two separate listings with binders labeled "Dansco International Junior Stamp Album." I say binders because the contents are still the Scott Blue pages with no mention of Dansco on the title pages. From the photos, Dansco at least made binders for Volumes 1 and 2. I assume there wasn't any particular arrangement with Scott Publishing. Dansco was simply manufacturing a cheaper alternative to the Scott-branded binders, much as G&K does today with its line of binders, blank pages and other accessories for the International.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stamp Wallpaper

I know that this is off-topic, but I'm sure we are all familiar with the story about the beginnings of stamp collecting, specifically the London lady who in the early 1840's took a classified ad in the London Times for stamps to paper her dressing room:

"POSTAGE STAMPS.--A young lady, being desirous of covering her dressing room with cancelled POSTAGE STAMPS, has been so far encouraged in her wish by private friends as to have succeeded in collecting 16,000: these, however, being insufficient, she will be greatly obliged if any good natured person who may have these (otherwise useless) little articles at their disposal would assist her in her whimsical project. Address to E. D., Mr. Butt's, glover, Leadenhall street: or Mr. Marshall's, jeweler. Hackney." (If you want to read more about this, there is a thread on StampChat.)

I was reminded of this from a recent thread on the Stamp Community forum concerning a British company's line of wallpaper which includes several stamp designs. So if you are thinking about refurbishing your stamp den, this might be the look you are after.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Scott Catalog coming to the iPad?

Amos Publishing is scheduled to make an announcement on 4 June 2011 at NAPEX. According to posts on Richard Frajola's PhilaMercury message board, Amos will announce that the 2012 Scott catalogs will be made available as an iPad app. Hopefully, this will include the Scott Classics Catalogue but I've not read anything that suggests this is the case. And I certainly have no reason to be believe it will be an online catalog along the lines of Stanley Gibbons "My Collection," but wouldn't that be wonderful?

In April, Amos Publishing released a CoinWorld app for the iPad which seems to suggest a similar version for Linn's Stamp News could be in the offering sometime in the future.

UPDATES: The big announcement at NAPEX centered on the appointment of Charles Snee as editor. Mr. Snee seems eager to make himself accessible on a variety of social networks, most notably Twitter and Richard Frajola's discussion board. A recent post on the Virtual Stamp Club reports that the roll out of an online version of the Scott catalogs may take three years and that the intention is to keep it continuously updated--i.e., no one annual wait for changes in catalog values or editorial emendations. Still no mention to my knowledge of being able to use the catalog as a tool to inventory one's collection.

You can contact Mr. Snee directly at . You can see his tweets at!/CharlesSnee .

Mr. Snee is also contributing to StampChat. In a recent message he lists the editorial staff: "My editorial team comprises your humble editor; Dave Akin and Donna Houseman, a dynamic duo of associate editors; Marty Frankevicz, indefatigable assistant editor for all new issues of the world (yes, one person handles all the new-issue listings at Scott); Steve Myers, the best valuing analyst Scott has ever had; and, of course, Jim Kloetzel, now editor emeritus of the Scott catalogs. That, my friends, is just six people."

The July 2011 special monthly issue of Linn's has an article by Charles Snee on social media. In this article he notes that this year (i.e., 2011) there will "an iPad application for the six-volume Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue." He writes that the catalog will be formatted to accommodate the iPad's display, "but the look of the listings will be the same as in print, including the images of the illustrated stamps."

Friday, May 13, 2011

To Hinge or Not To Hinge

This is a subject that comes up with some frequency on stamp bulletin boards. One problem though with such threads in general venues is that most people weighing in have single country or specialized collections with emphasis on MNH or expensive stamps. Things might look different if they were trying to cope with 35,000 mostly inexpensive stamps. Or maybe not! So, for the record, here are some pros and cons of hinges and mounts for the Blue collector.

Cost. Hinges, of course, win hands-down here. I can buy a package of 1000 Prinz Stamp Hinges for around $3 which comes to a little over $100 for enough hinges to mount every stamp provided for in the Blue Volume 1. As for mounts, I've seen an estimate of 6-10 cents each for individual stamp mounts. That multiples out to $2100-$3500 for sufficient mounts to handle the entire album. A lot of money, but one way of looking at this is if you are building a Blue collection over 10 or 20 years, you're spreading this cost out quite a bit.

Protection. Clearly, mounts are the big winner here. Those little bits of glassine on the back of stamps do nothing to protect their fronts, not to mention what hinges do to any gum that has survived. And, if you are using hinges, you definitely need interleaving to keep stamps on facing pages from rubbing against each other. Even then it is not difficult to accidentally dislodge a hinged stamp when turning pages. I should note, vis-a-vis mounts, that at least one well known dealer cautions against any mount type that might leave a vertical or horizontal line down the middle of a stamp. The alternative he suggests is to use mounts that are closed on the bottom but open on the other sides.

But aside from interleaving, how much additional protection do most stamps really need? My Blue is half full and the average cost per stamp is still only 13 cents. Perhaps a compromise solution is to use hinges for most stamps and reserve mounts for your more expensive treasures. Although I'm not completely consistent, my "rules" are to use hinges unless:

1) replacement cost of the stamp is greater than $25 or so (retail, not catalog);
2) the stamp is delicate and likely to be damaged (what comes to mind are some se-tenant pairs that might detach); and
3) the stamps are Mint Never Hinged.

Although the issue of stamp gum borders on the religious, I will confess that for me the backs of stamps are unimportant except to the extent that they reveal grills, watermarks or other interesting features. I practically rub my hands in glee when I come across a note from a seller along the lines of "No gum, priced as used" next to a $100 stamp selling for $10. I recognize though that many, if not most, collectors would disagree and so I begrudgingly use mounts if a stamp appears to be MNH, even if of minimum catalog value. That way I'm not spoiling any stamps for future collectors. Nor am I doing myself any real inconvenience as my preference for used stamps means the choice rarely comes up. Even so, I can't resist a parting shot that there are those who believe that the chances of finding original, undisturbed gum on more expensive classic era stamps is much less than most collectors would like to believe--i.e., there are a lot of regummed stamps out there. Nevertheless, if it looks MNH, I use a mount.

Weight. Perhaps the most serious barrier to using mounts in the Scott International is that mounts weigh down the pages. This is exacerbated because the Blue Internationals, unlike most if not all single country albums, are printed on both sides of a page. But also, to a lesser extent, because the Internationals tend to squeeze more stamps on a page than specialty albums, which means more mounts per page. This is especially an issue for the pre-1997 editions of the Blue which are printed on thinner paper.

Aesthetics. Obviously, this is the most personal of criteria. I like the appearance of both hinged and mounted albums, although the number of stamps per page in the Blue can make using mounts more difficult.

While I like the look of the black mounts in albums in which every stamp is mounted, I do not care for black mounts intermixed with unmounted stamps. So I use clear mounts which I think blend in better with hinged stamps. From looking at many albums sold on eBay, I'm obviously in the minority on this one.

Practical matters: If you've taken up stamp collecting after a hiatus, you probably are trying to remember who marketed those great peelable hinges and where can you buy them? The hinges you are thinking of where made by Dennison and, unfortunately, are no longer manufactured although packets do show up on eBay at very inflated prices. (Note that the similarly named Dennisen hinges are not the same thing.) I personally use Prinz hinges which are not peelable in any way--but they do seem to do a good job of staying adhered to the page. Other people have other preferences but I've never come across a consensus.

The mounts I use are made by Showgard. Since I knew I wouldn't need a lot of mounts, I started out with a starter pack containing precut mounts of varying sizes. However, these packs are made for common US stamp sizes so several of the included choices aren't particularly useful. A nice alternative is the strip set. I just purchased one on eBay containing 75 clear mount strips measuring between 22mm and 52 mm. But now I am wondering if there are any stamps in the Blue that won't fit into one of these strips?

Or to ask it another way: What are the largest and smallest stamps in the album? To go right to the obvious, the largest "stamps" to be accommodated are a couple of US Souvenir Sheets (thank goodness, the White Plains is too expensive for the Blue). Scott didn't include Souvenir Sheets for other countries so these are the only trouble makers, mount-wise. Not quite so obvious, some US cut squares could have a descent vertical height depending upon how they were removed from their entires. But since cut squares don't have gum, does the MNH crowd still use mounts for them? Perhaps just to protect the expensive ones. Among actual stamps, I was first diverted by obviously large stamps such as those issued by China in 1939 (Scott 364-367) which measure 39cm high. But in leafing through my album, I settled upon the triangular Brazil 1936 Carlos Gomes stamps which measure in at about 48 cm. This might actually be too large for my 52 cm mount strips as you have to add 5 cm overhead for the mount edge seams.

As to smallest, my first thought was the bottom part of stamps of Belgium with their do not deliver on Sunday labels. But then I decided that even though I have a couple of these without the "mother" stamp, I wouldn't put the bottom part by itself in a mount that couldn't accommodate the full stamp.

What is usually advanced as the smallest stamp ever issued is the Mecklenburg-Schwerin from 1856 measuring 10mm x 10mm, but this stamp, indeed the entire country, isn't in the Blue. Neither is the other contender, the 1863 Colombian state of Bolivar. So for smallest (i.e., least tall) I'm going with the 1940 Colombia Postal Tax stamps which are 14 cm in height.

If anyone knows of smaller or larger stamps that are in the Blue, please let me know.

I can't leave this topic without shedding a tear for our poor Brown colleagues. Not only must they budget millions for stamps like the Swedish 1855 Treskilling Yellow, there are a number of items that will cost a pretty penny just to mount in their albums. I'm thinking of the British 1840 Mulready Envelopes, US 1865 Newspaper Stamps, Afghanistan 1920 Parcel Post Stamps, Madagascar 1884 British Vice-Consulate Stamps, and the China 1913-14 Special Delivery stamps, to name a few. (The Brown, incidentally, deigns to only provide a blank page for the Chinese SD stamps that reportedly measure 247mm by 65mm.) But then look at all the money these collectors saved when they mounted the Mecklenburg-Schwerin stamp.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Filling spaces (just not the right spaces)

When you spend a lot of time looking at Blue Volume Ones, either in person or on the Internet, certain trends become apparent, such as which countries will usually have the most stamps and which are likely to be barren. It is also hard not to notice that certain countries and issues are frequently misidentified by collectors. Here is a look at some of the more common problems (most of which I've perpetrated myself at one time or another).

Most British Colonies used key types with the head of the reigning monarch. The Queen Victorias are reasonably identifiable, but collectors who aren't paying attention are likely to mistake King Edward VII for George VI or vice versa, especially where the colors and denominations are identical. On the surface of it, the "baldies" as the Edward VIIs are affectionately known should be easy to distinguish, but, of course, you often are dealing with stamps cancelled over the obvious identifying bits.

And, by the way, regular/commemorative stamps overprinted to make them function as Officials, etc. don't belong in the spaces "up front" (unless, of course, you've made the decision to let design trump use).

Some collectors throw up their hands at the first sight of non-Western alphabets or non-Arabic numerals. In my experience, if the collector has mis-mounted a lot of Afghanistan stamps then they probably can't be trusted with Armenia, China, the French Offices in China, the Indian Convention States, Saudi Arabia, et al.

The various profile heads of Emperor Franz Josef between 1890 (Scott 51) and 1907 present challenges depending upon whether the numerals are black, white or colored, whether the numerals are surrounded by ovals, squares or hexagons, the currency used, etc. You've got 49 spaces to get it right, wrong, or as probably in my case, somewhere in between.

For the past several years I've been blithely completing a page in the Blue of Belgian Parcel Post/Railway stamps, congratulating myself as the page rapidly filled up. Imagine my chagrin to discover that many of my stamps were in the wrong place. In my last eBay purchase something or the other sent me to the Catalog to verify a stamp only to discover that practically every stamp I had mounted in the 1916-1920 spaces was wrong. So I went from having virtually every space filled for these to having only two. I'm sure there were stamps in previous album purchases that I ignored because I thought I already had them.
The top row in the album is straight forward for the stamps from 1912-14. But things go downhill for the remainder of the page. My take on this is the first two rows are intended for Q61-80 from 1916 which have the values at the bottom only. The next two rows are for Q82-102 from 1920. These have numerals at the bottom and top. They can be distinguished from the following set because their winged wheels are filled/shaded. Then the last row is for the stamps Q103-Q131 from 1920-21. These also have values at the top and bottom but have no fill in the winged wheel. (Distinguishing between the stamps with the train in all these issues is much easier than the winged wheel. As is often the case, the Minkus Global albums offer collectors more help via useful notes like "Shading on wheel-spokes" or "One head-lamp in Engine.")

An interesting survey of these stamps can be found here.

The Blue contains several colonies like Cape Juby, Dahomey and Martinique where there are multiple pages with zero illustrations, only descriptions like "Stamps of Spanish Morocco, 1935 overprinted." Well, I suppose Scott has to sell its catalogs somehow. Anyway, the lack of illustrations is an invitation for collectors to make mistakes.

I left this out of my original post because until now I've never taken the time to verify my own holdings. I knew there was the potential for mistakes because Finland and Russia used similar stamp types between 1891 and 1918. Turns out that I had erroneously mounted one of the Russian Ring stamps in Finland, and the original owner of my album had hinged a similar Finnish stamp underneath the correct stamp in Russia. So all in all, not too bad. It also makes me feel better because in looking for suitable illustrations, I found some misidentified stamps on other web sites.

For Finland, here is the breakdown for the stamps in the Blue Volume One:

1891-92 Scott #46-52
Denominations are in Kopecks so that doesn't help to differentiate from the Russian issues. Look for the circled dots along both sides of the ring or in the corners.

1901-03 Scott 64-68
Finnish stamps will be denominated in Pennia, not Kopecks, or, in the case of #68, 1 Markka (which, as we all remember from Elementary School, equals 100 Pennia).

1911 Scott #77-81
Finnish stamps will be denominated in Pennia, not Kopecks.

There are more examples in this Stamp Identifier.

For Russia, just look for stamps without the circled dots or denominated in Pennia, Markka.

The second space for France is intended for the 25 centime blue from 1849-50, Scott #6. However, what is usually in the space is the rather more common French Colonies #12. A number of early French stamps are difficult to distinguish from those intended for the French Colonies which didn't have their own stamps. While this isn't the fault of the Blue's editors, it would be nice in this and similar cases if there was some sort of caution in the album to send collectors to the Catalog. Minkus did this for France in their Master and Supreme Global albums: "For other stamps with the following designs see French Colonies--General Issues."

No one reading this column is going to make this mistake, but you'd think that the Penny Black is sufficiently iconic for all collectors that the space for it would either contain the right stamp or be blank. So I'm surprised how often the wrong stamp is in the space--usually one of the Penny Reds, on occasion even perforated! If someone wanted to fill the space while waiting for the Penny Black fairy to come through, there are always the many stamp-on-stamps of the Penny Black, such as the 1990 Great Britain miniature sheet issued on its 150th anniversary.

I've yet to see a Volume 1 that had the correct stamp for Italy in the space described as "Type of 1862, Imperforate." Assuming that it isn't blank, the stamp in the space is invariably #23 or #23a, not #22 with the head embossed from 1863. Although the description in the current Blue is technically correct, it was a little more obvious in earlier editions which had 3 earlier stamps similar to the stamp that belongs in the space. These three 1862 stamps are missing from later editions.

I have made no attempt in my own collection to try to weed out "the Seebecks" and probably won't until I get to the point of needing to make more expensive purchases. If you are unfamiliar with this topic, check out Keijo's blog post:

The Blue I first purchased was probably 90% complete for Persia. However, I have read many times that much of the Classic Era Iran typically found in collections are counterfeits/reprints/forgeries. So I'm saving until some future date (if ever) trying to make sense out of what I have.

I'm not going to talk about the USA even though grills, secret marks, and watermarks offer much opportunity for, shall we save, creatively filling spaces. Just watch out for albums with Blue 5c "1847" Franklins!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Half way there

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to fill my Scott Volume 1 to the 50% point this year or 17,500 stamps. I knew that setting such a goal was going to take me out on a limb as I was about 2000 stamps short, but an unexpected album purchase yielded an even more unexpected 1889 stamps for my collection; that put me just over the half way point when added to some smaller purchases. I intend to blog later about the purchase that made this possible because I think it has some implications for other collectors, but for the moment, I thought I would make a few observations about what a half completed Blue Volume One album "feels" like.

When I started my collection was under 10,000 stamps. In the first 200 pages there were 35 pages with no stamps on them. Now there are seven. In general, there aren't a lot of pages that feel sparse.

And some of the larger countries are approaching completion--at least aside from those pesky semi-postals and "offices." From the first part of the alphabet, Argentina, Austria, Bavaria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, and Germany are down to no more than a dozen or so missing regular issues/commems.

In spite of being at the halfway point there are still a bunch of countries for which I haven't a single stamp. I had blogged in May 2010 that out of 408 countries/political entities in the Blue, there were a surprising 76 staring back at me with only empty spaces. Now with the album half full, I am lacking stamps from 53 countries. I'm still not clear as to why there should be so many. For example, although my holdings of Italy were good, I was able to score 66 additional Italian stamps from my latest eBay purchase. But even though the original owner of this album obviously had a good collection of Italy, he or she didn't have a single example of Italian Occupation stamps from Calchi, Calino, Caso, et al, in spite of the fact that there are many of these that catalog under one dollar each. A similar story could be told for plenty of other countries. So this reinforces my impression that there are dozens of countries that elude most Blue collectors for reasons other that cost.

The next major milestone I guess will be 20,000, but who's counting :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Strange habits of eBay sellers

It's already mid-March and I'm chagrined that I haven't posted anything yet for this month. In my defense, I've actually been working on my collection every day and will have a couple of posts related to this, but not for another week or two. So in the meantime I thought I would write on a generic topic, specifically about some of the stranger things perpetrated by eBay sellers of Blue Volume Ones.

Right at the top of the list are those sellers who say that the Volume Ones they are offering are "unique" and that these albums are rarely offered on eBay. Have they really not done any research? I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there is never a day that someone doesn't have a Volume One for sale. So are the sellers who make such claims clueless or …?

Somewhat related are sellers, almost always ones who admit being unfamiliar with stamps, who think the albums themselves are valuable for their maps, spaces for rulers and flags, etc. They lovingly photograph the bindings, title pages, and advertising materials. They go into rapturous detail about how the album is an homage to dead countries and bygone times. But about the stamps, if there are any, not so much.

And what about the sellers who go to the trouble to take photographs, but these are too blurry to show condition and sometimes even identify what stamps are being depicted? And we are not talking about one or two fuzzy-wuzzies. There are at least a couple of sellers who have on multiple occasions uploaded dozens of blurry photographs.

And then there are the sellers who have the focus thing down but only include a small portion of the album page in the photo. (I'm not talking about providing detailed photos of the valuable stamps which are always appreciated.) Perhaps there are photo-hosting sites that charge by the square inch?

I don't see it too often, but don't you love sellers whose take photos of entire pages but who upload the images randomly out of order? Like many of you, I suspect, I compare the images of prospective purchases against my own collection and there is nothing like seeing a page of Zanzibar followed by Aden followed by Switzerland followed by Belgium.

And finally there are the many approaches taken by sellers as to the number of stamps in their albums. I particularly like the sellers whose titles say something similar to "Bulging album bursting with stamps." Then when you get to the fine print of the description you see a phrase like "there are hundreds and hundreds of stamps." As the Blue contains thirty-five thousands stamps, don't they know that an album containing hundreds of stamps is 98-99% empty? Not exactly bulging. To state the obvious, even in an album containing 3500 stamps, 9 out of every 10 spaces would be blank.

And how about the sellers who not only do not give a count but go out of there way to say that "no, they won't count them, so don't ask"? (Of course, some of the most prolific sellers rarely give counts, preferring to supply hundreds of page shots instead. Thank goodness, because most of their textual descriptions are cookie-cutter and next to useless.)

No doubt you have others that could be added.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

International Blue-per #7: Denmark Caravals

As Jim is doing such a thorough job in his "Big Blue 1840-1940" blog going through Volume 1 country by country, I'm going to stop listing "minor" problems with the album. But in adding some stamps to Denmark, I came across a type of Blue-per that I hadn't seen before, namely a stamp cut that is completely wrong.

It is clear from the dates and descriptions that what is intended for these spaces is the 1933-40 Caravel ship definitives. But the cut is from one of the 19th century "Numeral" issues and doesn't belong here at all. And now that we are looking at this more closely, why are there spaces for the Type II Caravels from 1933-40 (Scott 283A-238J) and the 1927 Caravals on the previous page but not the Type I Caravals from 1933-34 (Scott 232-238)? I don't know that spaces for both of the types are needed, but the descriptions could have been worded so that either Type I or Type II stamps would fit.

Curiouser and curiouser is that this entire page is missing from my 1943 reference volume which stops with the 1937 series for the 25th anniversary of King Christian X's accession (i.e., the previous page in all subsequent editions). So it appears that the 1943 and 1947 editions of the Blue Volume 1 are not identical.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

OMG! There is A New Blue International Volume 1 Blog

Fellow collector Jim has just started a new blog with the great name "Big Blue 1840-1940" and a catchy intro: "A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar...Now what is between? Darn if Scott knows. Fact: Scott does not provide information for what is in Big Blue, aka Scott International Volume 1 1840-1940 But that is about to change."

Jim has set himself the ambitious task of creating a guide to the contents of the Volume One. And we're not talking about just a list of Scott numbers, but also information about the country and background on the stamps themselves.

I wish Jim the best of luck with his new endeavor which will benefit all stamp collectors with an interest in the classic era.

Here's the link: