Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Thoughts on a Checklist for the Blue Volume 1

Jim's comment a few days ago about creating a checklist for the four part version of the Blue got me to thinking about my own "experiments" with such a list awhile back--which went nowhere, I hasten to add. When I began my Scott Volume 1 collection, my fervent hope was that someone had made a checklist and put it on the Internet or donated it to a library. Unfortunately, I've never found one.

Why a checklist? When you are dealing with 35,000 stamps, it would be nice to have a convenient way to keep up with what you own, have something to take to stamp bourses or check against websites, provide documentation for insurance, etc. Also, such a list could help identify what stamps are not depicted in the album but logically should be and to generate statistics (e.g., what is a total catalog value of of a complete Blue Volume 1, what are the most expensive stamps, etc.)

Most serious collectors, I would hazard, pencil catalog numbers in their albums as their collection progresses. I have even heard of collectors taking their albums to dealers so the album itself becomes a checklist. That is too much of a bother for me, but, in any event, ones' annotated album doesn't do other collectors any good.

I know that some collectors annotate their copies of the Scott Classics Catalogue but I haven't found a good way to mark the glossy paper. Pencil doesn't show up and pen isn't mistake or update friendly. Also, even though the Classics Catalog is a single volume, it still is cumbersome to drag around, at least in comparison to a checklist. Now, I do have the 2007 version of the Classics Catalogue on my iPad which would be handy to take to stamp shows, and it is easy to highlight catalog numbers (I use the GoodReader software). If I only wanted something to show what I owned, this might be a sufficient solution. But the downside is that the highlighting can't be used in any other context. That is, I can't use the highlighted pdf to update more recent versions of the Classics Catalog. Nor can one extract the highlighted items to use for other purposes.

So compiling a checklist from scratch still seems the best solution. To that end, I played around with various formats a while back to see what issues would be involved. The basic questions seem to be:

--How do you format the listings: vertical or horizontal?
--How do you allow for indicating that you own an item without taking up too much space?
--How much information should be included (Scott catalog number, year, denomination, color, description, other publishers' catalog numbers, etc.)?
--How important is it to indicate that stamps belong to a set/series, and skips within sets?
--How to indicate that a page has blank spaces and what goes in these spaces?

Here was my first attempt at a minimal checklist format that would take up as little space as possible.

USA 1-2, 9-11-blank, 24-26-35, 63-65-68-69-73-76-78. 92-93-94-96-97-98-blank, 112-113-114-115-116-117-blank, etc.

I started with USA as Scott had already done much of the work for me. I first figured it made sense to use standard symbols such as the hyphen for stamps in a set, but it dawned on me that simply indicating a set contained say numbers 143-160 wouldn't give the collector a way to indicate which of the stamps in the set they owned. With the set numbers broken out, you can check, circle, highlight the individual stamps as required. Commas are used to separate related sets/series.

One obvious problem is how to deal with the situations where Scott has provided one or more blank spaces. Usually these are for higher values in a set but on occasion they could be for any stamp that fits and falls within the date range/description. My first format attempt simply indicated the number of blank spaces but I began to wonder if it would be of more use to list the possibilities for filling the space. Here is a variation that attempts to solve this:

USA 1-2, 9-11-blank for 5-8/10/12-etc.

Well, that didn't work out so well. I didn't come up with a good solution except where there was a contiguous series of stamps (see the China example below).

Although not shown in any of my examples, in hundreds of places in the International there is more than one possible stamp that matches the cut or description. Scott uses the word 'or' to indicate this in the US section: for example, 187 or 188. I thought about abbreviating this with187/188 but as the slash traditionally means something else in dealer/auction catalogs so that probably wouldn't be a good idea. The problem with 'or' is that in some cases you have 3 or even 4 stamps that could work. So that issue isn't resolved.

As long as you are looking for stamps from a seller that uses Scott Catalog numbers, you're all set. But once you are on sites like Delcampe where many of the sellers use other numbering systems, then you are out of luck. I think we can eliminate the possibility of identifying each stamp in the checklist by Scott, Stanley Gibbons, Michel, Y&T, etc. Even if one had the resources to make such a list, we know that Scott/Amos Publishing in particular would never allow such cross-referencing.

But regardless of seller, what most of these services have in common is that generally the year and sometimes denomination are included in the title or description. If I'm searching for a stamp that I know was issued in 1924, then I can add to that to my search string and get around not knowing the catalog number. So here is a modified version of the above with just the year:

USA 1847 1-2, 1851-56 9-11-blank, 1857-60 24-26-35, 1861-67 63-65-68-69-73-76-78, 1861-67 grills 92-93-94-96-97-98-blank, 1869 112-113-114-115-116-117-blank

One issue is whether to include a year range for sets (either from the album or the catalog) or specifically indicate the year for each individual issue. Going the latter route significantly adds to the work and I'm not certain whether it significantly improves the accuracy of search results.

Here is the sample with denominations:

USA 1847 #1 5c, #2 10c 1851-56 #9 1c, #11 3c, blank 1857-60 etc.

Actually, the "blank" seems to me to work better here. That is, my assumption would be that the word blank means you can pick any other stamp issued between 1851-56 without the checklist having to specify the actual catalog numbers.

Here is an example of a vertical format that I tried with China:

___ (10) 1885 1c
___ (11) 1885 3c
___ (16) 1894 1c
___ (18) 1894 3c
___ (78) 1897 1c on 3c
___ ( ) 1897 [1 selected from #79-85]
___ ( ) 1897 [1 selected from #79-85]

([The ___ was intended to provide a space for a checkmark, or a u for used, etc.)

Even though I think the vertical arrangement would be easier to mark up, this approach takes considerably more space. "Vertical" China requires two pages using three columns per page as opposed only part of a page horizontally:

CHINA 1885 #10 1c #11 3c 1894 #16 1c , #18 3c 1897 #78 1c on 3c, two blanks

Seems congested but I might get used to it.

A quick and dirty estimate suggests that a horizontally formatted checklist for the 35,000 stamps in the Volume One would take up 70 single sided pages, assuming 500 stamps per page. Not a big deal to carry around in a small binder.

I can always come up with excuses for why I never got around to doing more with the checklist, but I suppose the main reason is the hope that Scott will put their catalog online in a way that could be used for generating at least the raw data needed for a checklist. We know that they are in the process of creating an online catalog, just have no idea as to the details.

Any ideas and thoughts on formatting would be most appreciated.


Jim said...

Bob-As usual, a very through discussion.

Without thinking too much about it, I started a checklist that I hope will work for me. Unfortunately, I don't do Excel, so my list is a bit primitive.

My Blog, which has a checklist, but other components also, is now live!

Please check it out.


I am taking a systematic approach country by country.

I would like to learn more about each country in Big Blue. I of course need a checklist for inventory and want lists. And I would like to know what other stamps might fit Big Blue's inexpensive criteria.

Finally I usually have a comment about Big Blue's performance or the stamps of the country.

My plan is to add a country a day; at least now during the early stages. I expect this will be a several year project.

I am planning to add one more section called "Kinds of Blue", where I will compare different Big Blue editions-checklist wise. You have already done a lot of work in this area which is very helpful.

Take a look and give a critique!

Oh, and since you and your wonderful blog inspired me to reopen my 1840-1940 collection, I do say a little about you in the opening "overview". :-)

Jim Jackson

zenabi said...

Hi Bob,

Have you contacted Amos to ask if they have a list of the stamps in the Volume 1 album and be willing to send you a copy? Your excellent blog does a great job of promoting the Scott albums and stamp collecting in general, so I imagine that the good people at Amos would be happy to assist.

It seems that what you are describing is more like a database than a simple checklist. I suppose you could create your own but it might be worthwhile to check out a commercially available stamp database. I have never used one but a Google search yields several, e.g. Runningman, StampCAT. Stamp collecting forums might have user reviews. A database would certainly be more versatile than a simple checklist.

Good luck with it. It sounds like far more work than I would care to tackle. I would be inclined to wait to see what Amos/Scott comes out with in electronic format. Maybe they will provide an online database along the lines of Stanley Gibbons My Collection.

By the way, I broke down and bought an International album collection that goes to 1994, housed in 23 Scott jumbo binders. (I sent you a post in Dec. 2009, praising the computer-generated album pages). I confess that my favorite is Vol. 1.


Bob said...

zenabi, I have contacted Linn's a couple of times but not about this. I don't think I've mentioned that I saw by "accident" a single page from the International that someone from Scott had penciled in catalog numbers for each space. Whether this was from a completely annotated album I don't know. I suppose I should email Scott and combine this question with one about the plans for the online database.

The last time I looked at stamp databases there were still many countries in the International that weren't covered. That isn't a problem with Stanley Gibbons' My Collection which I subscribed to for a year, but it seemed like there were enough differences between SG and Scott to nullify any advantages of using SG as the base for a checklist.

Twenty three albums. The mind boggles!

williamgrady said...

Probably the cheapest solution to the problem of a Volume 1 checklist is to go out and buy one of the cheap board-bound 1943 hardback editions on ebay. It is album size but the pages won't fall out since it is bound. And if it has been picked clean, well it will be real cheap.

Then you can write on it in ink, annotate it, tape notes in it, whatever. And the bulk of the pages are the same as in the newer editions.

I don't use mine for anything but I look at it all the time. My friend actually took one I gave him and uses it as an album. (full disclosure: I collect in a Minkus Supreme Global.)

Bob said...

Bill, I completely agree with using the 1943 or 1947 hardbound versions make great reference volumes. I've owned a couple but both unfortunately still contained enough stamps that it made more sense to sell them. Although I have an empty loose leaf version that I use for reference, I continue to watch for an empty hardbound to come on eBay at a price that I can't resist.

williamgrady said...

Beyond using the old album for a checklist, you could use a catalog but then you would have the problem that the shiny paper is nasty to work with. I would suggest that if you went catalog, you find the newest Classic catalog before they went to color, that would give you non-slick pages.

Or buy an old catalog. I think you said on your blog once that you had a 1943 Scott Catalog. I bought a 1976 edition which is the last one where it is in one volume, but it is really big. You could use any year from 1943 with secure bindings.

Lawrence Block uses a classic as a checklist but I am not sure he doesn't use one without the slick paper.

The only thing I see that would impact using a catalog is that the Blue is an edited album (Block's Browns are not) and so you would have to specify what was in the Blue you didn't have as well as what you had or risk buying stuff you have no place for.

I have a few more thoughts on checklists I will send through in another post.

Bob said...

Bill, when I first played around with using a Scott catalog for a checklist, I tried putting a dash next to the stamps that were in the album with the idea of adding a vertical line to change the dash to a plus sign to show the stamps I owned. I think that might have worked but I never did more than a few test pages. Another possibility would be to put a mark or highlight by the catalog number for stamps in the album and then circle or underline the price for stamps that were owned which has the advantage of indicating whether your stamp was used or unused.

williamgrady said...

Bob, been trying to get a comment to you for over a week but something seems to come up every day.

I have a suggestion re:checklists, use ListPro software from Ilium Software. A few years ago I wanted to replace my two binder precancel collection list with something smaller and decided a pocket PC running ListPro would do the trick. I even bought the Dell Axim I used for the exclusive purpose of being a checklist. The Axim is a bit bigger than an iPhone. I note that ListPro will work on an iPhone or iPad, but I can only speak to using it on the pocket PC.

If you want a checklist to take to stamp shows, to review US dealer lists, plus keep an inventory for insurance purposes, you should be able to survive with a nice basic list not much more than a catalog number with a check box next to it. But you can tart it up quite a bit easily with ListPro. But be sure to buy a version that can sync to your PC. Making the lists is much better on the PC but data entry is much easier on the handheld. (Axim uses a stylus.) ListPro used to have the full manual for you to read before you buy, but no more. It was how I figured out what it could do for me before I bought it.

I never made up lists for my worldwide collection but I threw one together in an evening last week to see what it would look like. There is a lot of scrolling in Listpro on that little screen and I think dividing the number ranges into no more than 100 items per list is probably the best. I basically made up a file for a “master country,” that contained 10 lists of 100 items each in about a half hour. You make one list and copy and edit. I can see a separate list each for the Bs-, Cs- etc. Once your master is done, you just make a copy of the master for each country Then you can go back, and rename and delete items not needed (which takes more time than making the list), but you have your list template.

I can't figure out how to share screen shots with you on this blog, but I set the list columns for: catalog number, year, denom, a checkbox for mint, a checkbox for used, note space for any type of note you might want and a flag. The year and denom are there if you want them or you can compress the columns closed and never use them. I never used the flag field before but I figured it out. A full list of all the numbers would be needed for the Big Browns but for the Blues, you can flag the items that are only in the Blue. When you click on the flag icon on the toolbar (PC version), the unflagged items disappear until you reclick on the icon. So you could base a Blue specific list on a complete template list and the rest hidden until you wanted to use the items. If you bought a stamp not in the Blue, you could flag that item and it would stay visible. That would take care of the stamps you put in the blank spaces. I even figured out a way to take care of sets. It has to do with indenting lines making them the "children" of the above unindented line. I never used this but I experimented and it works. Although doing this to every list would probably double the time invested in the lists.

Anyway, if you want to throw a bit of money toward a list, this is a pretty good way to go. Plus, Listpro can be set so each checkmark is autosaved so you never have the worry you will make many modifications and forget to save the list.