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

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