Saturday, February 25, 2012

SG Worldwide Albums. Part 3: Comparison

I would love to be able to do a proper review of the Stanley Gibbon's Ideal and Imperial albums. Unfortunately, I've never seen either in person, just cut out pages. But these pages together with images I've collected off the web provide, I think, enough information to make some comparisons between the SG Classic era worldwide albums and those of Scott, Steiner and to a lesser extent Minkus. Nevertheless, a lot of the following is incomplete and/or subjective and your milage will almost certainly vary.

As a reminder, the Ideal albums are currently sold in a three volume set which includes the World from 1840 to 1936 but no stamps from the British Empire. For the British Empire, you need the two volume Imperial Album. Unless otherwise stated all comments below are with the current version of the albums. (Earlier versions of the Ideal and Imperial each covered all the world, but not the albums sold today.)


The Ideal Album's page size is 283 x 215mm and the Imperial's 280 x 215mm. These approximate 8.5x11 inches: i.e., smaller then Scott Blue and Brown albums but approximately that of Steiner. (I've seen two early ads for the Ideal that give the page size as 11.5 x 9 inches and 11 3/8 x 9 3/8 inches respectively.)

Older editions are on paper comparable in thickness to Scott albums of the same period. As for the albums being sold today, according to the 2012 SG accessories catalog, "All our leaves are acid free and manufactured without the addition of chemicals that would present a hazard in use. The paper is produced with a neutral pH value and meets ISO9706 permanence of paper." My guess is that the thickness of the pages is 130 gsm. I think 130 gsm corresponds to a paper weight of a little less than 90 pounds, but don't trust me on this. I believe the Scott Internationals sold today are printed on 80 pound archival quality stock.

Just as it is tempting to buy original editions of the Brown or pre-current editions of the Blue to save money, there are a number of tradeoffs to be considered for buying second hand Stanley Gibbons albums. As regards the Ideal, I don't know that it makes sense to buy an older version unless you can find one with interleaving. Otherwise you will be forever coping with stamps catching or rubbing against each other on facing pages. Even then, although the illustrative cuts are cleaner in the older editions, you album will be on thinner, non-archival paper. The one compelling reason to consider an old Ideal album is if you are able to find the matching British Empire albums which are no longer available.

While the Imperial album has stamps on the front of pages only, the issue about paper quality still applies.


Like the original Brown albums and most of the Blues before 1955, both the Ideal and Imperial albums are hardbound, or as SG calls it, fastbound. However, unlike the Scott products, the current Ideal album is printed on only one side of the page eliminating the need for interleaving. As indicated above, The Imperial is effectively also single sided as spaces for stamps are on the recto sides of pages with catalog information on the verso. While that eliminates one problem with hardbound albums, two issues still remain: 1) what to do about stamps not provided for in the album since obviously you can't add pages; and 2) how to keep the album from bursting at the seams as you fill it up.

As to the first, the only real option is to maintain one or more additional volumes with blank pages (unless you go the stockbook route). As to the second, SG does provide a very interesting solution although I don't know how well it works in practice. That is, according to SG "Perforated, removable pages in the album allow for expansion without distortion, as your collection grows."

One advantage of the Ideal and Imperial albums from the standpoint of keeping an inventory or making notes about your collection is that the pages to be numbered. The Scott, Minkus and Steiner products are not paginated.


Countries in the Ideal appear to be in alphabetical order, but countries can and do begin on the back or middle of pages. I don't know about the Imperials.


SG provides more info in its headers and often in the spaces than any other album. I particularly like their practice of putting the color underneath stamp illustrations. More than once I've been certain that I have a stamp in the right space in my Blue only to find out I've mistakenly mounted an identical design but different color that was issued in a different year. The Blue generally ignores watermarks, but SG doesn't so it is helpful that they include this information in the headers: i.e. "The permanent issues of Italy are all wmk. "Crown" and perf. Although better than the Blue or Brown albums, SG is inconsistent about indicating the purpose of a stamp or who is depicted. Many times the album says nothing at all, especially for definitives. Other times it is more helpful. Some examples of titles:

Austria: 1933 "Various Designs showing skiers"
Germany: 1875. "PFENNIGE" with final "E".
Hungary: 1933. Air stamps. Perf.
Italy: 1922. "Mazzini" issue

The Supreme Global also puts color under some cuts, and, next best to having the catalog on the facing page, includes catalog numbers. One attribute that separates Minkus from the others is that it groups stamps on a page over too large a date range: for example, the only dates on the second page of Italy are "Issues of 1870-1926," a total of 61 stamps. Minkus does go the extra mile by illustrating watermarks but my eyes find these too small to be as helpful as they could be.

Of course, if you want to talk about identifying text, you have to talk about the Imperial album where the stamp descriptions (really a little mini-catalog) are printed on the page opposite where you mount the stamps.


Even though the page size of the Ideal album is smaller than Scott, the pages do not feel crowded to me. Nevertheless, one area where I feel the Blue is visually superior to either Minkus or SG is in the symmetry of its pages: i.e., Scott will choose to interrupt the denominated order of a set to arrange the horizontal and vertical issues aesthetically. Here is an example from the Ideal:

Within countries, the Ideal intermixes regular issues, commemoratives and semi-postals (just as do the SG catalogs). Airmails seem to be both intermixed and separated. I'm sure there is some logic to this but I don't have enough examples to see the pattern.

This intermixing is a help with some countries, such as Italy, which issued some sets that included both "normal" and semi-postals stamps. (I seem to remember there are even sets which have airmails and "land" issues.) On the other hand, when I'm trying to match catalog numbers, having the stamps in denomination order certainly makes things simpler.

While the Ideal typically supplies dedicated spaces for stamps, on rare occasions the album will be more free form. For example, there are two rows for Mexico 1916 revolutionary overprints without any spaces.

One very different feature of the Imperial Album is that it does not have frames around the stamps. Instead, there is a small box for each stamp to aid in aligning stamps on the page. If you are using mounts, this won't make a difference as the frame would be covered in any event. And, no doubt some collectors prefer their stamps sans frame. My preference, no doubt because it is familiar, would be for frames. I suppose I would have to see a neatly mounted collection in person before I would know for certain about the Imperial.


The Ideal set contains spaces for around 37,750 stamps compared to 35,000 for the Blue Volume 1 and perhaps 80,000 for the Brown. While this may seem like the coverage of the Ideal is nothing special, remember that this total does not include any British Empire, ends with 1936, and essentially only includes regular stamps, commemoratives, airmails, and semi-postals, i.e., no postage dues, officials, etc. It also does not include varieties which I take to mean stamps with minor catalog numbers. Within these parameters, the Ideal aims to include stamps of all catalog values. In comparison to the Blue, then, the collector is likely to find a space for almost any stamp that falls within the SG album scope, where as the Blue is missing thousands of stamps that catalog under $1. And yet, because of the density of stamps on a page, a collection lacking the most expensive stamps will not appear as barren as with, say, the Steiner pages.

A big issue for collectors is whether they would feel to constrained by the Ideal including only regular issues, commems, semi-postals, and airmails. While I admit I wouldn't miss most Postage Dues and similar stamps that were left out of the Ideal, there are some issues I would be sorry not to see in a Classic era album. I assume, for example, that the Belgian Parcel Post/Railroad stamps from the early 20th century aren't in the Ideal.

I didn't do a lot of counting once it became apparent that SG successfully included the great majority of stamps that fall within its scope, but here are a few comparisons.

For Italy, SG has 60 spaces for 19th century Italy; the Blue 55 ('47 edition), the Brown 59, and Steiner 68. While we expect Steiner to have the most, it beats the others by including a Scott unlisted stamp as well as minor numbers.

For the entire period up to 1936, The SG Simplified Worldwide Catalog lists 489 stamps for Italy, the 1943 Scott catalog, 508. The Ideal has spaces for 482 of these stamps (or all by 7 in the Simplified Gibbons), the Blue 391, the Supreme Global 445, and Steiner 521. (I am missing a volume of the Brown, but I would expect its coverage to be very close to the number of stamps with major numbers in the Scott catalog.)

From a layout standpoint, the Supreme Global gets all of Italy (through 1936) on to 15 pages, the Blue 18 pages, the Ideal 19 pages, and Steiner 37. The Supreme Global averages 30 stamps per page, the Ideal 25, the Blue 22, and Steiner, 14.

Since I couldn't do counts for the Brown, here is a look at 19th century issues of several countries for the Brown versus the Ideal. I've thrown in the Blue for grins. I've also included the counts for countries that are in the Minkus Supreme Global. I haven't gone back to see why Minkus has so many more stamps for Austria than the others.

Austria Brown = 70, Ideal=69, Blue = 43, Minkus = 131 (!)
Bavaria Brown = 71, Ideal = 69, Blue = 34, Minkus = 56
Germany (Empire) Brown = 49 , Ideal = 49, Blue = 39, Minkus = 50
Hungary Brown = 48, Ideal = 49, Blue = 23, Minkus = 50
Mexico Brown = 276, Ideal = 239, Blue = 77
Mozambique Company Brown = 46, Ideal=40, Blue = 11
Sweden Brown = 57, Ideal = 52, Blue = didn't count because of date overlap

The only country that the Ideal is obviously inferior to the Brown is Mexico. The Stanley Gibbons simplified catalog lists 281 stamps so I don't know why SG omitted 42 of these (presumably a lot of these are overprints--I didn't check). It does beg a question that I can't answer which is whether the coverage for the Americas is inferior to that of Europe. The Blue's best showing is with Germany, but is not in the ballpark for the rest (although, of course, I didn't look at catalog values which is why the Blue omits many stamps).


What I think the Ideal best demonstrates is that it is possible to create a worldwide album that is comprehensive enough for many collectors but doesn't need to take up the entire shelf of a bookcase. And if SG still sold the complete Ideal, i.e., the entire world, and, especially, if they sold it looseleaf, I would be sorely tempted. Then it would only be left to decide what to do about stamps from 1937-1940.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Blue Skies are Here Again

Blue International collectors need no longer sing the blues, at least in lament for Jim's Volume 1 checklists. The checklists are back! Now there is no excuse for you not completing that Volume 1. Well, fewer excuses. If you aren't familiar with Jim's blog, scroll down and look on the right for the link to Big Blue 1840-1940.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Random Jottings about Marginalia

There are book lovers who would never consider writing notes in their books while others gleefully personalize their tomes with addenda and corrigenda. Similarly, there are stamp collectors who want to keep their albums unsullied by any emendations (unlike most postal history collectors who for some reason have never met a cover that they didn't want to scribble on). Any way, I regularly pencil "stuff" in my album and this article looks at the type of emendations I find useful. I don't claim any of the following as either necessary or the best solution, but I hope it might help someone just getting started.

Most obviously, I am penciling in the Scott catalog number for every stamp I am missing. While this isn't as necessary when your initial purchases are from other International albums, once you start buying individual stamps it is a real timesaver. Less obvious is coming up with a system for treating the blank spaces where more than one stamp will fit, not to mention multiple blank spaces where a range of stamps will fit. Examples of what I do:

69 : only Scott #69 belongs here

69,72,84 : any one of these three Scott numbers matches the cut/description and falls within the date range

8-12, 15-20 : as above, but for ranges of stamps.

When there are multiple blank spaces in a row, I write the catalog numbers for all of the blank spaces in the last space. That way, I don't cover up the catalog numbers until the last space is filled. (The disadvantage of this approach is that if I acquire the stamps out of sequence, stamps may not be in order by denomination. An alternative would be to list the missing stamps in the margin, not in a space.)

What I don't have a good solution for is complicated situations where the album has spaces for many stamps, often spread over several pages, and out-of-order to boot. There is a part of the US Cut Squares section, for example, with 6 blank spaces that any of the following items will fit: U114-115, U117-141, U143-162, U165, U167-177, U179-180, U182, U188, and U189-217!

In addition to catalog numbers, I also pencil in the value for stamps I'm missing that catalog more than $10 each. This helps me spot potential bargains on eBay when sellers post album scans. More randomly, I also pencil in catalog values of $100 or more for stamps I already own. I'm not certain why I do this!

One marginalia that has been consistently helpful is a small arrow penciled in to highlight imperfections. I.e., if there is a problem with the upper right hand corner of a stamp, I have a small arrow pointing at the naughty bit. That way, when I'm transferring stamps from a newly purchased album to my collection, I can easily see if any imperfect stamps I already own need to be replaced. This may not seem particularly useful, but the density of stamps on the Blue's pages means that I might overlook such stamps when better copies come along.

What I can't really justify is my system of using an "x" above a stamp that is in the wrong place, and by wrong place, I mean that it doesn't belong in any space in the album. So why don't I just remove the stamp when I discover it? The main reason is that when I find the mistake it often is not convenient to look up the correct identification and transfer the properly identified stamp to a stocksheet. So I leave the imposter where it is until convenient to remove. If you are more organized than me (an easy feat), then you will probably want to extricate any misplaced stamps as you discover them.

I also make notes to help me visually identify which stamps belong in the spaces so I'm not constantly having to consult the Catalog. For example, the first owner of my album didn't always successfully differentiate between the King Edward VII ("the baldies") and the King George V definitives. When I was first starting my collection, to keep me from making the same mistake I would note in the album which set belonged to which King. Another random example: I have a note that the first 3 spaces for Kiauchau are denominated in Pfennig and the remainder with Cent to keep me from accidentally mounting otherwise identical stamps in the wrong space. And the nice thing is such marginalia are easy to erase when no longer needed.

What else? I correct date headers when later research has shown that say a set that was thought to be 1911-1913 when the album was published in reality is 1911-1914. And I note errors in the album, e.g., wrong cuts or descriptions that don't match any stamps.

If you do any scribblings that you find particularly useful, please post a comment.

Warning: Don't Attempt This At Home!