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!


Bud said...

Generally I keep marginalia to a minimum, marking only and "r" by those stamps that have less-than-apparent flaws so, when the opportunity presents itself, I can replace them. Sometimes I write a note under the stamp if I attach some significance to it, say for the stamp that completed a country's entries. The marginalia that I find most annoying are the prices that the former owners of albums I purchase enter, largely for vanity's sake, I suppose.

Bob said...

Bud, I like the idea of an "r" for "Replace" which I think I will adopt.

My worst experience with the prices issue was an album I scored for a great price on eBay, but where the seller had written in hundreds of values in ink in a perfectly useable album. Sheesh!

DrewM said...

Writing prices in albums is sometimes done by lot evaluators at stamp companies whose job it is to come up with a selling price for the album (while removing any particularly valuable stamps, I imagine). If it's in pencil, it can be erased, but what a pain! I suppose they are not expecting sellers to reuse the pages but to remount the stamps elsewhere and throw away the pages.

If the writing is done by a collector, it may just be a kind of simple accounting system -- "I bought this stamp for this price." Maybe that helps them keep track of expenses or allows them to grab a bargain when they find a similar stamp more cheaply. Or maybe they're just bragging to themselves!

But whatever the causes, it's pretty annoying to buy an album where you want to reuse pages and find them covered in pencil. I don't suppose anyone with an album gives much thought to someone else using it someday, though. I certainly never did until I began buying used albums because new albums were so expensive. And ink is worse -- right up there with scotch tape, in my book.

So I try to mark only underneath where a stamp is mounted, for the most part, or write neatly and always in pencil elsewhere the particularly important information I need to remember. But if someone wanted to do otherwise, it's only a stamp album for goodness' sake, and they ought to write whatever makes them feel happy. Until I buy that album used, and then I get to be mad at them! And it has to be in pencil. I won't ever buy pages marked in ink.

On two-sided pages, it's possible for the pencil to transfer to a stamp on the other page when the album is closed. For this reason, I'd use hard lead, not soft, and write fairly lightly. Not sure what number lead that would be, but something like a mechanical pencil might be best. At least the stray marks could be erased, though.

Bob said...

Drew, thanks for your perspective. On your last point, I have been using a #2 0.55mm mechanical pencil and haven't noticed my pencil marks transferring, but then I haven't been looking for that. I will now! I wonder if glassine interleaving is more resistant to picking up pencil marks?