Monday, June 4, 2012

Counting Spaces

Thanks to reader Joe for making available his count of the number of stamps in the current version of the Blue--i.e., the four part 1997 edition. Even if earlier editions will vary in both number of countries and number of stamps, Joe's data gives us access to additional interesting facts about this series.

To start with the big question: How many stamps are in the Blue Volume 1? Scott/Amos is no longer willing to say. The title page used to state "more than 35,000" spaces but now is silent on the topic. But we know that Scott has been dropping more stamps than adding in recent revisions, so it is not surprising that, according to Joe, the number is currently 34,475. Another way of looking at this, I come up with 58 countries/stamp-issuing-entities that were in the 1943/47 edition but are missing in the 1997 edition. Sounds like a lot, but if you assume each of these averages 10 stamps, then that would only mean a reduction of ~600 (58x10) stamps. I haven't counted, but I would guess the 600 is low (and see the comment below about the US). We should also remember that there are stamps in the post 1947 edition that weren't in the 1943/47. Not a lot, but some.

Now Joe's 34,475 probably doesn't include the free form "blank" pages that Scott includes for certain issues, each of which could hold 50 or so stamps. But there were dedicated "blank" pages in the earlier versions, too, so this shouldn't skew the results too much. Incidentally, I don't think I have ever broken out the "blank" pages in the Blue, so here they are:

US Souvenir Sheets (missing in later editions)
India Convention States
India Feudatory States (missing in later editions)
Italy Offices in the Turkish Empire
Italy Aegean Islands Occupation Stamps (in the 1943/47 edition these were split between two pages; later versions have combined this into one page)

The biggest surprise in the data was which countries were allotted the most spaces. If you had asked me before I saw Joe's spreadsheet, I would have confidently said the US was first. Second would probably have been Germany, and then some combination of France, Austria and, oh, probably Hungary. But I would have been wrong: the US comes in fourth. The top ten countries in order in the 1997 edition are:

1. France    948
2. Germany    801
3. Austria    755
4. United States    729
5. Hungary    620
6. Italy    617
7. Russia    617
8. Salvador    582
9. Nicaragua    569
10. Spain    567

(I should note that the US would have ranked first had Joe used the 1943/47 edition which included more than 300 Revenues, Newspaper stamps, and other issues no longer in the album. This also is a big factor in explaining why the 1997 edition contains under 35,000 stamps.)

Now its interesting to compare the top ten above with the top ten countries ranked by the number of regular issues/commemoratives that are in the Scott Catalog for 1840-1940:

1. United States (#5 in the Blue album's coverage)
2. Iran (Persia) (#15 in the Blue)
3. Turkey (#16 in the Blue)
4. Russia (#7 in the Blue)
5. Mexico (#17 in the Blue)
6. Spain (#11 in the Blue)
7. Nicaragua (#9 in the Blue)
8. Portugal (#14 in the Blue)
9. El Salvador (#8 in the Blue)
10. Hungary (#6 in the Blue)

That is, Iran has the second highest number of regular issues/commems in the Scott catalog but comes in only 15th in terms of the number of spaces provided in the Blue. Since a lot of what we find in old albums for Persia are likely reprints or forgeries, Scott may have done us a favor by providing fewer opportunities to go awry.

I made a rather feeble attempt to look at the comprehensiveness of coverage in the Blue for all countries using my count from the 2007 Scott Classic, but for reasons not worth going into, the following really are only ballpark. Fortunately, Jim is doing this measure accurately in his Blog. Anyway, until he finishes, it looks like two countries in the Blue are complete for every major number: Allenstein and Kionga. A total of 17 countries come in at 75 plus percent completion. At 50% comprehensiveness we are looking at 85 countries. That means that something like 176 countries come in at less than 50% coverage.

I don't know that there is any purpose listing the bottom ten except to answer the trivia question: The country with the fewest spaces is Tahiti with three. Tahiti is also at the bottom in terms of number of possible stamps included in the album: five percent. So apparently pretty scenery and exotic locale were not an influence on the album's editors.

As I have to remind myself whenever I think about comprehensiveness, the Blue is supposed to emphasize affordable stamps. So ideally, if a country in the Blue had spaces for only 1/3 of the stamps in the Catalog, but included every stamp cataloging under $10, then I would think the editors did a good job. So I revisited Michel Bégin's Affordable Classic Stamp website that I blogged about awhile back and imported his information into a database along with Joe's data. This was primarily helpful in that it reminded me how to build relational tables in FileMaker rather than giving much in the way of useful philatelic insights. Nevertheless, 23 countries in the Blue also fall in the Most Affordable Countries category. (Actually, there are more than that but some are Indian Convention States and Italy Aegean Island issues that don't have dedicated spaces in the Blue.) Of the 23 countries with dedicated spaces, Niger comes in at the top. The album is 85% complete for this country which, at the time Bégin compiled his list, had no stamp cataloging more than $3. The other Affordable countries with 50% plus representation were, in order of completeness, Middle Congo, Chad, Italian Colonies, Algeria, Georgia, Mauritania, Eastern Silesia, Ivory Coast, and Haiti. The countries with the fewest spaces, in spite of their being on the Affordable list, were Lebanon, Ethiopia, Memel, Far Eastern Republic, and Azerbaijan, the latter providing spaces for only 9% of the major numbers in the Scott Catalog. This is ironic because anecdotally I think that all of the Blue albums I've seen of any size have most if not all of the spaces filled for Azerbaijan. I've read that this is because they were commonly available in approvals marketed to beginning collectors for many decades.


Jim said...


As far if I am counting accurately the number of major stamp descriptions for a country in the Scott Classic, I would say it is ball- Parkish. ;-)

I count once, and no doubt there is some error.

Joe has done everyone a great favor by counting all the stamp spaces in the '97 Big Blue. I know for a fact that his numbers are quite accurate indeed.

His '97 count should be very close to the '69 count.

I must say I am becoming more impressed with Big Blue 's general ability to keep expensive stamps out of the catalogue. BB seems to have taken a good deal of criticism recently for the stamps that should be, but are not in the album. I'm of course partially responsible for that. ;-). But we need to give BB it's due- nothing will kill a collecting interest quicker than a lot of "required" expensive stamps.

It is a hobby after all. ;-)

Keijo said...

Damn, I love these posts about statistics...

Seriously speaking I find the tidbits about top10 countries (in Scott + BigBlue) very interesting as I can compare it with numbers I have for Michel catalogue. Without going into details, I'll simply say the differences appear somewhat large. It's amazing how differently editors of stamp catalogues can look at the same stamps (I think Jim's blog post about classic British stamps was just a tip-of-iceberg example of this).

Bob said...

Kiejo, vis-a-vis differences in catalog coverage: I never really thought much until recently about the influence that catalogs have on our collecting habits, and why the decision to demote stamps that had major numbers to minor numbers can meet with so much resistance. I wonder if the Scott Classic Catalog, say, were to suddenly include postal stationary for the world what impact that would have.

But more to your original point, I think it would be very interesting to do an analysis of the top 10 countries using Scott, SG, and Michel for everything, and then the leading catalogs for individual countries as applicable.

Bill Grady said...

Scott is between a rock and a hard place with the Classic Catalog. If you don't really care about the price increases per stamp, there is really no reason to periodically buy a new one. Even a 1943 Scott catalog purchased off ebay would be as good to identify stamps in the Big Blue or Big Brown.

Their technique is to add "new" stuff, like the Brazil Varig semi-official airmails that they have spent 70 or more years saying was "beyond the reach of the catalog."

There is a limit to how much stuff they have left to list. I would assume eventually their coverage would parallel SG or Michel or Minkus.


trptjoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trptjoe said...

Regarding the blank pages, here's how they look in the 1997 edition:
US Souvenir Sheets: missing in the '97.
India Convention States: one blank page in the '97, with headings for six states.
India Feudatory States: three pages with spaces for nine states (included in my count).
Italy Offices in the Turkish Empire: one page with seven spaces (included in my count).
Italy Aegean Islands Occupation Stamps: one blank page with headings for 12 islands.


DrewM said...

Poor Azerbaijain. Wonder what Scott's editors of yesteryear had against it? Is there any accounting for why some countries get such heavy coverage and others don't? Is it the usual Europe-first mentality?

A related question which I think has been asked before is why such spotty coverage of less expensive stamps in many countries? Is it even possible that the stamps left out by Scott's editors were once more expensive to acquire? Seems pretty unlikely, doesn't it? So why were they omitted?

If we had the tape recordings and no 18-minute gaps in them of Scott's editors discussing their choices for inclusion and omission, it would be very interesting. Do you think somewhere at some time Scott kept minutes, notes, or other written rationale for why inclusion decisions were made? Would these choices have been made with the advent of the Scott "Junior" International which would make them c. 1930 or so? Isn't that the basis of the current International albums?

I suppose Scott cannot very well redesign pages now in any economical way to include long-omitted stamps from sets, etc.? So, the bottom line even with all the weighing of numbers and wondering is that the album exists as it exists, and if we wish to use it these are the stamps we will collect. I guess.

John said...

Since Scott sold stamps, in addition to publishing albums, I assume thier choices in laying out the album were closely related to the stamps they sold on approval and in packets. I think they must have sold A LOT of Central American BOB stamps.

Bob said...

John, it had never occurred to me that there might be a relationship between the stamps that Scott had for sale and what was in their albums. Unfortunately, I don't know how one could pursue this.

Bob said...

Drew, I think I'm slowly getting a handle on some editorial practices in the Blue that help explain why some stamps are usually there and others aren't, and eventually I'll try to post these. But the bottom line is the album is all over the place. For example, Nicaragua gets great coverage (at least until the last issues) but some other Latin American countries aren't done justice at all.

DrewM said...

In response to John's comment about Scott tying its stamp sales to the layout of its albums, it's an interesting suggestion. This assumes, of course, that Scott's stamp sales at the time the pages in Big Blue were first laid out were pretty standardized -- that they had certain stamps, but not others. Wasn't that in the late 1920s (can't recall the first year of the Big Blue Junior album)? If so, what stamps were widely sold and bought during that decade? If it was sales of Seebecks, Central America, etc., maybe Scott did reflect its own stamp sales in page layout? I'd never thought much about the connection.

Of course, if Scott's stock of stamps for sale were constantly changing -- which I'd think they might have been -- page layout wouldn't be tied to stamp sales. Nevertheless, Scott DID know what stamps were generally available in the market, perhaps more than almost anyone else. Would their page layout people not have known this? An interesting new element here.

As for Bob's teaser about Scott's "editorial practices," I'd love to find out more. I wonder if the stamp media -- does it still exist apart from Linn's? -- hasn't delved into this? Or maybe they have and there are long lost research articles on this very subject? Where's the Great Database of stamp collecting articles we need to look this up? Somebody made these decisions at some point. They must have had reasons. And presumably this was written down somehow. We can see the results in the album itself, but why these choices were made is an interesting question. Well, to me, anyway especially since they're so idiosyncratic.

Bob said...

I looked at a list of what Scott was selling using a pdf of the 1916 Catalog. (The first Blue came out in 1914.) There aren't really enough listings for individual stamps to determine a pattern, and the majority of the packets are regional rather than single country. Scott does say in one of its adverts in this Catalog that the stamps chosen for the Blue are based on the frequency of inclusion in a "large number of general collections" they have purchased. I'll try to expand on this in a day or two in a new blog post.

DrewM said...

That strikes me as a bit of an odd way to design an album. I would not ignore any data I had access to, including most frequently-collected stamps as Scott claims to have done. But I'd also make my decisions on what the stamps cost the collector – information that is in their own catalogue, after all , and not just what I saw in collections I purchased. In other words, I'd use common sense and the data I had on hand.

That is, if we were trying to be consistent and inclusive. But I don’t think Scott was trying to be either consistent or inclusive. They were trying to produce a product for sale to Americans of the nineteen-teens and ‘twenties.

In 1915 (or so), could Scott have lacked the confidence that it really knew which stamps were less expensive? Was that what made them consult collections they were purchasing to make decisions about which stamps to include in their albums? That can’t make any sense. After all, they produced the catalogues which showed which stamps were less expensive! Al they had to do was use their own catalogues.

An additional factor that must have played an important role was their concern about the cost of the album. In every Big Blue album, Scott says that it’s for “a representative collection” for “varieties ordinarily found in most collections.” Being a responsible stamp-valuing organization, Scott could have used its own catalogue valuations to choose which stamps to include. But they don’t even claim to have done this.

The Scott catalogue contains many stamps that are very affordable but which are not in the albums—thousands perhaps. Were these stamps much more expensive in 1915? It’s hard to believe they were.

Scott clearly needed to keep the size of the albums manageable and less expensive. So they needed some rationale for excluding stamps. Maybe they thought that by defining Big Blue albums as for “cheaper stamps,” they’d be denigrating the collectors who bought the albums? Maybe “representative collection” just sounded better?

Omitting so many very affordable stamps may have been due to an editorial effort to cut down number of pages by omitting a few stamps here and a few there. They had their own catalogues to consult, yet they don’t seem to have done that much, so I think exclusions were done in a fairly arbitrary way to meet a page limit. “Find a few hundred more spaces to cut from the album so it’s not quite so long,” may have been the businesslike approach. And which stamps could you most easily justify omitting? Here, popularity of countries may have played a role, avoiding cutting Germany, Britain and the U.S. (it’s a U.S. album sold to German and British ancestry buyers in the U.S.), but cut Azerbaijan and other countries aggressively to keep the number of pages down.

I'm sure Scott intended their approach to be logical, but it also had to be businesslike. The album is a product. The combination of these factors led to many partial sets and the exclusion of thousands of common stamps. Since they do not appear to have used their own catalogue valuations, we have to look for other reasons for hundreds of exclusions of otherwise common stamps. I think the explanation comes from their need to cut pages by cutting stamps from less popular countries while claiming that what the album includes is based on “popularity,” not cheapness.

Bob said...

Drew, I'm currently doing some research on the first edition of the Blue which presumably represents as close to Scott's original intentions as possible. If I don't become sidetracked I'll post something about this in the next few days. I suspect you are quite correct on several points.