Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fifty Shades of Blue (and Brown), Part 2

Type A2: The Brown Internationals [Previous Posts: Part 1]

Oh, I thought Part 2 of this post was going to be so simple, the Browns occupying five volumes as follows:

19th Century Edition
20th Century Edition 1901-1919
20th Century Edition 1920-1929
20th Century Edition Part 3
20th Century Edition Part 4

Straightforward, right? Except that the first version for 19th century stamps was named something different, there were multiple interim versions for all but Part 4, and Scott may even have used different titles for some printings of the albums. And I wasn't even planning to talk in this post about whether Scott published a Part 5 for 1939-1940. Whew!

So the prudent reader will take note of the simplified listing above, quit reading, and head to their drawing room for a beer or nice sherry. Still here? Don't say I didn't warn you.

It starts simply enough. Scott realized around the turn of the last century that it would soon be impractical to confine the Type A1 International album to a single volume much past 1900. They decided to freeze the initial volume's coverage through the end of 1900, and used this opportunity to make some major revisions including printing the non-US sections from "entirely new plates."

Apparently Scott wasn't initially certain when they wanted to terminate the Type A1 album they had been publishing since 1875/76. Consequently the earliest edition published in the twentieth century was still called the International Postage Stamp Album 1901 (following the Type A1 naming convention). After 1901, Scott renamed the volume covering 1840-1900 the 19th Century Edition, a title that stayed the same for as long as the Brown albums were published.

I assume that the decision to have the album include stamps from 1900 is based on their interpretation of when the 19th century ended and the 20th century began (which we all revisited awhile back with the debate about whether the 21st century started in 2000 or 2001).

As indicated in my first post, there are differences in coverage between Version A1 and A2. The most substantial is that Version A1 includes spaces for cut squares for the world. Scott indicated that the decision to drop cut squares was due to postal stationary losing popularity with collectors. I have read that when philately was in its infancy, collectors naturally wanted to own anything that smelled like a stamp, including all manner of locals and what now would be considered cinderellas. As the number of legitimate stamps grew, collectors began to focus.

In 1903, the first "20th Century" Part was published which covered 1901-1902. What seems strange to us now is the approach to handling new issues. Was the idea that a collector should buy the 1901-1902 album and when say the 1901-1906 volume came out, he or she should remount their collection? In any event, Scott continued to publish what I call "interim" editions before deciding to freeze the first 20th Century volume with stamps from 1901 to the end of 1919. Similarly, this was was followed by interim editions starting in 1920 with the second volume eventually being frozen at 1920-1929, the third at 1930-1938 with at least one interim edition, and the fourth with 1934 to mid-1938.

So a more accurate summary of the Brown Internationals as published by Scott in the twentieth century is:

1901 edition, published 1901?
[covered 1840-1900?];
19th Century Edition
[1840-31 December 1900];
20th Century Edition 1901-1919
[Part 1] (interim editions include 1901-1902, 1901-1908, 1901-1910, 1901-1912, 1901-1916, 1901-1917, 1901-1918)
20th Century Edition 1920-1929
[Part 2] (interim editions include 1920-22, 1920-1927)
20th Century Edition Part 3
[interim editions include 1928-1934, Sep 1929-1933, 1928?-1935 (c1938)]
20th Century Edition Part 4

(You'll note that the later volumes are really partial years that match up with the respective catalog--i.e., the 1939 catalog only covers through mid-1938 which is why Volume 4 only has spaces for stamps through mid-1938.)

To my knowledge, the covers for the 19th Century Edition and the last two parts of the 20th Century Edition do not specify years. So if you see a year range on the other two bindings rather than volume numbers, e.g., 20th Century Edition 1920-1927, this is a clue that you have an interim edition, not the complete one. But this isn't foolproof. I have a Part 3 that doesn't have a year range on the binder but the title page indicates that it isn't the final version.

The earlier volumes, at least, were reprinted multiple times. I have seen a citation to a 19th Century Edition printed as late as 1941, for example. I have heard rumors that Scott made some revisions over the years when reprinting the Browns, but have no concrete evidence of this.

As with Version A1, the Browns were available in a surprisingly wide variety of bindings and paper qualities, most of which are not encountered today. Almost all of the Browns you see for sale are hardbound, although Scott did sell loose-leaf versions. There are also hardbound versions printed on one side only.

Scott decided in the early 1940s to discontinue the Brown series in favor of their Green Specialty albums although they continued to advertise the Browns for as long as they had copies to sell.

The original Brown volumes show up on eBay and other venues with some frequency. The earlier ones are more common than the last two. The Twentieth Century Volume 3 is the hardest to find.

If you are new to the history of the Brown Internationals you may wonder why there is no 20th Century Edition Volume 5 [1939-1940]. For information on that, see the discussion in the next post concerning what I call Version B. This post will also reveal something never before mentioned in my blog: the Scott Provisional Albums.

I realize that this is convoluted, but I believe it is worth knowing that interim editions exist so you won't think you are automatically buying the complete volume without first checking.


(1) The first Type A2 album that in later printings became the 19th Century Edition (the number of engravings, 4000 rather than 6000, is the giveaway that this not the Type A1)

(2) A 19th Century Edition bound in boards

(3) The 19th Century Edition printed in two volumes on one side of the page

(4) The first Twentieth Century album covering 1901-1902 only

(5) An Interim album for the Twentieth Century Part 2 that covered 1920-1926 (versus 1920-1929 in the final version) and the Part 3, both bound in the typical brown


Jim said...

Bob- Fascinating.

I was unaware that there were interim editions. I wonder how thick the 1900-1902 album was? ;-)

We could probably prove or disprove the rumored "updating" of the 19th Century edition. I have a copyright 1919 19th century edition. We could compare/contrast the spaces for several countries from several copyright editions to get an idea.


InforaPenny said...

Bob, thanks again for tackling this interesting topic! Keep up the good work!

Best Regards,


DrewM said...

This series of articles on the Brown series is fascinating. Scott seems to have gone about their album business in some fairly odd ways. I completely agree with including the year 1900 in the first volume since that finished the era nicely from 1840-1900 and 1900 is the last year of the decade (not the first year of the next). But then Scott drops this convention and ends all future volumes in "9". That makes little sense.

Of course, the 1900-02 album is almost bizarre, more like a two-year supplement in covers than an album. Still, today current volumes of the Big Blue commonly include only a year or two worth of pages in a new binder, so maybe this strange two-year album was just ahead of its time by a century!

I do understand that, as a business, Scott's desire to issue its "interim" albums made good business sense.
I wonder, though, why loose-leaf binders and supplements weren't used instead of hard-bound albums? Maybe the collecting habits of the era simply required that stamps be mounted in a "book" that was hardbound and not in loose-leaf format the way we do today. Scott did offer a loose-leaf option, but apparently it didn't sell well.

Most fascinating to me, anyway, is the fact that Scott sold various paper weights in their albums and even sold that edition that was printed on only one side of the pages. I wonder if you could specify paper weight when you bought an album? The one-sided albums would help solve the "bulging" problem inherent in all hardbound albums, and I think it looks better myself. Yet I don't think Scott sold many of those albums compared to the "normal" two-sided pages -- and typically sold albums with thinner paper, if my experience is any indication.

This must have taken a lot of looking at Scott albums to track down the pattern of issuing them. Did you have to buy many or did you mainly rely on Ebay listings and other sources? I wonder if any of the major philatelic libraries has a collection of old (blank) albums for this kind of research?

A great article, and thanks!

Bob said...

Drew, if philatelic libraries systematically collect albums, I haven't found it in their catalogs. (The British Library does have a pdf which lists the 73 albums in its collection.) I do own a set of the Browns plus a few stray other editions. That has helped, as have ads in the back of Scott catalogs and magazines. But eBay is also a major source, which in a way is unfortunate, given the general lack of knowledge of sellers about the albums.

An interesting ad that appeared in one of Scott's journals was a survey intended to gauge interest in a deluxe loose leaf International album set. The set would require eleven volumes (through 1929) and would cost between $250 and $300. Scott says if you bought such an album, they would remount your collection into it!

DrewM said...

Bob: Was that survey you mention a contemporary one or was it from a journal in the distant past? Sounds like something from many years ago at that price.

The Brown album is too comprehensive for 99% of collectors and very expensive in the reprint form from Subway Stamp Co. I like the heavier paper and the one-sided pages of it. I don't like the fact that many, many spaces would remain forever empty and I'd have to pay a lot of money for that privilege. The nearly 100% comprehensiveness, including rarities, which seemed so right in the 19th century makes sense for only a tiny fraction of collectors today.

The Big Blue is a good compromise but is marred by so many idiosyncratic editorial decisions which omit many common stamps that it's frustrating. That Scott never went back and did a significant re-editing to include hundreds of common stamps originally left out seems strange. But that must have been a business decision. They must not have been able to afford to redo the layouts of pages. Unless there's more to it? Did they no longer have the editorial ability to redesign the pages? Was there no critical feedback in the philatelic press during that time about stamps that had been omitted but should have been included -- and so forth?

I like the traditional qualities of Scott albums. The page layouts are generally very well done, and so on. But you can tell from this history of the Scott International from the late 19th century that they were often making it up as they went along. At certain key points (after 1900 for one, 1940 another), Scott's editors should have redone/redesigned the pages. In fact, a few times they did as when they eliminated cut squares. They just didn't keep doing that. Unfortunately. Now, half a century or more later we deal with the results which aren't always ideal. I don't even much like the enormous blue binders you have to use! There ought to be a smaller alternative so pages aren't so dramatically curved for mounting stamps. Half the size of the current smaller (regular) blue International binder would seem a much better size. To me, anyway.

I wonder if people who have purchased old Brown (or Blue) albums in the hardbound format have ever "liberated" the pages to mount them in a loose-leaf binder? I imagine that would not work very well, especially with the thin paper and the need to find large ring binders, punch holes, etc. I have to admit that the thought dis cross my mind once or twice. But I hate to ruin old albums.

Somewhere in all of this, Scott Publishing/Amos Press ought to be able, using computer technology, to rethink the Brown-Big Blue albums to permit customers to do what the Steiner albums now allow which is self-printing or purchasing parts/sets of pages as needed -- instead of simply buying entire worldwide supplements. Using digitized pages, wouldn't they be able to do the redesigning not done before in order to include common stamps now left out? Then you could buy or print for yourself "real" Scott pages which were more realistically comprehensive, but not 100% comprehensive, and buy them in page groupings you needed. But that's not very likely is it? Studying the idiosyncracies of the old albums to learn 'what's what' is very interesting so we can better decide what album choices we prefer today.

Jim said...

In my opinion, I don't think Scott/Amos is a very big "new project" operation at the moment.

They are "active" in two areas..

1) Updating the Scott catalogue(s). There is an enormous foundation of catalogue information that their Scott predecessors have compiled,so they update recent years, and selectively improve the older catalogue.

2) Compile supplements for the active Scott Speciality albums, the Scott International, and possibly Minkus supplements.

That is all.

Now what might be feasible is a "Steiner Classic Light", a striped down Steiner. I wonder if Bill Steiner would be interested?

Bob said...

Jim, I've also wondered whether a "Steiner Classic Light" would have any appeal? Would there be a consensus though on what such an album should look like? I have a draft for a future post that tries to summarize the criteria for such an album. I'll try to whip that into shape after I'm done with the history of the Internationals.

James said...

I'd certainly vote for a Steiner Classic Light, not only leaving out the unobtainable items, but also putting somewhat more stamps on a letter-size page. In my view an up-to-date option like this would really attract new interest in collecting not only 1840-1940, but generally. At present choosing a reasonably sized album for this material has a distinctly musty feel about it, with the choice basically the same as it was for our grandmothers and even great-grandfathers.
Jim's excellent work on his Big Blue site would provide a wonderful starting point.

williamgrady said...

A few comments:

Although Scott is enthusiastically selling and updating the Classic Catalog each year, they may seem strangely disinterested in the market for pre-1940 albums. I wonder if their agreement when they licensed Vintage Reproductions to reprint the Browns precludes them from either revising it or producing a competing product?

Also since I think the Browns have all passed into the public domain when Scott failed to renew the copyrights, they might not want to take the risk of competing against not only Vintage Reproductions, aka Subway Stamps, but also any guy with a copy machine.

About the albums looking "musty." All Scott albums pretty much look the same, musty. You can buy country albums today that look similar to the pages in the Browns. I think it is the cream color paper, the borders and the large ancient looking cuts in the boxes that give them a dated look.

On the other hand, the albums are perfectly fine for mounting a collection since the stamps haven't changed except to go up in price.

James said...

Just to say I like the way Scott albums look: actually better than Minkus, which I prefer only because the Supreme Global is so much more comprehensive. It's the lack of up-to-date choice that's musty. Basically the problem is that since the explosion in stamp issues from the early 1960s, no one ever went back and looked comprehenively at what classic collectors might want. Given that Scott, Michel and Yvert all have excellent 1840-1940 catalogues, this is surprising, at least to me.