Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fifty Shades of Blue (and Brown), Part 4

Type C: The Blue Internationals

[Previous parts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Interlude, Part 3]

The Brown Internationals (what I am calling Type A1 and A2) were the flagship of Scott's worldwide album line for some seventy years. Even so, Scott had long been aware of the need for an intermediary album that went beyond their beginner albums.

Scott's first attempt to fill this niche was an Abridged International published in 1897. I have no other information about this album beyond that it apparently was not successful.

In 1914 Scott released the Junior International Album which was able to shoehorn the world into one volume by omitting what the editor considered "rare and high-priced stamps." Scott released new versions every year or two for almost forty years. Until the late 1930s there were no supplements so each new edition superseded the previous ones. The initial versions were hardbound, although there were usually several options on type of binding. Editions are often found with a blue binding, hence the "Blue Internationals" sobriquet.

I had originally planned on providing a detailed list of editions, but as I've posted this elsewhere, I think that what might be most useful at this point is a series of summary statements:

--The editions between 1914 and 1943 are named Junior Internationals and largely differ from each other by adding the latest new issues. They are mostly hardbound although Scott started issuing annual supplements around 1938 to get collectors to 1940 without having to buy a new album.

--The 1947 was the first edition which dropped Junior from the title; it is otherwise identical to the 1943 edition.

--The 1955, 1964 and 1969 editions eliminated hundreds of stamps and even some countries that had been in the album but also added some stamps not in previous editions.

--The 1979, 1985, and 1991 editions were published in two parts; these dropped even more countries and stamps that had been in previous editions (although again there are a few stamps that appear in these editions for the first time)

--1994. I have not seen this edition so I do not know if it was in two or four parts.

--The 1997 edition was split into four parts and is the one available today from Scott/Amos Publishing. This edition brought back many of the stamps dropped by the two part versions although there are still hundreds of stamps missing that were in the 1969 and earlier editions. Every country and almost all subgroups of issues (e.g., semipostals or airmails) begin on the front of a page to allow easy integration with International volumes 2 and beyond. The quality of reproduction is inferior to earlier editions but the paper is heavier and of archival quality.

I also want to emphasize what is probably the biggest point of confusion for persons coming to the Internationals for the first time. The splitting of the Volume 1 into two and now four parts was a move by Scott to cover increased printing costs or increase their profits or both. It does not mean that they were more comprehensive.

Although not apparent from the above, there were years at a time when Scott allowed various International volumes to go out-of-print. Scott is now using on-demand printing technology which hopefully means the Volume 1 will always be available for purchase, although you might have to wait while your copy is reprinted.

In the future, I will do a post on considerations in choosing an International edition for your collection.

The Blue board hardbound binding, "Brown"-type boards, Blue looseleaf


Jim said...

"The splitting of the Volume 1 into two and now four parts was a move by Scott to cover increased printing costs or increase their profits or both. It does not mean that they were more comprehensive."

Isn't that the truth. ;-)

Bob, I'm aware (so far) that Anjouan got dropped in the '97 when it was in the '69, but do you know if other countries/stamps got dropped(from the '69)?

I only personally checked the Aden-Ethiopia '97, and I don't have the other parts anymore. ;-)

DrewM said...

A few thoughts.

As you know, there's a fairly steady interest in old Scott Internationals on Ebay. The Volume I seems to be the most difficult to find in good shape, but it sometimes sells for fairly high prices. It's the oldest volume of the set and most copies offered are older than other volumes for sale. It's also the classic covering the 1840-1940 era that many collectors prefer to collect.

The quality of paper in most older Vol I's sold on Ebay is often terrible. It's thin to begin with, and the years are not kind to it. Many copies are yellowed and dog-eared, not easy to tell in an Ebay photo.

Also, as you point out, the page arrangement begins some countries on the back of the final page of a previous country which doesn't allow dividing countries up neatly (into other volumes to add later pages) or adding more pages to a country even when left in the original binder.

If the '97 edition has better paper and separates countries cleanly, that's an important improvement. I'll accept less clear illustrations for those benefits. That makes it possible to add blank pages for missing stamps. And this way it's no problem to combine 1840-1940 pages with later pages from Volumes 2 onward.

I've wasted money finding this out and I won't be mounting stamps on the copies I now own of Vol I due to poor page quality and an inability to add pages or move countries around as I wish.

There are two other drawbacks of the Blue International: The well-known fact that it omits hundreds of affordable stamps for no clear reason. Plus the two-post binders which hold its pages are excessively arge and awkward to use.

The first can be remedied to some extent by adding blank pages at least to the '97 edition, though this separates stamps from their proper location in a country. The second problem currently can't be remedied as the two-post albums come only in two large sizes, and no other manufacturer makes a smaller alternative. The large binders make mounting stamps difficult in roughly the first and last quarters of the albums since the pages are nowhere near flat.

I'd like to see someone offer smaller-sized binders to hold Scott International pages. Not a big money maker, but it's not exactly rocket science and would certainly make handling the album and mounting stamps in it far better than the current awkward binders. I even contacted Subway Stamps which sells their own version of the Blue International binder (and pages), but they said they don't intend to make smaller binders.

Bob said...

Jim, I can't believe you misplaced the other parts of your 1997 edition :) I know where mine are; unfortunately, not in a place where I can consult them at the moment. So I can't be very specific on differences in coverage as I am having to work from the list of countries that Amos Publishing says are in the 1997 version (which is not very detailed and not completely accurate: Katvia instead of Latvia, for example).

It looks like the following countries are in the 1969 edition but not the 1997: Anjouan and Nepal. I have to wonder if Nepal is correct as it has its own page in the 1969 and so less likely to have been discarded by Scott.

There are no countries in the 1997 edition that aren't in the 1969.

What I can't tell without looking at the 1997 pages is whether all of the Offices are there: i.e, Austria Offices in Crete, French Offices in Zanzibar, etc. In any event, I believe the omitted stamps are going to be mostly within a country.

Bob said...

Drew, I think you are right on the 1997 version being the best choice for most people. You have an interesting take on the binders. Scott does sell two versions of the binders: one holding 300 pages and the other for 400 pages, but nothing smaller. I have seen a few Internationals in homemade binders. The most common solution was to repunch the pages so they fit in standard binders. But I have seen one example where the collector made his/her own covers and incorporated the posts from a used/damaged binder so the pages wouldn't have to be repunched.

Jim said...


Why didn't I remember earlier--Joe's 1997 Big Blue Excel spread sheet list of the count number for each country!

He has been checking my figures for the '69 vs his '97, and so far, except for some count errors on my part, there have not been any differences in stamp space count.

He also lists Nepal at 14 count, so it may not have disappeared.

Bob said...

Jim, I completely forgot Joe's spreadsheet is based on the 1997 version. I'm sure I (by which I mean the Amos website!) am in error about Nepal having gone MIA. It didn't ring true.

James said...

Like DrewM, I am frustrated by many aspects of the supplies available for classic collectors. This is especially a problem for beginners like myself. Binders that are much too big (Minkus is definitely an offender here); albums that have double-sided pages, even though everyone says that's far from ideal; hinges that aren't really peelable; interleaving that isn't always acid-free; and most of all the lack of an up-to-date revision of a classic album such as the Scott vol. I. It's a relatively small market, but hard to believe that someone couldn't make some money doing at least some of these things. I suspect part of the problem is the separation between the publishing of catalogues and albums on the one hand, and the selling of stamps on the other: there is less incentive to develop competitors to Scott/Amos if using albums to encourage actual sales of stamps--as Harris and Minkus used to do-- isn't part of the package. Interestingly, in England Stanley Gibbons has completely separated its publishing activities from its stamp sales, which perhaps explains why they haven't produced any new albums of their own for so long.

DrewM said...

This is one reason why online or CD albums that the collector prints out themself have become popular. Two related suppliers do this, and, the former selling access to print-yourself pages, the latter selling the actual pages printed from this same resource. With the later, you could have them print pages on International or Speciality series pages or even on Minkus sized pages for between 20 and 30 cents a page. Not too bad.

You'd get 100% completeness which seems a little overwhelming to me. I like albums that omit the most expensive stamps, but don't like the somewhat arbitrary way Scott does this.

The problem of binders could be resolved also if you used, for example, Scott's Specialty series binders. I used to prefer the narrower of these binders but these have been discontinued by Scott, so the somewhat larger 3-inch size would have to do. But that's a lot less mass to heft than the enormously heavy International sized binders. Who uses the largest sized International binders, I wonder? They are simply too big to lift. The enormous Minkus worldwide binders are equally oversized, as James notes.

As for the economics of a publisher tackling the problems of international stamp albums, I wish there was one who would attempt it. But in what sometimes seems the waning days (or maybe decades) of stamp collecting in the middle of a great recession, this may not seem like the money-maker like it was in the 1940s or 1950s.

I think it could be, though, if someone more carefully combined the above album pages or something similar with the very most expensive stamps left out and printed them on large pages which could be mounted in a high quality but fairly narrow binder.

Companies that sell the 8 1/2 x 11 pages which fit only into three ring binders abound, but there is something about stamp albums that look like school notebooks which I don't find appealing at all. And the larger pages allow for more stamps and a more pleasing layout--to me, anyway.

I've mentioned this before, but there may be a way to use the 1997 Scott International pages combined with these other printed pages to create the most appealing type of album, personalized a little more to ones needs. Unfortunately, the match might end up duplicating some stamps and it would certainly include two different types of layouts even if the page style was similar on both.

It's a shame though that a publisher doesn't step in and combine all these elements in one product. Barring that unlikely event, I'll most likely use a combination of Big Blue pages for many countries, Speciality album pages for more in-depth parts of my collection in different binders, and some of the online printed pages for certain parts of the collection mounted in one sized binder or the other.

Subway will even print the International Vol I pages on Specialty-sized paper so you could combine them with Specialty pages in places for greater depth and keep them Specialty binders. The mind boggles at the planning this would take. And its wwfully expensive. Oh, for my childhood "worldwide" albums with only 10,000 or so stamps.

DrewM said...

I think James makes a good point about the separation of album publishers from those who sell stamps. If your purpose in publishing albums is to increase sales of the stamps you and others sell, you're in tune with what collectors want. If including more stamps will sell more stamps, you might do that. This is one reason for album supplements, I suppose.

But when you only publish magazines, catalogs, and albums, you're a book publisher. If you can continue to recycle an older album without too much change, merely adding new supplements, then you do that.

I also imagine Scott or Amos or whatever they're called spends so much time laying out the new album supplements for the International and Speciality albums, they could hardly find time to revamp the entire International Album. And not being in the stamps business anymore, they may not see increasing the sale of stamps with revised albums as of any relevance to them.

Would they do this if they were sellers of stamps? Maybe they would as stamp series became clearer to understand, as stamps formerly thought of as rare proved not to be rare, as formerly high priced stamps proved less expensive, and as styles of collecting changed. Scott themselves did this at one time when they removed revenue stamps from the International U. S. pages and when they made other changes decades ago.

Now, as book publishers, they may not see changing the albums as a moneymaker when all they need to do is push "print" whenever someone orders pages.

Jim said...

Great discussion.

I queried Bill Steiner to see if he was interested in helping to produce a WW classic Album for the general collector. He wasn't. I suspect he already has a lot on his plate with updates.

The complete Steiner WW classic pages he sells now are great, but at the cost of a much expanded album footprint. ;-)

Big Blue, as a basis for a general WW classical collection, still has a lot going for it - Chiefly compactness, and a selection that won't break the bank.

Realistically, a combination of Big Blue with Scott Specialty/ Steiner/ or ? for selected countries/areas might be a workable compromise for many.

James said...

Thanks for these very useful reflections. Having looked at the problem of albums about a year ago, I decided to get a Minkus Supreme Global going up to about 1960, and overall I've been really happy with that. With good quality interleaving it now occupies five volumes, and although these are individually too heavy, the whole takes up only about 2.5 feet of shelf space, which is about all I can manage at home. My grandfather also used Minkus, which makes a nice family connection.

The thing I like best is having an album that really is pretty comprehensive from about 1870-80 onwards, including the main watermarks etc. It's entirely feasible to buy decent one-country collections at auction and mount them as part of an international collection. Far fewer sets are broken by not including the top values, and although many of the pages are crowded with spaces, that also means that the weaker parts of a collection (at least mine) aren't so glaringly obvious.

I suppose I have about 30000 stamps in all (though I'm not done mounting) and only a handful so far for each country don't fit in--for that Bill Steiner's pages will be ideal. I can't blame him for not wanting to take another big job! To my mind he should be declared the patron saint of modern worldwide collecting.

Jim said...

I should have included the Minkus Global Supreme as also an excellent basis for a WW classical collection.

One advantage of BB is the attention paid by Filling Spaces to its contents -Bob, I'm talking to you! ;-)

James said...

Well, I should have mentioned the Minkus album in my initial response! easy to forget these things.

Just noticed that Subway is having a big sale on their Vintage reprints of the Scott Brown albums, would be tempting if I had more shelf space and didn't have to pay import duties and international postage.

DrewM said...

I've browsed around a little, but did not find an easy answer to this question: What are the major differences between the current Scott International Big Blue (1997 ed.) and the alternate printing sold by Subway Stamps? I think Subway sells the "regular" Blue pages (and binders) but they also sell a printing on one-sided pages.

Are these one-sided pages the older "Brown" International? What are the main differences, and why would someone prefer it to the Blue? Is it just a matter of greater comprehensiveness -- every stamps as opposed to many stamps?

Does Subway offers page variants by which I mean do they print the Brown edition on paper of various sizes, International sized vs. the somewhat larger Speciality sized pages? This question may be a little off-topic, but would be good to know. I know Browns still sell fairly well as used copies, but their sewn (non-looseleaf) bindings and aged pages might make them a little questionable to use for some as used copies.

Bob said...

Drew, the Blues that Subway sells are the 1997 edition "Junior" pages printed on both sides (split into four parts). The single sided pages are the Brown Internationals that were originally produced by the Vintage Reproductions firm who sold the rights to Subway. (I assume that Subway is reprinting as needed.) At one time I believe you could buy several different paper sizes and different punches but I can't find my old Subway catalogs to confirm.

One thing I just saw on Subway's website that I did not remember is that Subway sells brown-colored binders under its G&K brand as well as blue-colored binders. I had never noticed that this was an option.

If anyone wants to see the Subway sales brochure, you can find it at

DrewM said...

And so the Vintage Reproduction or Brown pages would therefore be the comprehensive pages, the ones with supposedly every major stamp issued? While the Blue are the more limited pages from the "Junior" album that replaced the Browns?

I remember Subway offering differing sizes for the Vintage Reproduction pages. I wonder if they still offer that option?

Too bad there's no will or way to combine the two into an upgraded International album that has more than the Blue and perhaps somewhat less than the Brown.

Bob said...

Drew, you are correct. The Vintage Reproductions are exact replicas of the Brown albums which are for all practical purposes complete for all major Scott numbers (except for Afghanistan which is missing the 19th century issues--go figure!). My guesstimate is that the Browns/Vintage Reproductions contain around 80,000 spaces as compared to 35,000 in the Blue (Volume 1).

DrewM said...

Interesting stuff. Not sure why albums seem so inherently interesting. Maybe it's the possibilities they offer.

So the Vintage Repro Brown is the equivalent of 1840-1940 pages for a Steiner (online) comprehensive world album, I imagine. If you could even get Steiner pages for that precise a period.
I wonder what the price difference is between those two?

Preprinted pages available from Steiner's supplier of pages printed from his layouts run about 25-30 cents a page times however many pages you'd need. All those pages would run to a lot of money.
Off the cuff, 20 stamps per page into 80,000 is 4,000 pages of Steiner! But that's "only" $1000.

By way of comparison, Subway sells the VR Brown album for around 1300-1400 dollars, a little less when on sale, if I remember correctly. I like the look of the Scott International albums better than the Steiner. Too many factors to consider!

For me, 35,000 is too few, leaving out many affordable stamps, but 80,000 is far too many and includes too many stamps I could never afford, including rarities. What I really want is something between the Brown and the Blue.

You'd think in a digital age, "design your own" albums would be possible, where you could include what you want and omit the rarities and higher values. A website allowing you to select which sets and individual stamps you want on each page before its printed? Not likely, is it? That' would be a little like the old handmade blank albums collectors designed themselves for specialized collections but blank albums wold be out of the question for a worldwide collection.

joe said...

"For me, 35,000 is too few, leaving out many affordable stamps, but 80,000 is far too many and includes too many stamps I could never afford, including rarities. What I really want is something between the Brown and the Blue. "

When you find it, let me know, becuase that is what I need too!

Tod Roulette said...

I just inherited this International Junior Postage stamp album from a dear relative. It belonged to my Great Great Uncle who was born in 1894. I haven't received it yet so I don't know the age or edition. I am assuming it is the 1914 edition. What should I know or look for when I receive it next week? It is being handed to me at a family burial.

Bob said...

Tod, my condolences on the death of your great great uncle. Once you have the album, why don't you send further information so I can try to be of more help. FYI, the various editions of the Junior don't seem to command a premium even though the 1914 edition is rarely encountered. (I've "seen" only two in eight years.) So it will come down to the stamps in the album and their condition.