Thursday, May 30, 2013

Revisiting the Supremes

No, Filling Spaces isn't changing into a Motown Blog. Rather, some recent comments about Minkus worldwide albums have encouraged me to reexamine the Supreme Global albums. For the collector who has yet to choose a worldwide album, the Supremes represent a tempting option. Long out of print, Scott recently reprinted the 1952 edition of the Supreme and, guess what, it costs rather less than the comparable Blues. The Supreme definitely contains more stamps than the Blue. The big question is whether the choice of stamps for inclusion is less, shall we say creative (idiosyncratic, cavalier--where is that thesaurus?) than the Blue. Or to leap to the bottom line, will the majority of stamps a worldwide collector is likely to acquire be in the Supreme?

To perform this comparison I employed a volume of the Supreme which covered countries A-J (the US is missing in my copy) and a two volume edition of the Minkus World Wide catalog from the early 1970s. For the Scott International side, I relied extensively on Jim Jackson's BigBlue blog. It would not be too much to say that one of the reasons this analysis took so long to publish is that I needed Jim to complete his work on all of the countries from A through J!

I randomly chose countries (colonies, etc.), big and small, that were in both the Scott Blue International Volume One and my copy of the Minkus Supreme. This came to 63 before I stopped. Out of these 63, I did not complete 13 because making the comparison turned about to be too time consuming. For those not familiar with their approach, Minkus, as with most publishers besides Scott, integrates semi-postals, officials, postage dues, airmails, etc. within a single sequence. Thus it is impossible to quickly compare the Scott and Minkus albums page by page. Moreover, the albums tend to group stamps of similar design even when separated by decades. As an example, here are the Minkus catalog numbers for a row from the Supreme that contains spaces for the Christian X definitives of Denmark from 1913-1927:

124 125 276 275 126 222 223 127

From a display standpoint, I'm not complaining as I would rather have related stamps in denominated order rather than scattered over multiple pages. But from the standpoint of comparing coverage, jumping back and forth within a range of hundreds of catalog number makes matter difficult.

OK, enough excuses; lets look at some of the larger countries. Coverage in the Supreme Global of those countries I compared ranged from 60 to 100 per cent. Specifically,

Albania 29% of the stamps from 1840-1940 are in the Blue vs 60% in the Supreme;
Afghanistan 10% vs 62%;
Greece 46% vs 66%;
Denmark 52% vs 67%;
India 58% vs 78%;
Bulgaria 64% vs 82%;
Czechoslovakia 50% vs 87%;
Finland 57% vs 88%;
France 66% vs 90%;
Germany (Empire) 77% vs 90%;
Argentina 40% vs 100%;
Greenland 39% vs 100%
Bavaria 80% vs 100%.

Wow, look at those 100 percents! Impressive. What is problematic for me is that the Supreme's coverage isn't always impressive even if it almost always beats the Blue. Take Greece and Denmark, for example. Why should the Supreme be missing one third of their stamps issued 1840-1940?

In looking at Denmark, I found that while the Supreme contains more stamps than the Blue, it is missing 33 stamps that are in the Scott album, only a couple of which were probably omitted because of catalog value. Ignoring some individual items, the Supreme is missing all of the following that in the Blue occupy multiple spaces:

--all of the 1875-1902 numerals (Scott 25//34, Minkus 43//52) perforated 14x13 1/2
--the three 1884 large corner numerals perf 14x13 1/2 (Scott 38-40, Minkus 63-65);
--all of the 1907 Newspaper stamps (Scott P1-P6, Minkus 98-107);
--four semi-postals (Scott B1 and B6-B8, Minkus 221 and 387-388)
--two early airmails (Scott C1 and C3, Minkus 262 and 264)

Catalog value could not have been a determining factor in most of these cases. Nor do I think it was just the perforation difference, as the Minkus catalog clearly differentiates the issues via major numbers. In any event, the omitted Newspaper stamps, semi-postals, and airmails clearly are as important as similar stamps included in the album (even, as in the case of the two airmails, a little pricier).

To say this another way, the question I was hoping to answer was why the Supreme has poorer coverage of Denmark compared to say Finland. And the bottom line is the reason isn't obvious. (Incidentally, I did check the Supreme against the Master Global just in case my copy of the Supreme had the wrong pages.)

If there were a "problem" with Denmark and Greece, I assume there also are at least a few other countries that aren't as well represented as they could be. But can't you resolve the issue via adding your own "blank" pages? Unfortunately, unlike the latest version of the Blue Internationals, the arrangement of the Supreme Globals does not lend itself to displaying stamps missing from the album for two main reasons: 1) countries can begin on the back of pages meaning any blank pages you add will be out of sequence, and 2) the greater page density of Minkus albums means there often is little space to squeeze in more stamps (assuming you would even be open to using the margins).

What about smaller countries including territories, offices, etc? As I knew from previously comparing the Supreme and the Blue, for the mainstream countries well-represented in both albums, Minkus in most cases is noticeably better. But I also had the impression that the coverage for states, territories, offices, etc., seemed less impressive, and so it is:

Brunswick 24% in the Blue vs 13% in the Supreme
France (Offices Egypt) 18% vs 14%
France (Offices Zanzibar) 10% vs 15%
Eastern Rumelia 18% vs 24%
France (Offices Turkey) 37% vs 25%
Baden 28% vs 29%
Germany (Marianas Islands) 42% vs 36%
Italy (Offices China) 19% vs 40%
Italy (Offices Crete) 60% vs 45%
French Colonies (General) 25% vs 46%

So here are my opinions:

--if you are the kind of collector who expects to find a space in your album for all but the most expensive stamps in the catalog, the Supreme won't do: it is missing too many affordable if not necessarily common stamps;

--if the need to keep the footprint of your albums to a minimum is paramount, the Minkus Supreme gives you more bang for your buck than the Scott Blues;

--if you want to collect worldwide for a decade or two beyond 1940, the Minkus Supreme appears to offer good coverage and you might still be able to squeeze the pages into three binders*;

--if you go with the Minkus, don't expect an easy time of converting Minkus numbers to Scott and vice-versa. It took me most of an afternoon to do a concordance for Denmark. The flip side of this is, unlike the Scott Blue, Minkus does provide catalog numbers for every stamp in the album and the Minkus catalogs are still affordable to acquire from eBay or other sources.

Because I want to keep my worldwide collection to a couple of binders, if I were starting over, I might very well choose to go with the Minkus Supreme Global. But, in my opinion, the Supreme isn't comprehensive enough to persuade me to remount my Blue. I know that there are readers who use and prefer the Minkus albums and I would love to hear your opinions or counter arguments.

______________________
*The reprinted base volume sold by Amos Press covers 1840-1952, so you will need to buy at least one set of Supreme Global supplements if you want stamps beyond this date. Part 2A & 2B will take you through 1963. Again, vis-a-vis affordability, similar coverage with the Blue Internationals would take you into parts 5/5A.

10 comments:

Jim said...

Bob, nice work on comparing the Big Blue with the Minkus Supreme- this is a very meaty blog post that quantifies the differences. Like you, I've wondered if the Supreme would be overall a better choice. But I did not have access to a Supreme to satisfy curiosity, so I am grateful for the evaluation.

(I do have a copy of the Master Global, and I was going to do a comparison with BB. But it became quite obvious at the outset that, for earlier issues, BB was much better. So I would not recommend the Master Global as an alternative.)

I am impressed with how the Supreme bests BB (at least for spaces, if not for choices) on every major country that was evaluated.

There are significant drawbacks as you've mentioned, but the overall number of spaces- as well as the coverage to 1952- clearly keeps the Supreme in contention.

James said...

Thanks for this great post, which is remarkably helpful even for someone like me who uses a Supreme Global from 1959 (supplemented up to 1962). Just a few thoughts.

First, I'd suggest that in everyday use the difference in coverage between Scott and Minkus may be more substantial than you make out, even when the percentage figures (as for Greece and Denmark) are not as impressive as for some. Far fewer short sets, more officials, etc, esp. after the 1880s--and the attention to watermarks and so forth means that you aren't working on a 'simplified' face-only collection that's hard to upgrade at a later date. Sure, the idiosyncracies are annoying, but so far I end up with only a few stamps for a big country that don't fit in the album.

Second, you are right that anyone used to Scott numbering is going to have some readjusting to do. But my feeling is that putting the different types of stamps together (regular, semipostal, air) makes for more historical and aesthetic unity in a classics collection--otherwise stamps issued at the same time and marking the same occasion can be separated by dozens of pages.

It is also true that in the Supreme Global some minor countries begin on the back of a different country's page: but this is only the case for a relative few, and the countries involved are always closely related and small, eg both will be US territories. Not ideal, but not that big a deal in the end.

Finally, the Supreme Global doesn't have much blank space for extra stamps, esp. in the pre-1940 coverage, so adding more than a couple of stamps usually means adding a page. But for me at least, the other advantages outweigh that. Not least is the issue of album footprint, which you mention--for the years I'm covering (basically the world up to widespread colonial liberation) I'd have a much more cumbersome set of albums with Scott. If I wasn't using Minkus I probably would use the Steiner pages, printing them out as I go; but even with what I have mounted now a collection up to 1962 would be pretty much impossible in terms of shelf-space. For a serious collection up to 1940 it would be more feasible, but still many thousands of pages. There's also the issue of mounts: if you use them a lot, then the Minkus probably isn't the best option.

Just one last point: does anyone reading this blog know if the reprinted Supreme Global from Amos has Minkus numbers throughout? The later versions of the album not only added these numbers, but also made many corrections--and for some of the British colonies especially, added extra coverage.

Bob said...

Jim and James, thanks as usual. James, I was hoping that actual users of the Supreme Global would weigh in, as they are the ones who will best know the albums strengths and weaknesses.

I wish I could answer your question (and many of my own) about the Amos reprints, but alas I can't. I bought the reprint of the Blue Part 1A right after it came back in print just to satisfy my curiosity (at that time there was no information available as to what the differences were in the various editions of the Blue). But I can't convince myself to buy the Supreme Global just once on a whim.

DrewM said...

Fascinating as always. I've always wondered about the Minkus worldwide albums, but largely dismissed them because of the problem of different and non-standard catalog numbers. How does on buy stamps for a Minkus album without the need to 'translate' the required stamp into a Scott number? I suppose buying by year would sometimes work. But, for me, buying a set by Scott numbers is pretty easy while determining which Scott numbers go with the stamps I need in a Minkus album would be problematic.

As for coverage, it's very interesting to discover as you did that Minkus provides more coverage than Scott in many areas. This has always been a major drawback of the Scott International. They clearly set out to provide albums for a "representative" but not at all complete collection of the world. That makes sense in many ways (omitting spaces for expensve stamps which most collectors would never own, for one, keeping the albums from growing even longer than they are, for another). But Scott omits stamps very idiosyncratically almost as by whim in some cases -- partial sets, omitting many stamps of modest prices, and so on.

Minkus seems somewhat better in that department. I also like the fact that Minkus attempts to go beyond the rigid chronological order of Scott, putting stamps of the same set from different years together more often. And the inclusion of semi-postals and airmails with their same-year stamps makes far more sense than Scott's odd policy (I think) of organizing stamps by "type" on different pages. To me, this makes almost as little sense as organizing stamps by size or color. If they were all issued in the 1920s, they should all be together with other stamps from that era. Minkus wins on this account.

My major dislike about Minkus, however, is that the pages are unaesthetically overcrowded. Some may like the enormous overkill of so many stamps on each page, but to me Scott wins hands down on this score. Less is more when you're mounting stamps.
Scott pages can also be purchased now as single-sided pages (Subway Stamp Co) although fairly expensively, while Minkus can't. And the enormous size of Minkus binders and the huge number of pages and weight of the albums, making for page bending that makes it difficult to mount stamps on the pages isn't very appealing. I have smaller sized Scott International binders which Subway once sold (no longer, unfortunately) that are even smaller than the International "regular" sized binders. These make for a manageable sized album with pages that aren't bent so much that mounting stamps becomes difficult. On this, in my own case anyway, Scott clearly wins.

The Steiner pages solve all these problems but are smaller generally and require what I consider unattractive 3-ring "school" binders. If Steiner would publish on larger International or Scott Specialized size pages (which I think may be a purchase option) at an affordable price, this might be the hands-down winner among the albums. But that would make the cost of buying albums prohibitively expensive as the Steiner pages for the world even up to "only" 1940 get very expensive very quickly -- another advantage of either a Minkus or Scott worldwide album.

For me, I'll go with Scott largely on the page layout and avoiding overcrowding issue, but I appreciate Minkus more now due to your article If there were alternative less expensive binders to house Minkus pages in that might help alleviate the size problem of their albums.

ChrisW said...

Bob,

Are there entire countries in the Minkus Supreme Global that were completely left out of the later editions of BigBlue? This could be yet another “selling point” for the MSG in addition to the increased coverage for most counties that are in both albums.

Bob said...

Chris, I thought I had made a comparison of the countries in Scott versus Minkus, but if I did, I can't find it. My memory is that the Supreme does have the countries that were dropped from the Blue (or were never in there in the first place). I'm a little more certain that the coverage in Minkus for most of the countries that were dropped from the Blue is pretty meager. The countries may be there but will be missing stamps that arguably should have been included. And you still have the problem that that most (all?) of these countries weren't on individual pages, so you can't easily add your own pages to supplement the coverage.

ChrisW said...

That was my impression as well, but I haven't seen any actual data. I guess any coverage of these countries is better than none at all. My birthday is next week, and I think I will give myself a birthday present and buy the first volume of the MSG and try it out!

Bob said...

Happy Early Birthday, Chris. I'm sure you will be happy with the Supreme Globals reprint based on what others have said. When you have time, I hope you will post your impressions.

ChrisW said...

Well, just thought I’d update you. At the last minute before ordering the Minkus, I had a change of heart and ‘bit the bullet’ and ordered the first volume of the Vintage Scott Brown album instead. I just couldn’t get past the overcrowded look of the MSG, plus I actually like my ‘back of the book’ in the back of the book!

So, my thinking now is that I will try this first volume out for a while and see how I like it. Then, I will either just use it as a separate 19th century collection (and keep everything else in my BigBlue) or, if I like it, I will just slowly get one volume at a time until I have all 6 volumes.

Now - like a child waiting for Christmas morning to come - I just wait for the package to arrive on my doorstep!

Bob said...

Chris, I know it was difficult decision. There is a lot to like about the Minkus but the Browns seem oh so comfortable to the Blue collector. I bought a "bargain" copy of the first half of the 19th century Vintage Reproductions on eBay (bargain because it was missing the US pages). The pages are punched for Specialty Album binders and are very handsome; a quality product. I'm sure you will be pleased with yours once they arrive. And I think you have a good strategy of starting with the 19th century where the Blue is the weakest and see what happens. I look forward to hearing about your experience.