Friday, July 26, 2013

A Guest Post from Antonius Ra

As several readers have pointed out recently, large worldwide collections are built over decades, so how they are currently housed could well reflect what was available when the collection was growing rather than what the collector would choose today. For example, the well known Antonius Ra collection (perusable online at is largely in Scott Specialty albums. But would he use these albums if he was starting today from scratch? To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, unfortunately, we can never know. Fortunately, here to tell us what he might do if starting over is Antonius Ra. I had sent an email asking him a a question about the history of the Scott Specialty albums. Here is his reply and subsequent remarks which he has very kindly given me permission to quote:

"As far as I know Scott has printed all countries in the Scott specialty format at one time or another.  However, I think some have not been reprinted since the 1940s.  I have only ever bought a couple of countries pages new so it isn't something I keep up on.

I found a long time ago that you could buy collections housed in Scott Specialty albums with many a stamp cheaper than you can buy the new pages. For years I had several dealers keeping their eyes out for albums with stamps and finally ended  up with about 90% of the worlds countries.

Several countries I have like Canada, Russia and Great Britain are housed in the albums I bought them in.  Transferring 7,000 stamps from Russia was just to much work and expense. As for Great Britain I bought a set of Stanley Gibbons Davo hingeless albums because it is the most proper way to collect them.

As for additional pages I use Bill Steiner formats and print them on Scott Specialty blank pages or G&K knockoffs that are about half the price. This however requires a wide bed scanner or a trip to a copy shop. As I have been expanding many countries to later dates most of these new pages, I just use the Steiner formats and print them on 8 1/2 X 11 Ivory colored 67# Vellum Bristol.  It is much cheaper and easier than using the expensive Scott blanks as it is much easier for me to maintain and scan updates.

I would advise people to spend their money on stamps instead of expensive new pages/binders. I've seen many a collection that people have spent more on the albums than the stamps within were worth, which doesn't seem to make sense to me. Since the web came into its maturation I think more people are splitting up collection to sell so I don't know how easy it is to find them these days. Best way is probably tell the dealers you know that you want to purchase the Scott specialty collections, they have, after they have taken the key stamps out.

If I were to start again I would consider just using the Steiner formats on 8 1/2 X 11 pages. One of the main problems with the new Scott Spec pages is that they do not contain sub numbers just all the majors. It appears that Scott deleted them sometime in the early 1950s (just a guess). Using the Steiner formats you can customize your pages of countries that you would like to go deeper into. With the Scott Spec pages people usually just add quadrille pages to catch the spill overs. Neatness is something that I try very much accomplish so that kind of "catch all" page really doesn't fit the bill for me.

Another thing that is perhaps the most important tool the world wide collector can have, is a needs list. It takes a long long time (the longer the more stamps you need) but I would not attempt trying to conquer the world without it. I made just a simple little form in MS Wordpad (something any PC user can open, which is important) that works quite nicely. With it I can search country listings very fast and never have to drag my book out or buy a stamp I already have. For countries with more spaces than stamps I usually use a form that has numbers from 1 to 500 or a thousand and subtract the stamp numbers I have."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

From Brown to Blue to Green: The Scott Specialty Albums

One of the many aspects of the mechanics of worldwide collecting that interests me is learning where people with large collections have chosen to house their stamps. What is likely the most comprehensive collection ever assembled, the 1840-1910 "private treaty" collection offered by Harmer-Schau, is mounted in Minkus country and regional albums. On the other hand, the Traveler collection, largely complete 1840-1981 and currently being auctioned by H R Harmer, is in Scott Specialty albums, as are the two large "online" collections of Antonius Ra and Dr. Cheng Chang.

Since the Scott Specialty albums remain popular to this day, I thought I would take a brief look at their history to complement my previous surveys of the Brown, Blue and Annual albums. Much of what follows is from the article "Hails & Farewells: The Story of the Scott Specialty Albums" by Albert H. Ewell Jr., with additional information from George T. Turner's article "A Century, 1868-1968, Scott's Albums."

The Scott Specialty Albums, popularly known as the Green albums because of their binders, were originally announced in 1933. These represented a move by Scott from the hardbound Brown Internationals that had been their flagship world product to albums devoted to smaller chunks of the planet. Ewell writes that the Scott Specialty albums used the same plates as the Browns but were printed looseleaf on one side of the page. Out of curiosity, I compared several dozen pages between the Browns and online scans of the Specialty pages, and they indeed are largely the same. The two differences I found were a few stamps on different rows and a couple of different cuts. Whether this represents "post-Brown" corrections or occurred for other reasons, I cannot say.

Scott itself wrote in relation to the Specialty series: "Our plates have been remade and presses prepared so that we are now ready to publish any album indicated in the list just as soon as we receive a definite demand for 600 or more albums."

One thing not clear to me is whether Scott catalog numbers were present from the beginning as they are now. Antonius Ra writes in an email that "one of the main problems with the new Scott Spec pages is that they do not contain sub numbers, just all the majors. It appears that Scott deleted them sometime in the early 1950s (just a guess)."

While I believe all of the earliest Specialty albums were regional (or at least along the lines of Germany & Colonies), Scott soon began to issue Single Country albums using pages reprinted from the regional Specialty albums. I don't know whether these were originally marketed as being a separate product line from the Specialty albums, but certainly today Scott includes them along with the regional albums.

In any event, Ewell says that by the 1960s the Specialty albums had grown to twenty-four major sections requiring at least thirty-seven large binders.

If you are familiar with Scott you know that the company has been owned by a variety of individuals and corporations, and many of these changes in ownership would translate into either renewed commitment or studied indifference to their line of worldwide albums. Regardless of owners, the Blue International line continued to receive annual supplements, even as much of the Specialty albums and supplements languished. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons the Blue annual supplements were of little use to the owners of the Green albums.

In 1995, Scott announced plans to do the Specialty albums proud, bringing back out-of-print volumes and publishing missing supplements. But whatever Scott's good intentions, by 1999 Ewell estimates that 78 countries were once again unavailable. In recent years, the albums have continued to come and go out-of-print.

To give an idea of what the Specialist series originally comprised, here is a list of the albums advertised in the back of the 1941 Scott Catalog. Note that there is some overlap: for example, Canada was part of both British America and British North America. (Today Canada is sold as a single country album.)

Great Britain, British Europe & Oceania
British Africa
British America
British North America (this is a subset of British America)
British Asia
France (without colonies)
French Africa
France & Colonies (except for African colonies)
Germany Colonies
Germany (without colonies or states)
Germany and German States
Central Europe
Western Europe
Northern Europe
South Western Europe
Eastern & Southern Europe
Italy & Colonies
Belgium & Colonies, Netherlands & Colonies, Luxemburg … (includes countries also found in some of the Europe albums)
Vatican City
Portugal & Colonies
Scandinavia & Finland
Soviet Republic
Spain & Colonies
Independent Countries in Africa
Independent Countries in Asia
Central America (but not Mexico)
South America
Danish West Indies, Dutch & French Possessions in Americas
Latin West Indies
Guam, Hawaii & Philippines

It was also possible, at least in the early 1940s, to purchase the pages for any individual country from the Specialty Album. I know a lot of collectors wish this were still possible.

In later years, as the number of stamps multiplied, many albums were split into smaller units. In fact, if you look at a current list of Specialty albums, they seem to be largely individual countries. Scott says they currently produce pages for more than 120 countries which works out to less than 50 percent of what they produced in the series' heydays.

But the bottom line is, in what I have checked, it appears that the Specialty Albums did once cover every country that was in the Browns. Unfortunately, if you were starting a comprehensive collection today, you would be challenged to keep it in Scott Specialty albums unless you were amenable to purchasing used albums (which, of course, you very well might be for a variety of reasons).

ASIDE. One of the burning questions about the Brown International is whether there was a volume that went through the end of 1940. Actually, it is certain that such a volume was never even advertised. But what isn't clear is whether it was prepared but never put on the market, perhaps because of WW2. We know that the pages covering through 1940 are in the reissue published originally by Vintage Reproductions, but where did they get them? I had hypothesized that perhaps it was from an Annual Album for 1939-1940. But again we have no proof this ever existed. I'm beginning to think, though, that the most likely source was from the Scott Specialty Albums listed above.

Ewell, Albert H. Jr. "Hails & Farewells: The Story of the Scott Specialty Albums." Philatelic Literature Review, Vol. 52, 3rd Quarter, 2003, pp 222-226.

Turner, George T. "A Century, 1868-1968 Scott's Albums." Scott's Monthly Stamp Journal, March 1968, pp 1-22, 34.