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."


DrewM said...

What an amazing and wonderful collection he has. Of course, if he had used Steiner pages from the beginning he wouldn't just have a more complete collection, he would have spent a lot more money, too, because of Steiner's far greater completeness compared to Scott pages.

It's very interesting to hear him say that, today, he'd prefer using Steiner pages. He did use Scott pages and continues to add to them with the occasional Steiner pages printed on Scott size paper, so I wonder how happy he'd be with dozens of smaller 3-ring binders instead of the more elegant Scott albums? One wonders if he had begun with Steiner, if today he'd be wishing he'd mounted his collection on the larger, better looking Scott pages? Or is it a question of Steiner's comprehensiveness and cheapness being truly unbeatable?

I've already expressed my opinion that I find the small "notebook paper" sized 3-ring binder pages less attractive for mounting stamps compared to the larger Scott-size pages. One alternative which Ra mentions is to print from the Steiner CD onto Scott sized pages, but that still keeps the expense up since those blank pages are nowhere near as cheap as 8.5 x 11 paper.

I've even seen a couple of albums where the owner printed pages on lightweight 8.5 x 11 paper and then glued these to larger Scott pages. If the colors match and the gluing is done well (and these were), you have Steiner pages in Scott size -- but with an awful lot of work. Much easier to print directly to Scott blank pages, but as Ra says this requires a wide-format printer, yet another expense.

Buying used albums, as Ra seems to have done many times, is another way to cut expenses. I certainly agree that not wasting too much money on albums is the best approach. In any case, it looks like even accomplished collectors wonder about the "best" album choices. It's hard to have too many regrets, though, with that beautiful collection to look at.

Bob said...

I incorrectly spelled Antonius in the original post with an extra "o." I've corrected the post, but I want to bring my mistake to everybody's attention so that my bad spelling doesn't perpetuate itself.

zenabi said...

I submitted a comment in the early days of the Filling Spaces blog about the virtues of the Steiner albums. However, after printing off and populating the pages for only four countries for the earliest issues up to the 1990's, it became apparent that the cost of ink cartridges was quickly going to surpass the cost of a set of used albums. (I had purchased a large collection on very basic homemade pages and I wanted to transfer the stamps onto album pages to enjoy a more appealing presentation.)

So, I monitored eBay for a few months and bought a set of Scott Internationals that go to 1994, housed in 22 Scott jumbo binders. It was a remainder collection, but the albums still included many thousands of stamps. I bought the albums on eBay for $780 plus $500 shipping. (New, those albums with binders cost $4600 plus tax and shipping. Incidentally, today a very clean 7-volume set of International albums to 1971, with stamps, sold on eBay for $640.)

A nice bonus was that the albums I purchased included interleaving. Plus, a previous owner had created very neat layouts with thorough descriptions on blank quadrille pages for most of the missing affordable stamps that were not included by Scott in the album; a significant task.

So, as much as I like the Steiner pages, from an affordability standpoint, my experience is that a collector can buy used albums for the cost of the stamps inside them, effectively getting the album pages and binders for the cost of shipping. As others have pointed out, by the time one adds up the costs of paper, binders and especially printer ink cartridges, a Steiner album can become an expensive proposition for a large collection.

I enjoy your blog and appreciate the information that you are sharing. My main collecting interest is the classical era. My Blue Vol. I is copyright 1955, 1964.

(Incidentally, at some point, I plan to sell most of my Scott International collection from the mid-1960's onward. Many of the stamps are a bit too big, bright and shiny for my taste. Easter commemorative stamps from Arab countries? Disney cartoon characters? It is telling that, early on in Jim Jackson's Big Blue blog, he mentions that Ascension's main export is postage stamps.)

Keep up the good work.

Jim said...

Zenabi- your post got me thinking...

Steiner is most valuable for 1840-1940 where Big Blue limits the available spaces. After that, the Scott Internationals do a much better job of providing almost all the possible spaces. So, having a collection in the a internationals after 1940 would be an easy- and cost effective way- to continue with a WW collection.

I agree that, for some reason, I am not attracted to bright and shiny stamps. ;-) I like the stuff before 1960 though, and I have a passive accumulation of stamps from 1940-1960, which I may put in Scott Internationals if I can ever wrest myself from the 1840-1940 stamp era. ;-)

Bob, are you ever tempted to expand the collection from 1940?


Bob said...

Jim, indeed I am tempted. My father bought me my first stamp collection in the mid-1950s and I think that it would be fun to do the Internationals at least through 1949 if not 1955. I have even half-heartedly bid (i.e., unrealistically) on a couple of Volume II's on eBay but so far without success.

James said...

I've thought a lot about the issue of an end date for a world-wide collection. From a historical perspective, 1940 is a very odd choice: right in the middle of WWII, so it leaves out some of the most interesting features of the 20th century, or rather leaves them half-finished. For an earlier date, 1936 would be a much better choice, esp. as it coincides with the end of George V's reign and the early rise of Hitler (this is where Stanley Gibbons' old Ideal Album ends). For a later ending, either the end of WWII and its immediate aftermath (say up to 1947 or 1952), or the early 1960s, when the main phase of decolonisation is effectively concluded. As commentators noted at the time, all those new countries eager for hard currency led to an explosion in the number of stamps. I chose in end to go up to 1962, which maximizes the number of interesting issues but avoids the 'dune' states entirely and keeps the shelf-space just about manageable. The only downside (from my perspective) is a fair bit of Eastern European wallpaper, but when its only a few extra pages per country it doesnt become so dominating as in a collection that goes into the late 1960s and after.
There are also personal grandfather's collection, which I inherited, ended around that time (he died around 1963), and my own childhood album had many items from the late 1950s/early 1960s, so I'd be sorry to miss those for sentimental reasons.
I think for most people choosing what to collect will involve balancing many different factors...though I think it is worth considering some of the larger historical picture (ie larger than the centenary of the Penny Black), as the end-date has such a big impact on the overall shape and interest of a collectiion over time. One thing I do wish for: that the Scott Classic catalog would extend its reach up to the early 1950s, which would make it a lot more useful to me at least, as well as to British Commonwealth collectors.