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.


DrewM said...

Good article (once again).

Are there reasons why many Scott albums are no longer available? Don’t they print album pages ‘on demand’ now? That must cut costs. They don't need to maintain an inventory. I don’t see why they couldn’t print on demand any album they’ve ever published. “Digitizing” (copying) their older pages wouldn’t be too complicated. Why doesn’t Scott enlarge its product line by making all pages available – even the countries it feels it can no longer support with supplements? I’d buy pages for countries even if they had a cutoff date of, say, 1980 or 1990 or whatever. Blank pages could handle the rest.

The old Scott Central America album has been abandoned by Scott and they do not sell pages for individual countries in that region. What album do you use, then, if you choose to collect Guatemala? For Africa, Scott issues a very limited numbers of pages. For Asia, they issue pages for most countries. I’d buy pages for Algeria, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and some others but none of these are sold by Scott.

I don’t expect them to sell pages for every country in the world, of course. Other album makers like Davo have a much more extensive range of European albums than Scott does but don’t try to cover the whole world. But Scott has tried to offer more albums throughout the world than most publishers, including albums from Latin America, Asia, etc. So these pages already exist.

You didn’t cover this in your article, but another change Scott made was in its binders. A few years ago Scott abandoned its smallest two-post binder, keeping only the larger one. At the same time, they begin offering two new 3-ring binders, small and large, for those who wanted pages to lie flat. They also experimented for awhile with a universal binder which would hold all their pages, but it seems not to have sold well.

To me, all of these changes were misguided and disappointing. For one thing, I prefer the smaller (1.5” wide) two-post binder which is no longer available. For awhile Subway Stamp Co. sold their version of this binder, but they appear to have abandoned it, as well. I dislike Scott’s 3-ring binders whose covers are much wider to accommodate the movement of pages on large rings. To me, this is ungainly and crude like a school binder, not like a stamp album. It’s a very awkward solution to the problem of getting pages to lie flat. Much better to have kept both versions of the two-post binder for those who want them and adopt the English or European multi-ring (typically 22-ring) binder which holds the pages better and does not require such enormous covers. This has driven me to other manufacturers.

So Scott has a habit of making decisions I find very strange.

Speaking of Subway, at one point they sold a smaller (thickness) International binder for the Big Blue album, one far less ungainly than Scott’s regular sized binder and certainly much more usable than its "jumbo" binder which I can't even pick up when it has pages in it. This smaller Subways binder was perhaps an inch thinner and held maybe 300 pages at most. This made for a much more pleasant and manageable experience when you picked the album up. It was much less heavy and you could actually get your hand around it.. But like Scott, Subway abandoned the product. The last time I called them they said they have no plans to manufacture it again. To me, it was the best of all solutions for holding Big Blue pages.

So there seem to be a lot of incomprehensible decisions in the world of stamp album publishing. I’d be very happy if Scott would re-issue all its old “specialized” pages even if some countries were no longer supported with supplements – or perhaps if supplements were issued only ever few years. If it’s just a matter of digitizing and printing on demand, why wouldn’t they do that?

Keijo said...

I think the lack of interest relates to fact that the current generation of stamp collectors favors other storage solutions (stock books, Steiner pages, hagners etc) and there's simply not enough demand to justify the costs of digitalization and marketing.


Jim said...

As usual,a very nice overview of the rise and fall of the Scott Specialty Albums.

Because of their nice layout on good paper and binders, the Scott Specialty albums I've always considered the "gold standard", albeit a bit tarnished today.

I was not aware that the "Greens", in their first incarnation in 1933, where largely from the plates of the "Browns". Good pick-up!

Although Scott-Amos might still argue today, as in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene, "I'm not dead yet!", surely, one has to agree, that the "Greens" do not get much attention from them now.

As Drew mentioned, "On-Demand" printing could be one solution.

But even this solution appears to be not viable, as Keijo stated, because of changes in storage solutions.

Today, for those that wish to house their entire WW classical collection in albums, Steiner is the new Scott. Steiner offers a space for every current major Scott number in the Scott Classic Specialized catalogue 1840-1940. And the entry price for a Steiner subscription is one that Scott cannot touch.

Still, for elegance and presentation, a selected collection of "Greens" is hard to beat!

DrewM said...

It's interesting that each commenter projects their own choice of albums as the wave of the future! I'm not so sure, and I'd certainly hesitate to say without some clear evidence of the types of albums commonly in use today. Put another way, all the collectors I know still use regular stamp albums, not stockbooks, as the main way to display their stamps.
If stock book sales are up why would that indicate they were being used as albums and not for storage of stamps which is, after all, their purpose?

I own maybe 25 stock books, all filled with stamps. But I don't consider any of these to be my "stamp collection". That honor only goes to my albums. Your view may be different, but I'd like to see some evidence of album sales numbers.

One type of evidence is sales of online collections. I can't remember a single online collection for sale that was mounted in a stock book or on Steiner pages, though that doesn't prove they haven't been offered that way. I have seen hundreds if not a few thousand collections for sale in old-fashioned albums. Perhaps not the most scientific proof, but pretty convincing, I'd say, that collections continue to be mounted mostly in albums.

So are Steiner pages the wave of the future? Perhaps, and I'd like to hope so since printing your own pages certainly can bring down the cost of making an album and might even allow for a greater degree of personalization. But I'm not so sure. For one thing, the 8.5 x 11 standard page size limit that printers impose is not a very attractive size for mounting stamps -- at least to me, anyway. To me, Scott's page size is about right, giving some "breathing room" around the stamps which the smaller printer-sized page does not. Further, the unappealing 3-ring format is, to me again, not sophisticated looking enough for a "serious" collection of stamps which needs something more "adult" perhaps. As a child I sometimes mounted excess stamps in school 3-ring binders. Perhaps this is the source of my thinking they are not so good looking.

But these are merely my personal preferences. Still, I see no actual evidence that collectors are flocking either to stock books or smaller-sized print yourself pages. Many may be doing this, but is there any actual evidence of a decline in album sales? That's what we would need to find out. Perhaps Subway Stamp Co. or Potomac Supplies or IHobb has a point of view on this?

So, I'm not quite as convinced that there is, first, a decline in album sales or, second, that stock books or Steiner pages are becoming much more popular. Perhaps they are. I suppose we'll see over the next few years. In the meantime, I agree that Scott albums are excellent places to mount stamps. They're also far more affordable than many others. Coming for having a large number of Davo albums (made in the Netherlands), I'm always surprised at how inexpensive, relatively speaking, Scott pages are compared to the European albums. Of course, you'd have to add the binders and that would raise the price somewhat.

A final thought which might make Steiner's pages more broadly acceptable (to me, anyway) and that is the option of having them printed for you on larger Scott-sized paper. At 25-20 cents a page, depending on whether you want Big Blue or Specialized pages, the cost isn't too bad. Not as cheap as doing it yourself, though.

In the meantime, I'm sticking with traditional albums of some kind -- if I can only get the price under control. Scott's Big Blue pages for 1840-1940 sell at their cheapest today for $480 discounted. That's for about 1200 pages (two sided x 600). What would printing that many pages yourself cost?

Houghton Grandmal said...


Online auction data would not really be relevant, yet. What's being sold at auction today tells you about the storage patterns of 40 or 50 years ago, not the future. I agree that I've seen no "stockbook only" auction items (plenty of stockbooks as accumulation-holders, yes) but that says nothing about whether Keijo's preference for stockbooks over albums is growing. Moreover, stockbook storage lends itself to a dealer skimming the cream for sales as singles or sets rather than offering the whole collection. So even if stockbook only collecting was growing, which it may very well be, it's not going ever to be reflected fully in sales in proportion to its growth.

Steiner pages are not really cheaper in the long run, if one prints all of them out. That discussion has been had on Keijo's and Jim's blogs, I think.

The size of the pages and the lack of attractive 3-ring binder options (I agree with you on both) are things one can adjust one's taste to accept--I have. (And the nondescript 3-ring binders on my shelves don't scream "steal me, I'm valuable, to the burglar who has just broken into my house.)

The most basic question is comprehensiveness. (Also the question of using mounts exclusively--that's a big problem for anything but Steiner pages.)

Browns/Specialty/Steiner are comprehensive; Big Blue is not and it's restrictively so. Jim Jackson found a middle way-- use the Steiner pages to house a Big Blue collection but with "wiggle room." So those are the three options, it seems to me.

I've printed most of the Steiner pages on 65lb stock. They fill about 15 linear feet of shelving. I'm guessing that Keijo's stockbooks may come close to that. Add another 5 linear feet for stockbooks with dups and "to-be-mounted" thousands and I've got 20 linear feet on the wall now. Over time I'm sure it will expand to 25 feet. That's a lot of boxes to pack and crate and keep safe (and dry) when moving. . . .

Even if one has 15-20 linear feet of stockbooks, because they are uniform, they'd box/crate and move more easily.

Compared to that, three or four (or five or six?) Big Blue binders?

Finally, the other aspect that's started to weigh on me: I know where to find things in those 20 linear feet. But my family doesn't and even if I tried to explain now, they wouldn't be paying real attention. The written guidelines they'll need--and I should be writing, now--will be much more complicated than saying, "there's five Blue binders with my stamps in them. They're worth XXX, the most valuable are the pages before 1920 in each country. . . . Take them to dealer XY"

Sure, the best case scenario is that I dispose of at least some of the most saleable items before I die--the ones I purchased thinking they could be isolated and sold if I needed cash . . . .

But shoot, I'm only now just building it (perhaps 25% through the initial building). And none of us knows when our time will come.

Bob said...

Thanks everybody for your comments. I'll just add that I am starting to see some country/regional collections on Steiner pages. Unlike those mounted in Scott/Minkus, I don't think anyone has mentioned Steiner in the title or even description. So you would likely need to recognize the pages from the images. This probably would be worth following to see if Steiner-mounted collections bring the same as Scott (et al)-mounted collections.

I'm going to post a guest blog entry in a couple of days that will give the take on this topic by a person who has a very large worldwide collection.

Keijo said...

I agree with Houghton that what we're seeing right now in the auctions reflects the past.

It's also worth remembering that each country has unique preferences/favorites. For example US situation is very different of that here in Northern Europe (which is again very different from UK). A bit of the same story as it is with catalogs.

DrewM said...

All very interesting, but there really is no way to know today if the "wave of the future" in albums is Steiner, stockbooks, or old-fashioned albums. To anyone adopting one of these options, I'm sure they might feel that their choice is the one most others will choose, also.

It would be interesting to poll current collectors (through Linn's? Through stamp clubs? Online?) to see what the breakdown is of the three types of albums -- or more types. I still believe from what I've seen that most collectors continue to use -- and probably will continue for some years -- standard albums.

If it were easier to print Steiner's pages on Scott-sized (or similar) larger pages so that his pages ended up fitting a larger binder like the Scott binder (since they are readily available) that would -- for me anyway -- be the best solution of all.

Another way to tell what's popular is to look at what the dealers are selling. The Big Blue still seems to sell well enough as do the Scott Specialty albums, but the latter has become a good deal more limited in its variety of the decades. And some of the aftermarket suppliers have dropped the ball a little by not offering the variety of binder choices they once did. I'm thinking of Subway's abandoning the smaller Scott International album binders and the smallest International binders which they published and sold more cheaply than Scott/ Amos did. They continue to sell Scott-style pages more cheaply, though.

I hadn't thought, as Houghton says, of 3-ring binders as a kind of "camouflage" stamp collection so burglars wouldn't recognize them, and I suppose stockbooks might be less recognizable as something valuable to steal, as well. Anything marked "Stamp Album" isn't well hidden, I suppose! Maybe all our albums should get boring labels like "Math Tables"!

My "linear footage" of albums is approaching 40 feet with the only problem that most of my pages in most of my albums are empty. So not so impressive to measure the length of empty albums. I combine Davo albums with Scott and a lot of stockbooks while also wondering if Steiner might be a better alternative for some collections. Truly, a hybrid approach. If I had to box them all and move them, it would take hours and hours and I'd be worried sick the whole time.

Keijo said...

Drew... At least StampBoards has had a poll on topic Stamp album or stock book - which do you prefer.

Only 50 replies so the sample is way too small to say anything conclusive. But the stock books are on the lead, and hybrid approach (stock book + album ) is close behind. Those using nothing but albums are a minority there... But that's the situation with Stampboards users (many of whom are Australian).

Bob said...

Drew, if you are a member of the Stamp Community Forum, it looks like it is easy to setup a poll.

Keijo said...

Bob and Drew... I've taken a liberty of creating a poll about the topic at The Stamp Forum (a brand new stamp forum with some friendly folks)

Keijo said...

And forgot the address for the poll: http://thestampforum.boards.net/thread/239/stamp-album-stock-which-prefer