Saturday, November 26, 2016

Checklist of Comprehensive Worldwide Stamp Collections

[Note: I originally called this a checklist of "large" collections but it is really meant to include collections that are largely complete for the years covered. Except, of course, for the complete Blue Volume One collections which are their own animal.]

None of what is here is new information, but I thought it might be handy to have a list of these collections in one place. Additions and corrections are always welcome. I will continue to update as new information comes to light.

I’ve come up with five arbitrary categories:

1) Certifiably large worldwide collections (i.e., the collection size is certifiable, not necessarily the collectors; these are collections which encompass 1840 to at least the 1950s).

2) Honorable mentions (these might belong in the first category but we’re missing some important details about their size or scope. I’m also including here two large collections you can peruse online.)

3) Collections still being built (these might belong in one of the above categories). Keijo on his Stamp Collecting blog has been conducting a poll to identify such collections. The latest results suggest there are at least 50 active collectors with at least 50,000 up to 400,000 plus stamps.

4) Legendary worldwide stamp collections (almost entirely pre-1940; this was harder to do than I thought because even though the collectors are well known, information about them concentrates on rarities rather than more common stamps that would constitute the bulk of a comprehensive worldwide collection. So until I learn otherwise, collectors such as Caspary and Hind are missing. Much of the information comes from Dr. Stanley M. Bierman’s The World’s Great Stamp Collectors.)

5) Complete Scott International Volume Ones (obviously the most important category, but I thought I would save the best for last). I’ve included substantially complete because when you are down to a handful of empty spaces, anyone who could afford to buy such a collection could also afford to complete it. I would expand this category to include Minkus Supreme Global albums if I knew of any that were filled or almost filled.)

1) Certifiably large worldwide collections

PRIVATE TREATY. In 2012, Harmer-Schau offered by private treaty a collection they said was 99.9% complete for the world from 1840-2010, minus the United States. Assuming the description is accurate, this appears to be the most complete stamp collection ever formed, lacking only 1200 or so stamps with major Scott numbers. Accord to Harmer-Schau, “the collection is meticulously housed in black mounts in over 200 Minkus albums. Also, there are numerous albums, stockbooks and file folders with extra material, such as booklet panes and sheetlets. All countries are represented, Afghanistan (nearly complete tiger heads, mostly in full plating) through Zululand." Asking price is $2.9 million USD. Perhaps it has not sold as the prospectus is still on Harmer-Schau’s website.

WORLD TRAVELER. This collection was sold by Robert A. Siegel in 2013. According to the auction catalog, “The World Traveler collection is one of the most complete worldwide collections ever assembled for the time period covered [1840-1981], containing all but about 1,600 major listings (over 99% complete) and more than 85% of the minor varieties. It is a remarkable collecting achievement...The collection fills more than 725 Scott Specialty Albums!” The more valuable items sold at auction for around $1.25 million and the remainder are being handled by a Florida dealer.

As I think about the above two, I’m wondering if the World Traveler collection was actually the more comprehensive for the years covered because of all the minor varieties? But the Harmer-Schau has coverage for almost thirty additional years. Regardless, the bottom line for me is that both of these demonstrate that it is still possible to collect the world at a level of completion that would be the envy of most individual country collectors.

CLIFFORD C. COLE, JR. Robert A Siegel sold the Cole collection of US and worldwide in 1988.  According to Siegel, "A magnificent and comprehensive 100 volume collection of general foreign postage stamps. Virtually each country collection offered in this sale has been left intact or nearly intact so as not to spoil its beauty and desirability. Mr. Cole, in his effort to achieve completeness, acquired many rare and elusive stamps of both high and low value. We acknowledge the 'low value' stamps as many of them are just as difficult to obtain as some rarities. The stamps in the collections are all different and the overall quality is far above average." Cole's US collection lacked only 4 stamps to be complete. The end date for each country varied, but seems to be largely into the 1970s. The worldwide, North America and British Commonwealth auctions realized over one million dollars.

FORREST H. BLANDING. Blanding's collection "included 98 percent of all major world stamps listed up to 1975 in the Scott Catalogues — more than 200,000 different stamps, all in mint or unused condition except for some high-priced nineteenth-century issues. It filled to near completion fifty bulging volumes of the Scott International series. It included the best copies from all the collections I had purchased over the years, so the stamp condition was usually exceptional on all but some of the early values." (Quoted from Nov 2009 article by the collector in the APS American Philatelist.)

DR. CLAIBORNE JOHNSON, JR. Sold by Shreves Philatelic Galleries in 2003. According to Shreves, "Dr. Claiborne Johnson, Jr. has built a United States and Worldwide collection of such size and variety that only a very few collectors have ever accomplished. His main goal was to acquire as many different examples of the world's postage stamps as possible, with emphasis on the stamps of the United States. He obtained over 220,000 different stamps, contained in well over 100 Scott Specialty albums - with a catalog value in excess of $3,000,000. " The last years covered vary but appear to be between the 1960s and 80s.

DR. HSIEN-MING MENG.  Dr. Meng accumulated a collection of more than 250,000 different in more than 400 albums. According to Dr. Meng, "With most countries I am nearly complete in issues to about 1985. A few favored countries such as China, Hong Kong, Macao and some European countries are complete to date..."The collection was auctioned by H R Harmer as part of its Sale 194: Collections of the World (October 10-11, 2008).

2) Honorable mentions

"A VALUABLE AND IMPORTANT WORLDWIDE STAMP COLLECTION.” Sold at auction by Robert A Siegel in 2016 for $749K. “Offered intact from a collector’s estate, by order of the trustee. This collection in 33 Scott Specialty albums is the result of at least three decades of dedicated collecting by one of those rare individuals who set out to complete the world. Excluding the United States and Possessions, which are not part of this collection, virtually every country is represented for the years stamps were issued up to the mid-20th century…Hundreds of countries and thousands of completely filled pages are contained in this massive collection, which is offered intact, according to instructions received from the trustee of the deceased collector’s trust."

“WORLDWIDE COLLECTION. 1840-1980's, impressive lifetime collection of unused and used stamps in 38 overstuffed volumes and one loose carton…THIS IS EASILY ONE OF THE MOST IMPRESSIVE WORLDWIDE COLLECTION LOTS THE SIEGEL FIRM HAS EVER HANDLED.” Realized $250K in 2005.

THE ANTONIUS RA COLLECTION. This is the collection of Mitchell Ward. “Most complete collection of classic World wide stamps on the internet.”
You can find some additional information here:

Antonius Ra is currently showing some pages (including mouthwatering early US) on the Stamporama site.

WORLD STAMP ALBUMS. DR CHENG CHANG’S COUNTRY COLLECTIONS. “Dr. Cheng Chang intends to collect over 90% of the world’s stamps from 1840, the world’s first stamp, up to and around 1990, though collections from many countries, such as China, Canada, Germany and so on, are up to year of 2000 or even over. This web site is still under construction and will be updated by daily bases. Whenever a country’s collection reaches 90% completion or over, its collection will be posted on this site.”

3) Legendary worldwide stamp collections

TAPLING COLLECTION. Formed by Thomas Keay Tapling, it is virtually complete 1840 to 1890 for stamps and postal stationary, with additional strength in essays, shades, proofs, multiples, and covers. I use the present tense because the collection was bequeathed to the British Museum and consequently is the only major early collection to still exist intact. The stamps are housed on 4,500 sheets, although I’m not clear as to whether these are Tapling’s original pages.

FERRARY COLLECTION. Dr. Bierman wrote that “by the 1880s, Ferrary was credited with owning the most complete collection known, and was never to relinquish that title.” But because of his emphasis on acquiring rarities, I’m uncertain whether he devoted much energy to common stamps. He did not keep his stamps in albums, but rather on sheets of paper kept in “stout bundles” stored horizontally in specially constructed cabinets. Fred J. Melville estimated that he owned perhaps 200,000 items. Philippe von Ferrary’s collection was sold in 14 auctions consisting of over 8,000 lots, varying from a single stamp to more than 10,000.

AVERY COLLECTION. Bierman ranks Sir William B. Avery’s collection as third after Ferrary and Tapling’s. It consisted of between 90-100,000 stamps up to the early 1900s housed somewhat haphazardly in numerous albums.

DUVEEN COLLECTION. I’m not certain how much Henry J. Duveen’s collection included common stamps, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as Bierman says that he “formed one of the greatest international collections of all time.” It is clear that Duveen assembled specialist collections of individual countries, e.g. Great Britain, that were complete or close to it.

LILLY COLLECTION. Josiah K. Lilly preferred mint stamps in the finest condition possible, but was reasonably egalitarian beyond that. He said that there were 100,000 postage stamps he wanted for his collection and he succeeded in acquiring 77,000. Even though Lilly died in 1969, from auction catalogs it looks like his collection stopped at 1949/50. Which means the 100,000 target number would include every stamp issued from 1840 to 1949 (major and minor varieties).

BURRUS COLLECTION. Maurice Burrus had a goal which should warm the heart of all worldwide stamp collectors. In spite of his wealth, he aimed ”…to reassemble the whole of the stamps issued in one country, in a certain part of the world, or if possible, of the whole universe, and not to estimate the value of stamps according to their beauty of engraving or design." It took five years and 75 auctions/sales to sell his collection.

4) Complete and almost complete Scott International Volume Ones

CORNYN & GELLER. Stan Cornyn and Murray Geller filled all the International albums that existed at the time (eleven) over about six years in the 1970s. You can search the collectors’ names on this blog for lots of information about how they accomplished this feat.

BUD. Bud’s Volume One was completed in 2016 and is being documented with photos on Jim Jackson’s Big Blue blog (

LIMAYE. This collection was completed in 2017. There was a very nice thread by the collector on the Stamp Community discussion group back in 2012.

STUNNING WORLDWIDE COLLECTION 1840-1940. This was originally offered by HR Harmer as complete. It didn’t sell initially, but was offered again, this time as “housed in an expanded four volume Scott International albums representing one collector's lifetime labor of love which is evident not only by the mere fact that virtually every space is filled.” Selling price was a paltry $12.5K in 2009. Unless there were condition issues, I think the low price may have been due to the state of the economy at the time.

“FRIEDMAN.” Offered in 2013 by Dr. Robert Friedman & Sons: “A fabulous 1840-1940 valuable collection of some 50,000 stamps with no duplication in three excellent condition bulging Scott albums containing Scott Junior International pages in A-Z format. Approximately 97% of the spaces provided are filled with a mint or used stamp and about 90% of the value is in mint singles and sets.” Assuming the 97% is accurate, the collector filled 34,000 out of 35,000 spaces plus added 15K additional stamps not in the original. Asking price was $29,950.


Jim said...

Thanks for the convenient list of WW collections of note.

I suspect there have been many more collections that were formed over the years by past and current collectors that could be put under the "honorable mention" category, but are unknown, at least to us.

Bob said...

Jim, you are of course correct. I will add something later today to that effect. In trying to identify large worldwide collections from earlier years, I tried a variety of search terms but auction catalogs aren't well indexed (except for Siegel). And sometimes you find a possible candidate but there is insufficient information to judge the size.

ChrisW said...

How about the famous Jim Jackson collection? It must be at least 10-15K larger than Bud's complete BigBlue? And 'floortraders' must be on par with other modern collections you mentioned?

Jim said...

"How about the famous Jim Jackson collection?"


Thanks for the complement, but there are several collectors at my local stamp club who had or have a better WW collection than I do. ;-)

But ask me again in 10 years. :-)


keijo said...

At one point I tried to build a list of living world collectors with big collections and the size of their collections, but the attempt fell short because very few maintained any kind of detailed statistics.

Those few with detailed numbers had collections ranging from 50,000 to 275,000 major number items. All kept their numbers either in Excel or some database (but most had started with traditional pen+paper counts).

But none of those claiming BIG collections (say 300-500,000 range) did not have any kind of statistics to show, and all claimed 'counting is waste of time'. I'm not questioning their creditability (in the end this is not a competition except maybe against oneself), but it does make comparison virtually impossible.

I guess one difficulty in here is how do you define LARGE. Is it a certain number of items vs. certain level of completion? And based upon what criteria?

just my 5 cents worth, 

ChrisW said...


You make a very good point. Hard to even get a "general sense" of the size of a collection based on say number and type of binders, for example if someone is using Steiner pages for the world, but they are only 5% complete!

On the other hand, if someone doesn't have a count, but shows their entire collect page by page online, you can get a pretty good sense of the size and completeness.

And then there's 'size' based on $$$ worth or a collection vs 'size' purely based on number of stamps.


Bob said...

Interesting comments. What I originally had in mind, with the exception of the Blue Volume One category, was to identify collections that were close to complete for the time period covered, at least for stamps with major numbers in the catalogs. I.e., I assume that Ferrary owned nearly every stamp from 1840 until World War I.

So while it is an accomplishment certainly beyond my ability to acquire say 300,000 worldwide stamps from 1840 to 2016, that number is still no more than half of what has been issued. In any event, Keijo has shown the difficulty of finding accurate information even about these massive collections.

Not surprisingly, one thing that is something of an indicator for collections that have come on the market is selling price. For example, my guess is that the Siegel “Valuable and Important” collection in 33 Scott Specialty albums that recently sold for $749K is largely (90%?) complete from 1840 to 1950. But I’ve seen offered interesting sounding collections housed in dozens of albums that have realized closer to $10K. These obviously were not of the same caliber, even though the descriptions are not always forthcoming.

Chris Street said...

In my experience, worldwide collections over 100K different are not common. Not because it's super hard to do (it's not really, especially if you collect modern stamps) but because so few WW collectors actually keep a complete, detailed inventory. It really, really helps though -- not only because you know exactly what you have, but it makes it easy to see where the big gaps are (and many of those gaps will be inexpensive and fun to fill.) It also helps when you try to trade with other collectors (you know exactly what your duplicates are.) In the two local stamp clubs I attend (each with about 20-30 active members) I'm the only one who actually bothers to keep detailed track of their worldwide collection, though.

I have a couple of trading partners that I suspect are over the 100K number as well (based on their lists of duplicates -- if you can put together a list of 30,000+ different stamps you have in quantity, your collection's surely much larger.)

Here's an amusing one for the big collections at auction watch: lot 491 in the last ABC Auction was a worldwide accumulation of 100,000 different. Really messy though (just hinged hodge-podge on homemade pages grouped by country) and super common material (I didn't see any stamps in the pictures that I didn't have). Auction description of course breathlessly quoted the price of the old RG Simpson 100K-different packet ("way too much", if you're wondering what that costs) in an attempt at price anchoring.

keijo said...

Kind of hard to imagine any person collecting 100K stamps would end up with nothing but 'common' material. At least I have failed miserably in that as I seem to come across with 'small gems' much more often than I anticipate (which in turn has lead me to belief that catalog values for items below 50$/€ mark are mostly useless drivel).

But I guess it depends on the luck, acquisition sources as well as how much effort (time and money) you are willing to put in first place.


DrewM said...

Collecting tens of thousands of stamps in a "hodge podge" fashion is more like "accumulating" (which comes close to describing my "collection"). I assume this means many or most stamps are not yet mounted, still in envelopes, stamp cards, and so on. If that's most of what you've got, you're mainly accumulating, and accumulations are always hard to value (and maybe hard to sell--but I don't know).

Stamps in "collections" that are mounted in albums shouldn't be that hard to count. Either you count the stamps on every page--which will be very accurate but also very laborious--or you count, say, fifty pages and divide by fifty to get your average "stamps per page". I'd count pages in various parts of the album(s) to make it more accurate. I'd also count maybe a hundred pages just to be most accurate. With your average "stamps per page" number, multiply by the number of pages you have for a ballpark figure for your total collection. You still have to count how many pages you have--laborious, as well, but not so hard. Maybe someone will invent a simple scanning device to do this for us?

I imagine keeping a log of all stamps you own probably strikes many collectors as too businesslike when a hobby should be anything but businesslike. Keeping track makes you a stamp "accountant" or stamp "bookkeeper." There are checklists sold for U.S. stamps, but I don't know of any for worldwide collections. The simpler it is to keep track of what you own, the better. Since each country's stamps are numbered from #1 on, it ought to be easy enough, but you'd like more than just numbers. Some short identifying information for each stamp is important -- "Blue reprint, perf 8.5x11" or something like that. So each individual collector doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to keep track of the stamps in their collection, these really need to be produced and sold. I don't know of anyone who makes such a worldwide list--either on paper or for computer. Do you?

Bob said...

When Jim gets finished, there will be one for the Scott International Volume One. But it will take some reformatting to make it more practical for those who want a printout, etc.

Chris Street said...

Keijo: "which in turn has lead me to belief that catalog values for items below 50$/€ mark are mostly useless drivel" -- Indeed. Catalog values for almost all stamps are fantasy figures. The exceptions are expensive/glamorous stamps (I don't say "rare" because that isn't the most important concern; many of the civil war-era issues of Rwanda are rarer than the dollar value U.S. Columbians, especially postally used, but sell for $40-50 tops if you can find them) and the occasional condition rarity.

The situation with stamp catalogs right now is similar to the situation in the mid-1980s: "real world" stamp values are largely falling, nowadays thanks both to the Internet and the secular decline in active collectors, back then because most of the speculators fled the hobby, but the values in printed catalogs have for the most part not been adjusted accordingly. They're quick to adjust when prices go up (PRC, say) but not so eager when prices go down (almost everything else). The last time this happened Scott finally bit the bullet and corrected their prices downward with the 1989 edition (Michel was a little faster to respond IIRC) and US dealers threatened a boycott. To help defuse the situation, Amos Press compromised shortly afterward by bumping the condition of the stamps they quoted prices for from F-VF to VF. My guess is that this time, they will continue the fairy tale until they stop publishing stamp catalogs altogether.

I don't think that the future is bad for stamp collectors, though: I think the hobby will eventually settle into an equilibrium something like the 1860s/1870s, only with the global community provided by the Internet. There will be collector/dealers and there will be collectors; there won't be very many full-time dealers (no doubt they will cater to the "philatelic investment" crowd, if it still exists). Collectors will still be doing new research and writing their findings in philatelic journals and showing off their work in exhibits: though the journals and exhibits will mostly be online, and a larger portion of the research will devoted to post-1960 stamps. Those are mostly positive or at least neutral changes.

DrewM: "keeping a log of all stamps you own probably strikes many collectors as too businesslike when a hobby should be anything but businesslike" -- Well, diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, but anybody like us crazy/foolish enough to collect the world has a pretty good reason to know what they have and what they don't, and without having some system it is near impossible to do (I do not know off the top of my head every one of the stamps that I have, but I do have a complete list!) Way too easy to end up with 100+ copies of the same common stamps -- to some extent that is indeed unavoidable (when you buy somebody's lifetime collection/accumulation you're going to get a lot of stamps you already have) but if you can at least avoid buying smaller lots where there's huge overlap with your collection, you're winning.

Obviously if you only buy single stamps to fill known holes there is no issue, but this is also absolutely the most expensive way to do things. You could respond correctly that the value of time is very high, and keeping an accurate inventory takes time, and that should be accounted for as well, but if you enjoy the process (I do -- I like to know that my Upper Froyostan is 98% complete) then there is no downside whatsoever.

It is indeed much, much easier if you limit yourself to what's in the Scott Junior International (or some other printed album).

fredbee said...

"It is indeed much, much easier if you limit yourself to what's in the Scott Junior International (or some other printed album)."

I totally agree with Chis Street's statement. The question is, which printed album provides the most interesting space to work on. Bob's earlier post on albums with pros and cons provides a lot of useful information in one place. Without going into the specialty or single country albums, I looked to see what other options were available which provided coverage of complete sets (I dislike short sets) and were world-wide in scope. Two are interesting. In the mid 1930's Scott printed a commemorative album (bound printed on both sides and a loose leaf edition ). This followed a book by Thorp which described the stamps. The other option is the Scott Airpost album which was published for over 30 years in several formats from a bound edition in the 1930's and early 1940's in $1 series to the last edition in 1961 in five specialty size binders. Of course an entity would have had to issue commemoratives or airposts to be included.

Another option which is not world-wide is the Scott Junior Album for the Americas, which is the Big Blue for all entities in North and South America. The final edition was through mid 1940 like the Big Blue. Nice feature - printed on one side only making it easier to integrate Vol 2 pages.

ChrisW said...

"It is indeed much, much easier if you limit yourself to what's in the Scott Junior International (or some other printed album)."

I couldn’t agree more! After several years of going back and forth and trying several different album systems, I always seem to come back to my Big Blue. Yes, it could be better – higher coverage, more countries, etc. - but given the current options for a WW stamp album, I have decided to stick with Big Blue for a number of reasons.

First of all, I have come to the realization that as a WW collector, there is no rule saying that you have to collect EVERY stamp from EVERY country in the world. What’s wrong with having a “representative world-wide collection”? If you specialize in a particular country, yes, I would expect you to obtain most every stamp from that country, within your stated timeframe and your budget, of course. But when you are collecting 300-400 different countries?! You quickly realize how daunting (and expensive!) a task this would be if you have ever printed out all the Steiner pages (6500 just for the classic period). Not impossible, of course, just a big undertaking.

Speaking of expense…given the falling stamp market, declining collector population, and all the other doom and gloom regarding the future of stamp collecting, I have no illusions that I’m going to be able to sell my collection and finance my retirement in the south of France. Nor do I think my collection with be passed down to my children or grandchildren and remain in my family for generations to come like the ‘Royal Collection.’ So why am I going to spend $100s per stamp to fill in each and every stamp for 300+ countries when I can spend a fraction of that ‘filling spaces’ in my Big Blue and having just as much fun and learning just as much history and geography.

Additionally, between Bob’s excellent blog here and Jim’s BigBlue 1840-1940 blog, there is a lot of information on the album (including Jim’s great checklist!) and importantly, there’s a community of people working with BigBlues, including making Excel spreadsheets for inventory and converting Jim’s checklist into a spreadsheet format, etc.

So, for me, my New Year’s resolution is to renew my commitment to filling the spaces in my BigBlue (aka Cornyn & Geller). I will focus on obtaining either unused/mint or lightly canceled stamps and take joy in the “hunt” for the stamps to fill my album. Remember, 35,000 spaces is nothing to sneeze at! To me, it is a joy to see a complete page with nice clean stamps filling every space. Also, I have been using my same set of BigBlues since I purchased them new back in 1985 so there is some sentimental value for me in continuing to collect with these too.

Happy New Year to everyone!