Thursday, February 16, 2017

An Addition to the most comprehensive worldwide collections list

Even though I am a 25+ year member of the American Philatelic Society, I missed the 2009 article in the APS journal titled "Selling Stamps Can Increase Your Collection" by Forrest H. Blanding. Fortunately, friend of the blog ChrisW was more diligent and has recently written about the article on two stamp collection discussion forums. While much of Blanding's article is devoted to how he leveraged selling stamps as a dealer to support his collecting (usually thought of as a "no no" unless you collect in an area other than what you sell), I'm going to concentrate on the details of his collection.

By the the time the author finished high school, he already had "25,000 different stamps in Scott 19th Century, 1900–1919, and 1920–1926 international albums." After a time out during college and early marriage (sound familiar?), he started purchasing in earnest, buying thousands of collections over a 50 year period which he resold largely via approvals or wantlists after removing what he needed. The end result?

"My collection included issues only to 1975, because accumulating the massive wallpaper being issued after then took too much time, cost too much money, and did not provide any real collecting challenge.  The final 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.

Two-thirds of the Scott-listed countries were complete in major varieties up to 1975, including some larger countries such as Denmark and Norway. Germany proper lacked only one stamp, France lacked two, and Canada was missing just three. I could never have owned most of these stamps with-out my collecting-selling activities."

(I'm assuming from Blanding's description that he vastly expanded the International Volume One or more likely used the original Browns.)

When Blanding decided to sell his collection in 1995, he did so through his own dealership and auction houses.

The article, by the way, appeared in the November 2009 American Philatelist on pages 1044-1048. Well worth a read if you have access.

So we now know of three collections 98+% complete for the periods 1840-1975, 1840-1981, and 1840-2012.  I have to believe there must be more. In fact, I just added a couple of more possibilities to the list (Cole and Johnson).


ChrisW said...

I learned about Forrest H. Blanding from another stamp blogger friend, Ed Foster of the blog "Classic Airmail Collection" Ed mentioned to me that when he started his airmail collection back in 1995, he started by purchasing a bunch of airmail stamps from this dealer who was selling off his own large collection. Ed also mentioned to me that this dealer, some years later, had written an article about his experiences in American Philatelist, so I went and looked it up.

Bob said...

Chris, so glad you did. What is embarrassing is that I had started my worldwide collecting the previous year, so this article would have been very timely. But better late than never.

DrewM said...

And now back to the real world . . . (wink).

I'm reasonably sure that most of us with families and careers are very unlikely to go into the business of regularly selling stamps, becoming a stamp dealer, in order to build our stamp collection to that level. If I had time to do that, I'd probably devote it to investing or travel or something else, not to stamp dealing. In the real world, some of us might sell parts of our collections we no longer need on Ebay. But becoming a business to do this regularly seems a little unrealistic for the other 99% of us.

So, while I think this guy's approach is really interesting, to me it doesn't teach a very useful lesson. It falls into the category of "unlikely and unrealistic" for most people. It's like someone saying that if I'd just eat a lot less and exercise a whole lot more, I'd have one heck of a nice body. In the real world, most of us make compromises -- and that includes not having the time to set ourselves up as a business just to fill our albums. I've got a much larger life than that to take care of.

I don't mean to sound overly dismissive as I do admire Blanding's amazing discipline. And his collection sounds pretty amazing. I'm just trying to be practical here. I don't see stamp collectors being able to turn their hobby into a nearly a full-time business in order to fill their albums.

ChrisW said...


Keep in mind that this guy started doing this right after WWII. I suspect there were a lot of guys coming back from the war who started dealing stamps, whether part time or full time. And for the majority of those 50 years there was no eBay or the Internet. This was not meant to be advice for today's collectors, although the take-away message could be for today's collectors to sell your duplicates to fund your new acquisitions.

By the way, Mitch (aka The Antonius Ra Collection) told me that this is basically how he was able to build his very large WW collection.

Chris Street said...

Always chuckle a bit when a collector asserts things like modern stamps "[do] not provide any real collecting challenge". This is true only for developed nations (and most second-world nations during the Cold War period.) It's trivial to buy a substantially complete collection of mint (post-1960, say) for countries like the US, Germany, or France below original face value. That much indeed presents no collecting challenge. Take a look beyond that, though, and you'll find that the scarcest modern stamps are much, much harder to find than almost any stamp of the "classic" era -- the only exceptions being the kind of rarities that bring five or six figures when they do appear.

Some examples that I collect include the stamps of Rwanda during the civil war and genocide period (roughly 1990 to 1999), the provisional overprints of Benin, or Guyana's local overprints. Those stamps (with the exception of some of the earlier Guyana overprints) were never available on the new issues market, and in many cases fewer than ten copies are known to survive. Completing any of those areas, or even reaching near completion, is difficult. Makes filling Cape Juby in a Big Blue look easy, to be honest: even that "99+% complete" world collection offered by private treaty by Harmer-Schau some time back was missing most of those stamps, despite otherwise covering the time period quite well.

That's all a bit esoteric, but there's plenty of challenge even in more developed nations if you stick to postally used only. I know people who collect things like Christmas Island postally used from Christmas Island (99% of the "used" stamps are either first day cancels or postally used from mainland Australia, where the stamps are also legal.) Postally used from many countries are very difficult -- most of the "postally used" Bhutan I've seen came from manufactured kiloware, for example; real postal uses are like hen's teeth. There are even countries like Peru and Bolivia that are surprisingly hard to finish mint or used simply because there are so few dealers who have any modern stock, and good modern collections turn up seldom at auction.

Then of course there's the DPRK: real postally used (not CTO or manufactured kiloware) is almost impossible, it's hard even if you go to China looking for it, but IMO it's currently the only way to collect the country (buying mint or CTO or fake kiloware might indirectly help to prop up the Juche cult, which I can't personally abide).

If you have access to a recent Michel catalog for the area, take a look at the Equatorial Guinea section sometime; you'll find several items listed at over 1,000 euros a piece. (And people actually pay that kind of money for these stamps when they do appear! They are that hard.) I'm the only US collector that I know that even bothers with Equatorial Guinea, since they did issue so much junk in the 70s. But a lot of even those stamps are challenging.

And if you collect booklets, revenues, private carrier labels, or modern postal history -- ye gods, you have a task ahead of you.

I don't actively collect the topical "wallpaper" stuff myself, unless we're talking postally used. (I'll keep any mint or CTO wallpaper stuff that comes my way but don't go looking for it.) But saying modern stamps aren't challenging is basically the same thing as saying "I don't know much about modern stamps".

Bob said...

Chris, I like "chuckle." Something similar was said about the first collectors that we know who completed all the International albums through the 1970s. According to the quote, their non-collecting teenager could have done it. Just a matter of money. The less we know about something, the easier it must seem.