There are basically four types of stamp album pages — commercial pages in a variety of styles and sizes with pre-printed spaces, blank commercial pages, the print-your-own variety available online, and those you make yourself either via software (dedicated or adapted) or by hand.
Most of us started out collecting by filling spaces in a commercial pre-printed album. A beginning stamp collector’s goal is usually to “collect the world,” attempting to fill all of the spaces in such an album. But with time the challenge of filling the album eventually becomes too daunting and the collector begins to look elsewhere for inspiration. Often, they then start to “specialize,” perhaps purchasing a pre-printed country album with the stamps of their own country often being the focus.
One can purchase the pre-printed pages independent of the binder (and slipcase, if one prefers) and at times it seems that there are as many different kinds of pages as there are stamps.
Some collectors just can’t find a fit for their own interests amongst the pre-printed pages and so choose to mount their collections on blank pages or use these to supplement the filling spaces variety. Many have borders and styles matching the most popular of the pre-printed variety — same sizes and paper-weight and are handy for including additional material not covered by the printed spaces. This material might include blocks and other multiples, booklet covers, postal history or first day covers, ceremony programs, etc. The only limitations are the collector’s imagination.
Personally, I’m a bit overwhelmed by the huge amount of commercial pages available and could never decide which was best. Many times it came down to border style as I prefer the classic look with nicely embellished borders and title page headings. Living as I do in Thailand, however, the primary concern is shipping costs (a dilemma which plagues me in almost all of my philatelic pursuits but particularly when it comes to supplies).
Thus, we come to the print-your-own variety of album pages. There are many online sources of album pages including a number sold via DVD on eBay. Some philatelic societies offer specialized pages to members and some offer topical and general pages free to everyone. A great source of interesting and colorful pages on a variety of (primarily) American topics is the website of the American Philatelic Society. The American Air Mail Society offers downloadable pages for a complete U.S. airmail collection.
The most popular online source of print-your-own pages is Bill Steiner’s Stamp Album Web, claiming to offer pages for every stamp-issuing entity that has existed. Bill and his partners created pages that include spaces for every Scott-listed stamp issued by each of these entities with correctly-sized boxes (usually the only illustrations are various overprints rather than the stamps) and plain borders. This amounts to more than 80,000 pages — 6,500 for the classic era alone. The stamps are in Scott catalogue order (the numbers aren’t included due to licensing issues) and it’s fairly easy to figure out which stamp goes in which space. A collector can purchase an annual subscription to the site for US $30 which allows him full access to download and print everything he needs or wants, along with any updates. A CD-ROM is also available at the same price as the annual site membership (both can be purchased for US $40). The CD includes every album page on the site which is handy if you want everything but don’t have the bandwidth to download it all.
Many collectors create their own pages, traditionally using borderless commercial pages or other stock, meticulously drawing their border designs, measuring and drawing boxes, hand-lettering all titles and legends. It was time-consuming work and difficult to balance all of the design elements; this was aided somewhat by using quadrilled pages. The reward was often great, however, due to the pride of artistry.
Most philatelists who create their own pages nowadays do it on their computers using a variety of software. There are several dedicated programs available which include several page border styles and whose main advantage are the ability to properly size and place (balance) the stamp boxes. Other collectors tend to adapt software that they are already familiar with in order to create their pages. The most popular are word-processing programs such as Microsoft Word; there are others who swear by Microsoft Publisher or PowerPoint. It was, in fact, a tutorial on using PowerPoint written by Michael Adkins of the fabulous Dead Countries blog and published on the Stamp Bears online forum that led me to try my hand at designing my own pages.
In the end, I decided that I was more comfortable creating the pages using Word and that is what I am now using for making “A Stamp From Everywhere” pages. I decided on a two page per country format, one for a brief political history along with a location map and the other displaying the single stamp I’ve chosen for that particular stamp-issuing entity plus information about the subject portrayed. Now that I have my designs more or less standardized, the most difficult part is condensing the write-ups into the limited space.
I will write about my personal experiences in designing album pages in a future blog.