Album Pages, Collecting Worldwide, Supplies

Back To Stamps….

Teacher Mark at Plukpanya Municipal School, Phuket Town - January 2016This past November, I took over the position of Deputy Head Teacher for a large language school and teachers’ agency in southern Thailand.  In addition to overseeing some 40 teachers from five or so different countries and a myriad of administrative duties (i.e., staffing our contracted government-run schools, organizing local English camps, writing course syllabi, etc.), I am still required to teach a minimum of 75 hours per month.  Some of these classes are “in-house” (at the air-conditioned, in-a-shopping-mall language school itself) but most are substitute-teaching assignments for the regular teachers when they take ill or need to deal with periodic immigration requirements.  These lessons are in very hot (perhaps there’s a ceiling fan or two that actually work) wooden or concrete classrooms jam-packed with an average of 40-50 kids – most of whom couldn’t care less about learning English.

The end result of this workload is that I have had no time to spend with my stamps (or writing about them) since long before Christmas.  The month of March – the hottest in Thailand, a country already boiling twelve months of the year – brings the end of the school year and a general slowdown in duties.  Most of my in-house young students have gone on “summer holiday” and my business students mostly learn in the mornings or evenings.  I don’t have to worry about filling-in at one of the myriad of schools scattered about the island.

I finally have time for stamps once again.

I’m starting slowly with a few eBay bids here and there.  I’m still waiting for the stamps I’ve won to arrive but they represent two countries new to my collection (Austrian Offices in the Ottoman Empire and the Indian Feudatory State of Alwar) and a few to bolster my tiny collection of Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

Cover Page for 'Stamps from (Almost) Everywhere' AlbumMy main collecting focus has shifted a bit.  I was attempting to obtain “A Stamp From Everywhere” but found that it was often difficult to pick just ONE stamp to represent an entire stamp-issuing entity.  In designing the album pages for my collection, I decided I didn’t like those that contained a single stamp.  I am now calling the collection “Stamps From (Almost) Everywhere.

That has necessitated a re-start to my album page design.  It is this re-start that have energized my recent boost in philatelic activity.  Each stamp issuer will have two introductory pages containing an information box, flag and map, and a one- or two-page summary of the entity’s political and postal history.  I’d like to obtain enough stamps from each place so that none of the stamps look particularly lonely.  I’ve found that four stamps is the absolute minimum I would like to have displayed on a single page (or one stamp and a postally-used item such as a nice cover or postcard).  There are a few countries that I may strive for completeness (Aden Colony and its Protectorate States, for example) but I am aiming for a “representation” in most instances.

Abu Dhabi - From the Collection of Mark Jochim, March 2016

I’m printing the stamps onto A4 paper as that’s the standard size available in Thailand.  I tried using 150gsm-weight card stock but these jammed in my printer (and the one at work as well) more often than not.  I am now using 120gsm card stock which seems fine.  I decided I liked a light beige color better than white.  For now, I have them in sheet protectors housed in a generic three-ring binder.  I’m trying to find a proper binder (preferably with a slipcase) but the shipping costs to Thailand are prohibitive.  I have more or less settled on a Lighthouse Classic Grande which I know my A4-sized pages will fit.  But I’m not willing to pay US $90 for shipping and import fees.  A proper stamp album binder may have to wait until I can visit someplace that actually sells them in the shops.  My next planned vacation is one to the United States in the autumn of 2017.  Can I wait that long?

First pages of Algeria housed in generic three-ring binder, March 2016

For my worldwide collection, I am trying to stick with those nations actually listed in the Scott Catalogue – although a few local posts will eventually be added.  To this end, I have been compiling the mother of all spreadsheets which has become a labor of love.  I have been going through my 2009 edition of the catalogue page by page – entering stamp-issuing entities in alphabetical order (moving, for example, entries such as the Confederate States, Hawaii, and Canal Zone out from under the United States umbrella) and including columns for years active, volume and page numbers, columns giving information about my own collection (numbers of inventoried, scanned, to be scanned, unlisted or bogus stamps), along with numerous “count” columns.  These last columns will include the number of stamps on EACH page of the catalogue for each country (divided into General Issues and the various Back of the Book items such as Air Post, Special Delivery, etc.).  I do page by page counts so that it is easier to backtrack if I lose count along the way.  I’ve been skipping the “Huge” countries for now and just counting those that only have en or less pages in Scott.

Screenshot of 'Stamp Issuers' Spreadsheet, March 2016

It is a monumental undertaking – I’ve been working on this spreadsheet on and off for about eight months and I’ve only just started on Volume 4 (out of six).  I currently have some 4,486 stamps in my collection (the majority of which have been obtained in just the past four years or so) representing 280 different stamp-issuing entities.  Of these, I have only entered 1912 into my inventory database (the wonderful but time-consuming StampManage) and there are 1529 stamps that have yet to be scanned.  These totals don’t include 210 duplicates and 33 that are either unlisted in Scott or “bogus” (read, counterfeit or facsimile).

It’s a grand-looking spreadsheet and I hope to share it once the “important” pieces are done (namely, the re-ordered countries).  In the meantime, if anybody would like to volunteer to count listed stamps (I am counting MAJOR numbers with a few minor exceptions) for particular countries please let me know.

As for the blog, I hope to resume my “Stamp Issuers” series at some point and will continue to report on new additions to my own collection (although probably not in a “Today’s Mail” format – perhaps as periodic wrap-ups).  I am looking for inspiration in writing other types of articles but I’m not really sure what aspect of philately I feel qualified to write about (I am intimidated by “How-To” articles and reviews).  Time will tell.  I just hope I won’t let another four months pass without an update.

Getting back to my stamps feels really good…

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Album Pages

Stamp Album Pages

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.

Happy Collecting.