A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzabar

A is for Aden and Z is for Zanzibar... Now what is between? For the world wide classical era philatelist and stamp collector, a country specific philatelic survey is offered with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. Interested? So into the Blues...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Big Blue Checklist-How it is done

Dominican Republic Scott 146a 5c blue & black 
"Juan Pablo Duarte"
I've had some questions from readers on the intent of the checklist, how it is done, and what is the difference between the annotated (Aden-Ethiopia) checklist, and the present "simple" (Falkland Islands-Latvia) checklist.

So this is a blog about the "nuts and bolts" of creating a checklist, and the decision process that goes into this effort.

As one is no doubt aware, Big Blue is a "representative" album; that is about 40%, or 35,000 spaces are given to the 1840-1940 era when ~ 90,000 stamps were issued.

So did Big Blue simply choose 35,000 discrete stamps, and leave out categorically the other 65,000?

Yes and no.

Yes, clearly, in many cases stamps were left out ( high denomination, high expense, or for no good reason), or whole sections or countries were left out. After all, there are only 35,000 spaces, so choices had to be made. ;-)

But Big Blue, by listing dates for stamp spaces, color descriptions for stamp spaces, or an illustration in a stamp space, may admit more than one stamp for a space. (Or may exclude some perfectly good stamps that probably should have been given a shot at a space.)

Consequently, there are really more than 35,000 stamps eligible for a space.

So how does one determine which stamp(s) are eligible for a particular space?

Again, the three important variables are date specification, color specification, and illustration specification. Let's look at each one. (There is a fourth variable-denomination- but there is nothing to say about that-just put in the correct denomination for the space.)

Date specification
Big Blue either gives an inclusive date for an issue (1900-1905), or an "open" date for an issue (1900).

Inclusive Date (example 1900-1905)
For an inclusive date criteria, if a stamp falls within that parameter, and it is eligible otherwise, in it goes into the checklist. ;-)
No problem there.

What about an otherwise eligible stamp that was issued in 1908, or a whole issue (perhaps only varying by watermark) that was produced in 1907-1912? Nope. Sorry.  If Big Blue had intended that issue or stamp to be eligible, the date criteria should have been set to reflect that.

I agree that this is following the "Letter of the Law" rather than the "Spirit of the Law" sometimes, but who am I to change Big Blue's criteria? Now I will usually mention in the blog if a whole issue is excluded because of date criteria, so the reader is aware of the situation. One always has the choice as the owner of the album to simply expand or change the date range to admit the excluded issue. And in many cases, that might be a good idea. ;-)

"Open" date (example 1900)
In many cases, Big Blue simply gives a date which corresponds nicely to a stamp issue of the same date. Again, no problem, and the stamp or issue goes into the checklist.

But this is where it gets 'tricky", and judgement calls are made. What about a stamp (or issue) produced in 1902 or 1904 or 1906 or 1910? Are they included as eligible candidates for the space? Yes, sometimes, especially if the issued stamp date is very close (say 1902) to the 'open" date. In other cases, BB might actually include a space for a "1902" stamp, even though the date might say "1900". Then I have "permission" to include other "1902" stamps in the selection. However, if the stamp was issued say, in 1910, it is unlikely I will include it as a choice.

Unfortunately, I not infrequently have to exclude a very nice "1910" issue in Big Blue because I cannot stretch an open "1900" date to include them. Generally, I would make a comment about the situation to alert the reader.

Color specification
For a descriptive space, Big Blue always gives a color specification for a denomination. If a stamp is that color, in it goes-no problem. And if the date specifications allow several issues to be considered, and the stamp denomination has the same color for the issues, than more than one stamp of that color is eligible for the space.

But the color description more often excludes than includes. Say a "blue" is called for, and an otherwise eligible stamp from another issue is "ultramarine". Nope, won't be eligible. The color description is probably the major reason why many otherwise eligible stamps from other issues do not make the cut.

Major number color vs minor number colors
What about a stamp that is "brown", and the space calls for 'brown", and that stamp happens to be major number say Scott 12? Obviously no problem, "Scott 12" can go in that space. Well, what about the "minor" numbers for that spaces -say 12a olive brown, 12b dark brown, 12c red brown- are they eligible? I say yes because major number Scott 12 "owns" the space, and so Scott 12's minor number companions are eligible too. BTW, I usually don't mention minor number eligibility for a space as only major numbers are usually listed in the checklist. So, to rephrase, if a major number-and it's color- is eligible for a space, then the minor color variations of the number are eligible too.

Now what about if Big Blue calls for a (now) minor number color for the space? This happens not infrequently because the colors in BB were specified with the ?1940 to ?1969 catalogue, and the 2011 Scott might have a different color as it's major number now. Big Blue might request "light brown". Looking at the 2011 catalogue, I find that that color is now relegated to a minor number-say 18a. The major number color for "18" is now "olive brown". In this case, I will put as a choice "18a or 18". I include the color BB asks for, but also include the major number today as a choice. Yes a bit of pragmatism.

Finally, Big Blue might list the color as "yellow green" ( The 1940 catalogue), while the 2011 catalogue lists the color as 'green". It is actually the same stamp, but the catalogues have changed their color description. Since this is only a descriptive difference, not a real color difference, with the "simple" checklist I will generally not make mention of it.

What about if BB calls for an expensive color, when a perfectly good (by other criteria) "near" color is available at much less expense? I might mention the cheaper choice and perhaps suggest changing the color criteria if one wants to save money. ;-)

Illustration specification
Interestingly, often an illustration permits the widest range of color choices! Since there is no descriptive (color) specification, any color (red-blue-orange) that is date eligible could be put in.

On the other hand, if the illustration shows an overprinted stamp, the overprinted design is often so specific that it will exclude other overprinted designs that would be eligible based on date criteria. There are instances where the descriptive spaces describes the "cheap" issue, but the illustration shows an "expensive" choice. No argument- one will need to put in the expensive choice if BB illustrates it.

More Comments and Summary...
A) Major numbers that are eligible for inclusion will almost always be listed as choices for a stamp space.

B) Minor numbers will generally not be mentioned in the checklist. Doesn't mean they are not eligible- as I said if a major number is eligible, then the minor numbers listed under the major number are also eligible. I don't want to have a checklist with 12 numbers as choices for a stamp space, 10 of them minor. ;-)

C) Date errors in Big Blue are not uncommon. By that, I mean BB lists the date of issue as say 1902-06, when actually the date of issue was say, 1901-1907. If  important, I will mention it.

D) Annotated vs "simple" checklist. I am now doing a 'simple" version with no comments except after the checklist section. Very clean presentation. I will not mention "minor" problems (example: " BB lists the color as light blue, while the 2011 Scott now lists the color as blue"). Any "major" problems I will try to mention in the blog or in the comment section after the checklist.

E) (   ) around a number indicates a blank space suggested selection. Generally, the choice will either be sequential or the cheapest, probably both. I don't want to clutter up the blank space entry with a long list of (generally more expensive) possibilities. Doesn't mean there aren't other choices you could make for the blank space- but you will need to do your own catalogue investigation.

F) The "simple" checklist sequence follows exactly the 1969 Big Blue layout. If you look at the checklist while having the BB page open, it should be very easy to determine what you have and what you don't have. The '97 version is almost identical, except categories (i.e. Air Post, Postage Due) will have their own heading beginning on a new page. The '47/'41 editions will share 95% of the inventory, but may differ more commonly at the beginning or at the end of the country entry, and might have a different page layout.

G) Countries or major country sections that were in the '47/'41 editions, but were removed in the '69, will be added as blog entries and a checklist will be provided. Minor removals ( example: postal tax stamps) will not be added back. I'm not formally comparing older editions content to the '69 edition at this time. I am using Bob's "Filling Spaces" list of missing countries/major sections that he has already published. Thanks Bob!

H) In the comment section below a blog entry country checklist, I will alert the reader to any stamp with a CV of $10 or more. BTW, for spaces with multiple choices, the "cheapest" choice has to be $10 or more for me to mention the price.

I) The comment section regarding the country checklist will be found in the specific countries blog, and not transferred to the checklist scrolling down the left panel. [Edit: Now linked in the left panel.] So check the countries blog if you have questions about the checklist. ;-)

J) Comment about procedure and time commitment to do the checklist.
I write in all the numbers in the spaces in one of my '69 Big Blue albums right after I have become familiar with the catalogue (2011 Scott Classic Specialized ) for the country by writing in all the numbers in my Deep Blue album. Then, it is quite apparent if BB has condensed several issues into one space, or included or left out an issue. Certainly makes it easier to do, so the time commitment has gone down without sacrificing accuracy.

I hope you find the checklists useful, either for a "real" Big Blue album, or as a handy checklist for a "representative" inexpensive guide for collecting the stamps of a country. As said, for myself, I use the checklist as a template for collecting a countries stamps in Deep Blue.

Comments appreciated!



  1. Jim,

    This is an extraordinary service you're providing to collectors -- and they don't have to be collectors who use Big Blue since anyone who collects can benefit from knowing about alternative, less and more expensive alternatives. Even a user of a blank album -- and perhaps them the most -- can use these excellent checklists to determine what the "proper" sequencing of stamps should be.

    In a printed album, there are always oddities such as odd sequencing of stamps. This is partly due, I think, to the publisher's efforts to issue new pages (supplements) as quickly as possible for collectors to buy to update their albums. It's done quickly because collectors want the new pages quickly and because Scott (Amos Press now) needs the income, I suppose. Unfortunately, this means a publisher has to make stamp sequencing decisions on the fly without knowing exactly what stamps will be issued later.

    Extensive series of stamps end up becoming located out of sequence in different years. This make chronological sense, but I would imagine most collectors would prefer that all stamps in a series be mounted together -- even if they were issued over many years. Scott issues newly arranged pages later which incorporate both the older and newly-issued stamps. So, even today, there are sequencing decisions.

    From their original Big Brown inclusive album, Scott settled on a "representative" selection in a single volume Scott "Junior" Album which included all stamps from the first 100 years, so 1840-1940. This is the 35,000 of 90,000 (or so) you mention. These pages had to be redesigned by Scott and editors had to make not always good decisions about what to include and what to exclude. The album became the modern Scott International Vol 1.

    In this version, Scott wisely excluded rare and expensive stamps. But I think they went overboard in doing so on the assumption I assume that the Scott Junior was truly to be a "junior" album for the general worldwide collector of all ages. This is where the problems for modern worldwide collectors originated.

    The Steiner albums available online are a modern version of the Big Brown with every stamp given a space. So, using some printing of Big Blue is likely to be the default for most general collectors.

    But why the oddities of sequencing and colors and so on? Why so many affordable stamps omitted? There must have been discussions by Scott album editors back in the 1920s or 1930s when the prepared the earliest edition of the simplified Scott "Junior" or Big Blue but who knows what they said?

    It's too bad Scott / Amos Press doesn't have the resources to go back and redesign the entire album to reflect what we know now, including more complete sets when affordable, more clarity about colors (reflecting current Scott terminology), and other changes. But, what a task that might be for them! And would they get back their investment?

    Since we're "stuck" with Big Blue, most of us will benefit from your great checklists to guide us to choosing the best stamps. It would be nice to imagine a better alternative, though. Perhaps Scott has its pages digitized in such a way that this would be possible? Perhaps Scott could cross-migrate the Speciality (country) album pages into the International Big Blue series in such a way that a little more completeness was possible without expanding new editions of Big Blue too much. 35,000 out of 90,000 seems a little on the skimpy side to me. But without that happening, we have to live with "what stamps goes here?" and "why in the world did they leave out that stamp?" kinds of questions, I suppose.

  2. Drew,

    If Scott/Amos came out with an updated Big Blue, it would be best if it was designed from scratch for all the reasons you outlined. I wish I could be sanguine about a significant revision, but realistically I don't see it happening. For one thing, there has been no significant content changes since 1969- 53 years ago! ;-)

    So Big Blue- it is what it is. ;-)

  3. I'm just reading blogs as I try to decide how to house my own 1840-1940 collection. This is mostly a comment on part of Drew's comment above and sorry if this point has been discussed elsewhere: I'm guessing that many of Scott's editorial choices were driven by their own ability to find and inventory stamp issues for retail sale. It makes sense to assume that they knew that the albums would be creating future demand for those stamps/issues that were included and that they would try to tilt that demand in their favor through their editorial decisions.

  4. I think you have it somewhat right.

    Scott back in the 19th century was a stamp dealer, but by the time the Big Blue was published, they were a catalogue and album dealer, so they didn't have a personal stake in the spaces they put in the album.

    But I did hear mentioned that they tried to put in spaces for stamps that, in fact, seem to be available- perhaps by checking the stock of dealers- or perhaps dealers told them. That might explain why some quite cheap stamps from certain countries were left out- the stamps themselves were cheap, but were not readily available.