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 by the blog author, Jim Jackson, with two albums: Big Blue, aka Scott International Part 1 (checklists available), and Deep Blue, aka William Steiner's Stamp Album Web PDF pages. In addition, "Bud" offers commentary and a look at his completely filled Big Blue. Interested? So into the Blues...

Monday, July 2, 2012

Four Album "Hermes Head" Cagefight: Scott Greece Specialty, "Steiner", the "Browns", and Big Blue

The Greek "Hermes Heads": the ultimate Album challenge
Quick History
Those of us who collect worldwide classical era stamps love to compare and contrast the merits of  albums for our collections.

I wrote a previous blog comparing three albums, the "Steiner" the "Browns", and Big Blue.


But there is more to say. ;-)

Let us meet the current contenders....

A) The Scott "International Postage Stamp Album" , an original five album set covering 1840-1937+, better known as the "Browns" for the color of the cover. A sixth album was added later by Vintage to cover through 1940, and the volumes are still available loose leaf, printed on one side, on good paper, at Subway Stamps.


To get a flavor of the scope of the "Browns", here is the quote from the 19th Century Album on the Title page.

"Contains spaces for every principal variety of Postage Stamp issued by any Government in the World during the Nineteenth Century"

Gives me chills.  ;-)

And, if one collects with the "Browns", one is following in the footsteps of the famous collectors of yesteryear. Considering that Scott has not updated the "Browns" for well nigh 70-90 years, it is amazing indeed - and speaks to their pedigree- that the "Browns" are often the choice of collectors even today.

To that point, the author Lawrence Block, who writes a column in Linn's Stamp News detailing the adventures of collecting the classical era, houses his stamps in the "Browns".

But there is a nagging question.

If the "Brown" album has been frozen in time (1919 copyright for the 19th century album), how well will it perform today in a quite challenging area, such as the "Hermes Heads"?

Enter the "Browns", Contender number one......

B) The "Steiner", a PDF album that one can print out on one's own printer, is a favorite of many.


William Steiner provides 6,500 classic era pages, on through to the whole present world on 50,000 pages. And for a remarkably low subscription price.

I use the Steiner pages for "Deep Blue", the name I chose for my classical collection. Printed on good acid free paper, standard (north american) 8 1/2" X 11" size, housed in off the shelf  heavy duty binders: what's not to like? ;-)

The "Steiner" follows the present Scott catalogue.

But will it hold up with the complicated "Hermes Heads" issues?

Enter the "Steiner", Contender number two....

C) Scott Greece Specialty Album ( First copyright 1961)

The reason I though a comparison of albums for the "Hermes Heads" might be interesting to readers is I happen to have a Scott Specialty Album for Greece that I acquired as a feeder album a while back.

Most (Scott-centric ) collectors are familiar with the Scott Specialty albums for individual countries, as they, more or less, are considered the "Gold Standard" for individual country collecting. (And, of interest, the Scott Country albums actually replaced the "Browns" as Scott's main "serious" album focus.)

But are the Scott country specialty albums beginning to show their age, especially with the nineteenth century descriptions, as they have not ( in this case) been updated for 50 years?

Enter the reigning champion, the Scott Greece specialty album....

D) Big Blue ( Scott International Album, Part I, 1840-1940)

We are familiar indeed with Big Blue, as much of the focus of this blog is taken up with the merits/demerits of this "representative" album.

Its more modest ambition is reflected in the purpose on the title page...

"Provides for a representative collection of the postage stamps of the world, 1840-1940, as well as blank spaces for additional stamps."

Nevertheless, 35,000 spaces is nothing to sneeze at, considering there are very few collectors that have successfully filled all the pages.

So despite its more modest aim, it still deserves the moniker "Big Blue" ;-)

However, considering the heavyweights we have assembled , Big Blue will be relegated to the "exhibition" undercard role here...

A word about other albums, or other approaches to collecting...

I do not have a Global Minkus Supreme, so sadly that venerable album will not be included.  Also, I do not have the Stanley Gibbons Imperial or Ideal albums, so no comparison there either.

Another approach to WW collecting eschews albums altogether, using stock books. A valid approach, but an argument for another day.

1861 Scott 5 5 l yellow green/ greenish "Hermes"
Paris print, Fine Impression
The Hermes Heads
We have recently published a blog on the "Hermes Heads". If you are unfamiliar with these issues, the blog should get you up to speed. ;-)


Suffice to say, the "Hermes Heads" issues are quite complicated, and can require specialists knowledge. But we found that over half of the issues ( including the more modestly priced ones) can be identified by the generalist collector.

But scholarly philatelic knowledge about this issues continues to develop, and that is then reflected in today's Scott Classic catalogue with the present major number descriptions.

How will then the albums do against these formidable stamp issues?

Bottom Line: We will compare/contrast the albums descriptions/spaces against the 58 Hermes Heads stamps (as presently understood).

The reference catalogue will be the 2011 Scott Classic Specialized album (1840-1940). We will use the 2010 Hellas catalogue as a backup reference.

So let's begin Round One, er, issue one....

The "Brown" Scott International: 19th Century Album
Round One

1861 Paris Print Fine Impression (seven stamps): Without Control Numbers (CN) on back except for 10 Lepta. Lines of shading on cheek dotted at the end, clean spandrels. Excellent impression. Scott 1-7

Brown: Spaces/descriptions accurate except for:

1) Has Scott 2a description "2 l  brown buff on buff" as a separate space - now a minor number. In addition, provides a space for major number Scott 2 "2 l olive bister on straw".

Comment: The now minor number Scott 2a must have been considered "major" in 1919.

2) Has description " 5 l emerald green on greenish" rather than Scott 3 "5 l yellow green on greenish'. The "emerald green on greenish" may be minor number Scott 3a "emerald green".

Comment:  Color description changes can be very tricky to determine. Which color were they really asking for?

3) The 10 l space (Scott 7) describes "orange on blue", rather than today's "red orange on blue".

Steiner: Spaces/ descriptions accurate.

Comment: Steiner generally does not give color descriptions for its spaces, unless there could be confusion. The advantage is Steiner will not be antiquated if the color descriptions change. ;-) The disadvantage is there are no color clues here for the spaces. I don't have a problem with this, as I usually have the Scott catalogue by my side; others might though.

Scott Greece Specialty: Spaces/descriptions accurate except for:

1) Has description " 5 l emerald on greenish" rather than Scott 3 "5 l yellow green on greenish". The "emerald on greenish" description today doesn't exactly exist as such, although there is a Scott 3a "emerald green". Of interest, my 1947 Scott has the 5 l "emerald on greenish" color.

Comment: The good news is the Scott Specialty albums always have the major Scott number printed on a space, so there can be little confusion which stamp the Scott is referring to with the description. But it is already clear in Round One that the Scott Greece Specialty album has some "older" color descriptions compared to the present catalogue.

Summary Round One: The Steiner had no faults, the Scott Specialty had one color slip-up, and the Brown had two color slip-ups and a extra space for a now minor number.

Deep Blue (Steiner) and a Greek "Hermes Head" page
Round Two

 1861-62 "Athens Provisionals" Course or Clear Impression  (eight stamps): CN on back except for 1 L, 2 L, 20 L. (Note: The 1 L and 2 L never have CN for any issue.)  CN are very distinct.  Yellowish wash on paper?  CN strongly shaded in the right lines with left lines thin. The 5 L CN is unique. The 80 L CN           was vermilion color, than carmine. Scott 8-15

Brown: Spaces/descriptions accurate except for:

1) "Without Figures on Back - "10 l orange on greenish". I can't find evidence in the catalogues I have that this stamp exists. Not in the '47 Scott either. There is a "10 l orange on greenish" with figures on back (Scott 12), and the Brown does have a space for that variety.

[ Note from Vasilis: the 10 l "without figures on back" probably refers to the "Scott 7 10 l without  figure on back", a proof -No CV given and/or Hellas  4Ba 10 l "orange" without control number -Value 1100 Euros]

Comment: A heavy body blow. It appears this stamp-and space does exist-but Scott labels a "proof", and quite rare.

2) "1 l chocolate on cream" description for today's "1 l chocolate on brownish".

3) "2 l bistre on cream" description for today's "2 l bister-brown on bister"

Comment:  the paper color "cream" description  is now reserved for the later issues, and is one of the distinguishing characteristics.

4) Scott 14b 40 l "red violet /blue" description is now a minor number; the major number color is "red violet/pale blue".

Steiner: Spaces/ descriptions accurate.

Scott Greece Specialty: Spaces/descriptions accurate except for:

1) "1 L chocolate on cream" is today's "1 l chocolate on brownish".

2) "2 l bistre brown on cream" is today's "2 l bister-brown on bister".

3) Describes minor number Scott 13b 20 l "dark blue on bluish" rather than today's major number "blue/bluish".

4) Describes minor number Scott 14b 40 l "red violet /blue" rather than today's major number "red violet/ pale blue".

5) Describes minor number Scott 15b 80 l "dull rose on pink" rather than today's major number "carmine/pink".

Summary Round Two: The Steiner had no faults, the Scott Specialty had five color slip-ups, and the Brown had two color slip-ups and a space for a stamp that is considered a proof by Scott today.

Scott Greece Specialty Album
Round Three

1862-67 "Consecutive Athens " issue (seven stamps): "Fine" CN present, with distinct differences in shading between the left and right sides not infrequently seen. Can be found with ink spots. Image very fine to clear and blotchy.  Relief (raised surface of paper) of white Face portion of design in earlier printings. This underlay used in the printing press was worn away with later printings causing decreased relief.  Spandrels often "fine". Actually a series of printings. More solid color medallion in later printings. Scott 16-22

(Note: the 80 L carmine/pale rose is listed/ described accurately in all the albums, so no further comments are made.)

Brown: Spaces/descriptions accurate except for:

1)  "1 L brown on cream" is today's "1 l brown on brownish".

2) " 2 l brownish bistre on cream" doesn't fit Scott 17a "brownish bistre on bister" or Scott 17 "bister/bister".

3) "10 L orange on greenish" description does not fit any description in today's Scott catalogue. The Brown does have a space for 10 l "orange on blue", which is Scott 19.

[ Vasilis comments that many of the 10 l printings for the "Consecutive Athens" were in fact, on "greenish" paper. Scott  describes Scott 19, 19a, 19c, all with "bluish" paper. No "greenish" paper is listed.]

10 l. Consecutive Athens typical greenish paper
Scan courtesy of Vasilis

10 l. Consecutive  Athens typical back with greenish paper
Scan courtesy of Vasilis

10 l. Consecutive Athens on blue paper
Scott lists blue paper, not green paper
Scan courtesy of Vasilis

Comment: A space with nowhere to go in today's Scott catalogue.  But, Vasilis's observation -and scans-indicate that the Scott catalogue is wrong.

4) Scott 20c 20 l "blue on greenish",a minor number, is given a space in the Brown. The major number "blue on bluish" also has a space.

5) "40 l red violet on blue" is today's "red lilac on blue".

6) Scott 21b 40 l "lilac brown on lilac gray" ,a minor number, has a space rather than the major number color "lilac/blue".

[Note: Vasilis points out that this lilac-gray or "grey-lilac" paper is a major number in Hellas (Hellas 20 II), and probably should be a major number in Scott also. So the fact the Brown offered a space for this is prescient indeed.]

Here are some scans of Vasilis that illustrate the different shades for the 40 l Consecutive Athens...

Consecutive Athens Hellas 20Ib Mauve on Blue
Scan courtesy of Vasilis

Consecutive Athens Hellas 20IIa greyish rose on grey lilac
Scan courtesy of Vasilis

7) "40 L salmon on greenish" space and color doesn't exist today.

Steiner: Spaces/ descriptions accurate.

Scott Greece Specialty: Spaces/descriptions accurate except for:

1)"1 l chocolate on cream" doesn't quite fit either Scott 16b "1 l chocolate on brownish" or Scott 16  "1 l brown on brownish".

2) "2 l brownish bistre on cream" doesn't quite fit either Scott 17a "brownish bister on bister" or Scott17 "bister/bister".

3) "10 l yellow orange on bluish" is now minor number Scott 19a, rather than major number color "orange/blue".

4) "40 l red violet/blue" is now "red lilac/blue".

Summary Round Three: The Steiner had no faults, the Scott Specialty had four color slip-ups, and the Brown had four color slip-ups, and a minor number is given a space ( But arguably the minor number space  deserves a  major number). Further, the Brown has two space denominations and color descriptions that cannot be found in the Scott catalogue . (Interestingly, the Brown is no doubt "right" about the "greenish" paper. But we are playing under Scott catalogue "rules" ;-) The Brown is beginning to stagger, and the Scott Specialty is getting tired.

1872 Scott 40 10 l red orange/greenish with "speckles" showing
Round Four

1868 (1868-69, 1873 (80 L))  "Cleaned plates" issue (seven stamps): CN present. More broader, flat appearance of Head because of absence of relief. More even shading of CN. Can be found with inverted "Zero" on CN. Also 80 L has CN with "0" thicker or heavier than "8". "Bright" appearance of spandrels. The medallion might have white grains or spots.  Grid with number cancellations are found with "cleaned plates" and earlier issues- although possible out to 1872. Scott 23-28

Brown: No spaces exist for the 1868 "cleaned plates" issue!
The Brown is down!!!   The Brown is down!!!  1...2.....3....4....5....6...

Steiner: Spaces/ descriptions accurate.

Scott Greece Specialty: Spaces/descriptions accurate except for:

1) "1 L reddish brown on cream" is a  different description than today's Scott 23 "1 l gray brown/brownish".
[ Note: Vasilis points out that the Hellas catalogue does have 23a, a "deep red brown" shade.]

Comment: Scott no longer lists the shade, although it is recognized in the Hellas.

The Referee has stopped the Cage fight! It is over in the fourth round! A quite early and unanticipated end to a scheduled 10 round ("Hermes Head" issue) battle.....

The Brown has spaces for 14 "Hermes Heads" perforated stamps
Scott has since removed them from the catalogue

So what went wrong? While we wait for the Judges decision, lets do a bit of analysis.

The "Brown": There has simply been too many changes in the catalogue over the past 90 years. Those changes, which reflect modern interpretations of the Hermes heads issues, makes the Brown's "Hermes Head" section painful to use for the collector.

One further note. The Brown has a section for 14 perforated "Hermes Heads" stamps. According to the 1947 Scott, "Stamps previously listed, 11 1/2 perforation, have been omitted as these values were not officially perforated".

Scott Greek Specialty: The collector needs to be wary of the color descriptions for a particular Scott number. Many have changed since the 1961 copyright date. ( I doubt if the early Greek pages "color descriptions" have been altered by later editions, unless Scott completely reedited these pages.)

Steiner: Steiner gets through the rounds without a mark, but of course, many of the demerits were given for wrong color descriptions, and Steiner generally doesn't supply them. ;-)
So do they get credit for that? ;-)

Big Blue "Mark-up" album
Note eight spaces and one line for the "Hermes Heads"
Big Blue Exhibition Round
If the collector is not particularly interested in parsing all the "Hermes Heads" issues, then Big Blue will be welcomed indeed.

Here is what Big Blue includes...

1 L (illustrated): 1 or 8 or 16 or 23 or 30 or 32 or 38 or 43*
2L "bistre": 17 or 44*
5L "green": 11 or 18 or 25 or 34 or 39 or 45 or 53*
10L "orange": 12 or 19 or 46 or 54*
20L "rose": 56a or 56
20L "ultramarine": 47* or 55
30L "dark brown": 51
80L "carmine": 15 or 22*

Clearly, Big Blue wants no part in the subtleties of the LHH issues, and, apart from color criteria, many of the LHH issues can be mounted.

Of interest, none of the most economical choices for the LHH reach the $35 threshold. The spaces can be filled for CV $8+-$30.

Scott Greek Specialty album
Note: Not all the "Hermes heads" are mounted properly in this pic
Out of the Blue
So the verdict?

Why that is up to you and me and our own needs and opinions!  ;-)

A couple of closing comments....
The Steiner did well, but then again the Steiner doesn't provide any color descriptions. The Steiner really shouldn't get credit for "absence" of information. ;-)

But where the Steiner shines is with the contemporary Scott catalogue. In conjunction with the Scott, it is quite clear where the stamps belong.

The Scott Greek Specialty album is quite nice (good paper, larger format than Steiner, sturdy album binder). Since the Scott numbers are inscribed in the space, there is no doubt where a particular stamp belongs. So the album remains the "Gold Standard", albeit a bit tarnished, as long as one is aware that the color descriptions are often dated.

The "Brown" did not come off too well in this particular contest, but all is not lost.  This was probably the worst case scenario with the quite complicated Hermes Heads. If I was using the "Browns", I would probably substitute the "Steiner" pages here.

And a thanks to Vasilis (See comment section) for the analysis and corrections-and scans illustrating the points. It appears the Scott catalogue still doesn't have the Hermes Heads quite "right". ;-

Realistically, if one wished to do the "Hermes Heads" justice, using the Hellas catalogue as the primary catalogue would be prudent.

I hope you came away with a little more information about album possibilities for a worldwide classic era collection.  And, I hope the "fight" analogies weren't too offensive; I rather enjoyed it, ;-)


Please do!


  1. Very well studied and informative blog. i enjoy browsing through very much. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for your insightful analysis, and a nice 4th of July present for us all! I note that in my version of the Minkus Supreme Global (MSG) which is almost certainly corrupted in some places with Minkus Global or other pages (I just don’t know where for sure), spaces for early Greece are limited. That is, there is a single row of 9 for the large Hermes heads at the top (compared to 8 for BB) which adds the 40L value. The imperf small heads show only 9 spaces compared to 10 for BB, and the perforated small heads show only 8 spaces compared to 11 in BB. However there are 8 spaces for overprinted “heads” (4 each perf and imperf) compared to 6 in BB, and 10 spaces for the Olympic stamps compared to 8 in BB. Go figure…

    Maybe someone with a “for sure” MSG can check this.

    Best Regards,


  3. Wow - just found your very interesting site when looking for an image of a stamp. Am currently looking to add a lot more information on the PocketInfo site as I've noticed that in the western world the number of stamp collectors seems to have declined whilst the developing world and BRICS are really getting into the hobby.

  4. Dear Jim,

    a very worthwhile effort once again! Several points regarding some problems you encountered in the different albums:

    1. In your description of the "Athens Provisionals", you mention that the Brown International has a space for a 10 lepta "without figures on back". It is possible that this refers to a variety of the Paris prints, Hellas catalogue 4Ba (unissued, price 1100 Euros for mint no gum). In Scott catalogue there is mention of it as a proof in a footnote after the Paris Prints.

    2. Regarding the paper of the 10 lepta of the "Consecutive Printings", Brown International is essentially correct in that the paper for most of the 10 lepta printings of this period (1862-1867) is greenish. There were a couple of printings in bluish or blue paper in 1864-5 (Hellas 18d and 18e) and the Scott catalogue is apparently tilted in their favor.

    3. For the 40 lepta "Consecutive Printings", I think that the Brown International correctly offers 2 spaces for major numbers, even though this does not correspond well with Scott numeration (and the Scott specialty). The Hellas catalogue major numbers 20I and 20II (light mauve on blue and greyish rose on grey-lilac) are distinctly different shades. The grey-lilac paper (lie-de-vin) of the later is not encountered in any other printing or value.

    4. In the "Consecutive Printings" you have ommitted the 80 lepta value from the description of all albums.

    5. Regarding the "Cleaned Plates" printings, you might have been a little harsh on the Scott Specialty. A deep red-brown shade is one of the typical shades of the 1 lepton stamps of this issue (see Hellas catalogue 23a).

    I am sending some scans to your personal e-mail to illustrate some of the above points. Please feel free to use them if you wish.

  5. Vasalis- fantastic. The browns- who knew? Thanks for your very knowledgeable contribution to the album discussion. I guess the lesson learned is Scott's descriptions need to be taken with a dose of Hellas catalogue salt.

    I would appreciate any scans

  6. Thanks for another great post.

    Just to follow up on InforaPenny's helpful addition of the Minkus Supreme Global. I have a mint 'for sure' of the 1959 version of this, which was the first major revision after the ablum first appeared in 1954; the 1959 version included Minkus numbers for all the stamps and corrected errors in the first (1954) version.

    The counts of the Greek Hermes heads are as InforaPenny states. In many ways its typical of the Supreme Global: often comparable in coverage to 'Big Blue' for early issues up to about 1880, but from the later nineteenth century onwards often very much more complete, including perforation and watermark variations.

  7. James- thanks for the succinct analysis of the characteristics of the Minkus supreme global. If I had to choose an album all over again, the MSG would be a definite candidate.

  8. Prahanoaki- likewise your Lithuanian blog is a real find- thanks.

  9. Thanks to InforaPenny and James for the very valuable input indeed regarding the coverage of the MSG.

  10. My copy of the Supreme Global also provides 9 spaces for the Large Hermes Heads. My Master Global has 2 spaces plus 1 blank.

    Incidentally, my earliest Brown published in 1896 manages to squeeze all of these on 1 page with 41 spaces.

  11. Vasilis

    I revised the blog a bit based on your knowledge and comments.

    Thanks so very much!

  12. "Incidentally, my earliest Brown published in 1896 manages to squeeze all of these on 1 page with 41 spaces."

    Bob, my 1919 copyright Brown 19th century edition has the large Hermes Heads spread over almost three full pages with 75 spaces!

    Since there are 58 major number Hermes Heads in Scott today, a generous number.

  13. Hello once again, Jim

    Amazing work throughout! I hope you have received my two e-mails with the photos relating to my comments - they were sent July 5th.

  14. Vasilis

    You are a genius! :-)

    I found the emails, and put the scans into the body of the post where appropriate.

    A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

    Thanks for the great help in this (to me) most difficult stamp series.