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...

Friday, June 12, 2020

Guest Post: “Crafting” My Big Blue Collection by Bryan O'Doherty

Bulgaria: Stamps housed in Vario sheets
While using the Big Blue Album pages as a Template
“Crafting” My Big Blue Collection by Bryan O'Doherty

Jim's Note: I met Bryan in a serendipitous way: We were both visiting the Uptown Stamp Show  stamp store on a Friday afternoon in Portland, Oregon. We were introduced by the owner.

Now Bryan, like many primary U.S. classic collectors, had completed much, and was looking for a "fun" diversion into another stamp avenue. What U.S. area was Bryan's specialty? A note from Bryan...

"As I said, I too felt the need to do a web site, so I put together a plating website for the 3¢ U.S. imperforate stamp of 1851-1857. http://stampplating.com/ Please take a look."

Wow, Bryan, that is SO impressive!

Long story short: He was bitten by the Big Blue Bug, and made it his own. Let's hear Bryan's story...

Like many of you, I returned to stamps after a very long absence.  Four years later my U.S. Classics collection is now at that place where the stamps I want are few and expensive. So, looking for new challenges, I found the Big Blue 1840-1940 website in November 2019.  Collecting the Big Blue is a great complement to my U.S. Classics, and I can buy a lot of stamps for not too much money!

Having never purchased a non-US stamp, I was wide open on what and how to collect.  I was surprised at how many variations of Big Blue there are and the different ways that collectors collect this area.  I made many false starts to get this new collection going.  That meant going through the debate of Minkus Master or Supreme, Steiner, Scott Four Volume modern, Subway Vintage/Scott Brown, and all the versions of the Scott International Jr. and Part I’s. 

After much meandering, I am centered on collecting 1840-1940; collecting “to the album – 1969 version;” collecting the least cost choice available; and, truly viewing this collection as my “fun collection” – not too serious and not mint-never-hinged.  Important influencers for my choices are the resources in place, such as Jim Jackson’s Big Blue web site, Dilip Limaye’s inventory spreadsheet, the page layout of the Scott International Part I - 1969 version (versus the earlier versions), and the availability of enough feeder albums to get me going. 

Now for my hardest decision - what do I put the stamps in and how do I secure them? My U.S. collection is all custom designed and mounted on large-format heavyweight album pages in Lighthouse Classic 13-ring binders and slipcases.  I have spent thousands of hours designing, writing and printing the albums and mounting the stamps.  I love the result, but to do the same thing with 34,000 stamps is an inconceivable task and would likely move this collection out of my “for fun” category. 

But, I don’t like thin paper album sheets, two-post binders, double-sided sheets or stamps falling off a page. Hinging stamps into a Scott International album is not appealing.  I prefer binders that lie flat with commentary on the left-facing page and mounted stamps on the right.  So, I was considering copying the album pages single-sided at full size onto large format heavy-weight sheets and using Hawid mounts as a departure from Dennison hinges. I had built a jig to punch 13–holes and purchased the large sheets of paper on which to print from the original album page images.

Then I saw the Big Blue post of Ron Olin’s albums, where he uses Vario stock sheets to hold his stamps and places the Scott International Part I album pages on facing pages in sheet protectors.  If I could get over the 8½” x 11” page size, using double-sided Vario stock sheets with facing album pages seemed brilliant!  So, I have adopted his method with some minor revisions.  Great idea Ron!

Cameroun: Vario sheet on the Left;
Reduced  92% image size Big Blue page on archival paper on the Right

In a nutshell, I am mounting my stamps in 8½” x 11” double-sided Vario stock sheets.  I reduce the Scott International Part I (Big Blue) pages to about 92% image size and print those onto heavy-weight 8½” x 11” archival paper. Reducing the page image is certainly not a requirement, but I like the page image fit better. The local FedEx copy shop does the scanning/reducing/printing for 15¢ per page (two pages per sheet). I then 3-hole punch the sheets and corner cut the two outside corners (à la Lighthouse) to match the Vario sheet corners, using a $15 cutter. 

The resulting 640 sheets of paper, with the 1,280 reduced-sized Big Blue album pages, are then placed as interleaves between the appropriate 5, 6, or 7-row Vario stock sheets holding the stamps.  Approximately 28 double-sided album sheets with the accompanying Vario sheets fit into a 2“ binder. I have 24 binders to hold the entire 1840-1940 Big Blue.

Here is my cost analysis of my three considered choices:

I also wanted the binders to look good on the shelf, so I bought a Silhouette Portrait digital cutter and “crafted” a logo and labels for each of the binders.  This was time consuming, but fun and I think the result is very fun for this collection. And, I now have a digital cutter to use on all kinds of other projects. The artwork is available to anyone who wants to do the same. 

The biggest benefits of this album concept for me are: fast stamp mounting, ability to easily swap out better stamps from new feeder albums, ability to easily put up to four copies of a stamp behind each other in the same stamp space, clean and secure storage, no stamps falling off of pages or getting damaged, and no hinges.

Big Blue: The World 1840-1940

The negatives to this concept are the weight of the albums (due to the Vario sheets), and the layout issues in trying to make the stamps look great beside the related Scott International Part I interleave album pages.  Of course, the two pages that relate to a single Vario sheet are the back-page of one sheet and the front-page of the next sheet.  I always choose the Vario sheet (I use 5, 6, and 7-row Vario sheets) that matches “the most-rows’ page” of each two-page set.  So, I will sometimes have a 5-row left page and a 7-row right page that must go together on a Vario 7-row two-sided sheet.  That can result in a large stamp misalignment on one of the pages.

Since this is my fun collection, the benefits for me certainly outweigh the negatives.

Comments are appreciated!


  1. What a great solution which actually makes reasonable economic sense! Thanks for sharing your solution as it is unique in my experience and quite interesting.

    I have gradually moved to using Denison hinges with Scott mounts for MNH material using a cutter to cut the mounts to fit the International spaces. Just passed 25% with unused stamps in Parts 1A1-1B2 as well as the Part II, III, IV, and V (but not including VA pages) so that all parts are at least 25% complete. In general the parts are fairly consistent with a slight lead currently for the Part II album at 33% complete. Given that it was the last album to reach 25% complete that is a bit surprising.

    1. albumfilling - thanks for the progress report with your Big Blues- you are rolling along. :-)

  2. Bryan has come up with an interesting and attractive approach. Since he will inevitably acquire some stamps for which BB does not provide spaces, I wonder what he will do with the misfits.