"What Is The Best Stamp Album?"
In the end this is the question that can only be answered by trial and error. You just have to try different methods of housing your collection, and eventually like Goldilocks you will find the one that is "just right" for what you are collecting and what your plans to collect might entail in the future.
The standard practice in philately has of course to house stamp collections in albums. For many, the pre-printed albums published by companies as widely varied as Scott, Palo, Minkus, Gibbons, Ka-Be, Lighthouse, Lindner etc. etc. are exactly the right solution. Everything laid out with a spot, all you have to do is fill the spaces and that's all.
But....we all know that there are limitations with pre-printed albums. Often they do not show spaces for stamps that we may acquire in the course of our collecting lives. This is moreso with the "representative albums" like a Scott Internations or Minkus Supreme Global where the editors consciously will not include items, usually due to price but sometimes merely on a whim.
(and for those of you who have not checked out the blog Big Blue 1840-1940 by my fellow blogger Jim aka jkjblue, first SHAME ON YOU! and second check it out, as this is an issue that collectors using the Part 1 of the Scott International Albums face time and time again.)
More specialized albums of course can provide more coverage, but often it will still lack spaces for items listed in specialist catalogs. Of course you can always insert a blank page for the odd varieties that may not have a space.
OR you could decide to design your own stamp album. That way you can control what goes into your album and how you want to display it for later viewing. Nothing new, this idea, most of the great collections have historically been on custom-made or homemade pages exactly because of this.
So you decide to make your own album. If you want you can have it be based on actual pages you create yourself. Desktop publishing means these days you do not have to have a degree in art to create a well-designed page, and adding artwork no longer requires a huge degree of artistic ability, though if you have it in you, its easy enough to add your own personal touches.
So you need to buy paper (best be acid-free, preferably archival quality), and of course some way to mount the stamps onto the pages. Hinges are one solution, but hinges these days just are not what they used to be, hence why some collectors will scour ebay looking for unopened packs of Dennison hinges from the 1950s.
And then of course there are the plastic stamp mounts, Clear back or black-back, back slit or top slit, strips you cut or pre-cut sizes, you can pretty much find the exact right size for whatever stamp you are trying to mount. Though if you collect a large area over a long period of its philatelic history, you will likely need to have a bunch of different sizes, and while not as expensive as they were when they first came out in the 1980s, they are still a few US$ per pack.
And of course there is one potential pitfall. You make a page, get it all done and mounted, then realize you have missed one value in a set. Back to the drawing board on making a new page. It may not take as long as it used to doing everything by hand, but still that is more time spent to create a page that has all the correct items on it.
There is an alternative to making your own pages on paper. Stockbooks and stock pages. Here all you have to do is decide how you want to lay out the stamps on a page of the stockbook or stockpage and put the stamps in the pocket, and...DONE! Missed a stamp in a set, not a huge problem just have to rearrange how things are organized a bit to fit it in. Which is why of the two, I prefer stock pages over stock books. Pages can be put in a binder, have no fixed limit, and if you need to rearrange a couple pages it most likely will not mean rearranging the whole book.
My Method Of Madness To Organizing My Collection
As those of you who have followed my posts in this blog the last few months know, I love specialized catalogs. My goal is to have a good specialized catalog for each nation that will be the base of how I collect the stamps of that nation. Of course no pre-printed album would work for that, and after a couple of tests I finally settled on using Lighthouse Vario stockpages to house my collections.
The most important thing though is to create an organized system to help keep track of what is in the collection and what I need, as well as make sure space is provided for all stamps I may ever hope to acquire during the remainder of my collecting days (knock on wood another half century or so!) So the first thing I do is plan a layout of the album on excel (actually OpenOffice's freeware equivalent) so that I know where to put a stamp on which page in the album.
First a few things to remember about Vario F pages. They come in an array of pocket height sizes, which means the pockets will vary in height. Pages with 6 pockets per side have pockets 39mm in height, 5 pocket pages are 51 mm in height, and 4 pocket pages are 63mm in height per row. All Vario F pages have a standard row length of 195mm.
Schematic of a Vario 5S (5 pocket page) showing height of pocket, which varies on the number of rows on a page. All the Vario pages have pockets 195mm across.
From my album making, I have found 6-row pages work well for most nations up to about 1945, then the increasing number of tall stamps (44mm or taller) means I switch from 6 to 5 pockets, and then depending on the nation, many go to 4 pocket pages for newer issues to handle se-tenant blocks and the like. Personally I do not mind a stamp sticking 1-2mm above the pocket line, but if you prefer to have the pocket completely cover the stamp, just keep in mind the pocket row height.
So with those basics on the pages done, the process of laying out the pages can start. The hardest part is usually determining stamp size and how many might fit across. It's not that hard though, as most nations have (at least until the last couple decades) usually used a few specific dimensions for all their stamps and keep them that way for decades.
A good rule of thumb though that works for me 99% of the time : You can usually fit 8 small vertical-oriented definitives, 7 horizonal-oriented definitives, 6 vertical oriented commemoratives or pictorials and 4 horizontal-oriented commemoratives or pictorials in a row. In the end the limit of space per row is 195mm, so you can mix and match, as you will see below.
So now to lay out a page, I use excel and whatever catalog I am going to base my collection on. Sometimes, that is more than one catalog.
My excel master file for my albums, open to Algeria. Numbers before independence are based on the Maury Afrique Catalogue, post-independence on Scott.
And as some of you may notice, I like to mix back of the book with regular issues. Never did think Scott's parcing out each of the subtypes into separate categories such as Postage Dues, Airmail etc, made a lot of sense. By creating my own album pages, I can reflect where those stamps fit in the overall timeline of postal emissions by a country.
And then once I get a bunch of pages laid out, all I need to do is print a copy and take it over to my stamp desk and start putting the right stamp on the right page.
Page 31 of my Algeria collection. Only one stamp left to complete it!
This page of French Algeria is page 31 on the excel, as you can see, I am almost complete. I also try to make sure the page has some visual interest, it is nice to mix vertical and horizontal-oriented commemoratives in the same row. You got 195mm of width to play with in each row, so make the best use of it (OK not so easy if all the stamps are small vertical-oriented definitives, but if you have an artistic or design bent you can still exercise it with using stock pages).
Page 31?? French Algeria didn't issue that many stamps! Well if you only collect with Scott, even its Classic 1840-1940 catalog it might seem that way. But Maury also provides listings for close to three HUNDRED parcel post stamps, similar to what Scott lists for France in the Classic Specialized, but produced for the Algerian post office and printed in Algeria, starting in 1899. THIS is why I love specialized catalogs, you discover whole new areas of collecting that other, more general catalogs miss.
Another nice thing with using excel to create an album page key is you can color code each cell to mark if you have the stamp, and there are enough color varieties you can mark one color as Mint Never hinged, one as Mint Hinged, one as Used, and any other category you wish.
And when there is a stampshow in the Area, such as the upcoming COLOPEX show by the Columbus Philatelic Club in early June, all I need to do is download my excel to my tablet computer and take with me, and i have my want list all set to go. Album page setup AND inventory all in one.
And since I am a worldwide collector, this means I have (and continue to grow) the number of different binders for different countries. As I previously blogged in the 1.0 version of this blog, I decided the coolest look would be to print coats-of-arms stickers to put on the binders.
A selection of my stamp collection arranged by nation. This pic shows Algeria - Andorra - Benin - Burkina Faso (ex Upper Volta) - Cameroun - Central African Republic (ex Ubangi-Shari) and at right edge, Chad.
Like I said at the start of this post though, finding the right collection housing method will take time, I didn't just come to this system, it involved a lot of false starts using other storage device systems. But not I think I really have got it "just right" for how I collect. Whether a similar system will work for others, can only be determined if they try it and see how they like it.
hmm..I'm hungry for some porridge....