Monday, May 9, 2016

Amazing blog resource for collectors of Canadian stamps worth visiting!

My neighbors to the north in Canada have a long, distinguised philatelic history.  And growing up in the St. Lawrence Valley of New York, collecting the stamps of Canada was a natural for both my father and I (where we lived, Ottawa was only a couple hours away by car and Kingston was just across the river via the Thousand Island Bridge or the summer ferry service. New York City, on the other hand, was over six hours away on the other end of New York State!)

My father developed a beautiful collection of Canada during his life, and while he did sell much of it when he was working as a part-time stamp dealer in the late 1990s and early 2000s, his sales books still had a lot of material that I inherited when he passed, including some very nice pre-1937 Canada, such as these 1897 Victoria Diamond Jubilees.

My collection of the Victoria Diamond Jubilee issue gleaned from my father's sales books from when he was a dealer. Kind of like winning the lottery, just need the 20c to have complete to the Can$2.00 value!

Anyways, as I have been slowly getting material worked into a Canada album from his salesbooks, I have been trying to learn more about the fascinating early issues of Canada.  I have the Unitrade 2016 Specialized Catalogue, but while it is an AMAZING catalog, it can be a bit opaque in listing exactly what is available. This is especially true since my goal for my albums I am making is to include spaces all color, perforation and paper varieties of stamps issued.  I am not so much into collecting things like constant flaws, but I do like to have an overview in my collection of the changes made in the base production of an issue during the course of its life.

Thankfully, the internet can be an absolute gold mine of information, and I struck the equivalent of the Klondike when I came across the blog Canadian Philately.  Written by a dealer in the metro Toronto area, it is an absolute GEM of information regarding Canadian stamp issues, and the varieties possible on many of the longer definitive issues.  What is more, the author of the blog is more than helpful in aiding and guiding newish collectors like myself for advice. He recently posted a couple of blog entries further summarizing the varieties that exist on the Perforated Cents issue of 1859-1865 and the Large Queen issues of 1867-1875.  As a result, I feel I now have an album setup that reflects the goals I wanted. No, I may never fill every space, but as I have said before, better to have space and maybe win the lottery and be able to fill it some day than to just accept that you may never fill a space.

So if the stamps of the Great White North interest you to any degree, please check out the Canadian Philately blog. It is hyperlinked in my list of "Blogs of Note" on the upper right of this blog sidebar. Your visit will be well worth it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Has the time come for international philately to develop a single system for philatelic identification???

As I last blogged yesterday, I had the brilliant, if slightly mad and masochistic, idea of adopting the Wikipedia World Stamp Catalogue project and using it to become a reference for those collectors who, like me, are often frustrated by the use of many different systems of stamp identification in the philatelic marketplace. One of the great inconveniences that any collector who has involved themselves in the global philatelic marketplace is the reality that stamp identification systems, to this day, remain based upon "national" systems often first developed in the late nineteenth century.

Some of these systems have evolved to cover the entire world, such as Scott in North America, Stanley Gibbons in the UK, Michel in Germany and Yvert et Tellier in France. These four also produce specialized catalogues that go further into depth for their home nations and historic colonial realms) while other systems have been developed as specialized systems for one region of the world (Edifil for Spain, Sassone for the Italian area, JSDA for Japan, Yang and Ma for China, Facit for Sweden, etc etc.)

The amount of information and research in these catalogues is immense, and philately as an organized hobby today is highly dependent upon them as the way to create a common standard of stamp identification between dealers and collectors, and among collectors.

Unfortunately, my idea to use a Wikibook as a reference has hit the commercial reality of the claims to trademark and copyright that national catalogue system publishers maintain. Some of these publishers are very proactive in what they perceive as the defense of their intellectual property, and are more than willing to seek redress through the legal system to protect what they perceive as their vital commercial interests. Not being in the position to want to have to take on any publishing Goliaths, after consideration I've decided caution is the better part of valor and decided not to include catalogue identifications as part of the Wikibook.

In the twenty-first century however, the rise of a global philatelic marketplace and global philatelic community has shown the limitations of these "national" systems of identification. Anyone from North America who visits the Delcampe stamp marketplace website, for example, will find that the vast majority of listings of items are identified with catalogues other than Scott. Similarly, most dealers rely on one primary identification system for marketing their stock to potential consumers. Since many collectors often do not have copies of alternative "national" catalogues at hand when they are shopping, the result is often an avoidance of dealers who do not market their stock "with the same catalogue numbers." And for those who do have access to more than one catalogue system at hand, it can be more than a little inconvenient to stop and look up items in a second, or third or more, catalogue as you are surfing the global philatelic marketplace.

And among collectors, especially on international stamp forums such as SCF, very often discussions between collectors regarding specific items have to begin by stating what catalogue the initial poster is referring to in their post for purposes of identification to ensure that everyone involved knows which stamp is the focus. Invariably, at some point in longer conversations, someone will raise the question "What is the catalog number for that item in X, I don't use the Y catalogue."

Of course one solution to this would be to have a ready reference site that cross lists catalogue numbers between the major publishers (and relevant specialized literature). There are quite a few websites that do this for specific nations, maintained by collectors with a passion for the stamps and philatelic history of a specific postal authority. But there is no "one stop" place a collector can quick refer to for all nations, and when you are a worldwide collector that can be frustrating.

There is of course an alternative, the development of a single standard system of stamp identification that would, over time, come to be accepted by the philatelic community worldwide as the basis for stamp identification. In an age of an ever more interconnected global philatelic community and marketplace, the creation of such a single universal system, preferably one that is not considered the intellectual property of any one publisher, would I think greatly enhance the development of philatlely as a global hobby.

Which raises the question I posed as the topic of this thread. Should international philately develop a single system for philatelic identification. Here, I am thinking about two organizations with a vested interest in the promotion of philately on an international scale. First, the Federation International du Philately (FIP), which is most well known for its patronage of international stamp exhibitions such as the upcoming New York 2016 show at the end of May.

Second, and probably even more likely to see this as a worthy idea, the Universal Postal Union's World Association for the Development of Philately (WADP). The WADP has actually taken the first step in this development, creating an international identification system that it uses with new issues released by the various international postal authorities. It's database starts in 2002, and for those nations whose postal administrations are diligent in submitting new material, contains items right up to early 2016 for many nations.

What I find surprising is that the WADP has not considered creating a database that extends backwards from 2002 all the way back to the first stamp released by the United Kingdom in 1840. I am sure that there are many who probably regard the amount of work that would be needed to create and maintain such a database as perhaps a use of resources that could be better utilized for other projects. But as the hobby continues to become increasingly globally interconnected over the next several decades, I do think that international philatelic organizations, and the WADP in particular, might want to consider developing such a system in the future. While it would likely take several years for such a system to become accepted within the marketplace, the benefits to the hobby of such a system being developed could greatly enhance the growth of the hobby, both in terms of the hobby itself, and the retail industry behind the hobby.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My new philatelic project : Wikibook World Stamp Catalogue - either I am dedicated, crazy or a masochist!

One of the great frustrations I have as a worldwide collector with a penchant for specialized varieties is the lack of cross-references between different catalogue identification systems. Between the general global catalogues (Scott, Michel, Gibbons and Yvert et Tellier) and the more specialized catalogues that tend to be country-specific, the amount of information is of course staggering.

One of the great benefits of the internet revolution for philately has the been rise of a truly global marketplace for philatelic material.  Sites such as Delcampe, Zillionsofstamps and, until recently, Bidstart, as well as general marketplace ebay and the multitude of indiviual stamp dealer web sites provide the collector of the twenty-first century with a cornucopia of options in terms of being able to find the stamps desired at the best price.

There is a major limit to this global marketplace, however.  Dealers still depend on their national-based catalogue identification systems to offer their material to customers.  For collectors in other nations, this can be a major inconvenience if, for example, a dealer has an excellent stock identified according to the Michel system, but the collector uses Scott or Gibbons or a specialized catalogue.  Unless one has ready access to a Michel, or is willing to try and figure out what the Michel IDs equate to in their own catalogue system, many collectors will often simply avoid dealing with dealers who do not use "the same catalogue" that they do.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be much chance of creating a truly universal stamp identification system.  The Universal Postal Union, through its World Association for the Development of Philately, has attempted to create such a system, and has catalogued all submissions from postal authorities since 2002 with their system.  It's a bit of a clunky system to be honest, and only covers the period from 2002 forward, and depends on national postal administrations submitting material to be catalogued.

For philatelic material created before 2002, there is not even this attempt to create a global system.  There are a few online websites that have tried to fill the gap, such as colnect or stampworld but their system is not accepted by most dealers, and their attempts at valuation of material seems to be based on the phases of the moon as much as real world prices.  Any new system of stamp identification would of course want to be able to create valuations, which is probably why most of the national-based stamp catalogue producers have been less than welcoming of any rivals.

While stamp market valuation is something that most currently-published catalogues regard as something to protect, the actual identification systems used are very much used in reference works to provide a common point of reference for the author and the reader regarding the philatelic items under discussion. And so long as no attempt to market to retail any research that utilizes specific catalogue identification systems, their use is deemed to be fair use.

One of the greatest developments of the internet revolution has been the rise of Wikipedia, which has become -the- refence site for information for the internet generation.  Unfortunately, while there has been a couple attempts to create a Wikibook World Stamp Catalogue, it has generally withered on the vine due to the size of the project and some of the copyright limitations (especially regarding the use of images to illustrate stamps) that Wikipedia maintains.

Having said that, a Wikibook World Stamp Catalogue that included cross-reference information for the various stamp identification listings in the various national catalogues, even without valuation, would be an informational resource that, I think, many collectors around the world, would find highly useful.

And so, I have decided  to launch on a very ambitious philatelic project - to revive the Wikibook World Stamp Catalogue so that it includes catalogue numbers (BUT NOT VALUATIONS) of the various national cataloguing systems, so that all the relevant information is available in a convenient format.  Either I am dedicated, crazy or a masochist to try and accomplish this, but I think that the benefits to the philatelic community if the project can be completed will be immense.

One good thing about this project is that much of the nuts and bolts groundwork has already been done by previous editors.  A standardized template for stamp listings exists, so that all that needs to be done is enter the relevant data.  For me this includes both general catalogue IDs and the relevant specialized catalogue IDs. For French colonies, this would be to add Maury numbers in addition to Scott, Michel, Gibbons and Yvert.

For the moment, I am limiting myself to simple database entry with fairly detailed descriptions.  The sticky world of image copyrights and Wikipedia's often very narrow interpretation of national copyright laws means that adding images is a task better left for later.  In general, most nations no longer claim copyright on stamps 70 years after release, though some nations are less (the US Postal Service only claims copyright for stamps issued since 1 Jan 1978, for example) while others are even longer (Mexico for example claims copyright on all items since the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1917!)

In the end this means that for most nations, the classic period stamps can be uploaded, but you need to include all sorts of information with each image submitted. A project for later, as I think more useful for collectors at this point will be the cross reference Catalogue ID listings.

One of the nice benefits of Wikipedia is its flexibility. It is very easy to edit, and its hyperlinking functions means that one can link articles on the subject matter of a stamp to the listing with little hassle.

So I am off on a new philatelic adventure. It might be something akin to Don Quixote and the windmills, but nothing is ever gained without making the effort to try and achieve the goal.

And I have finished my first postal administration. The French Post Office In Morocco issues from 1891 to 1912, before the proclamation of the French Protectorate.  Please feel free to check out the link to get a visual idea of what I am planning to do.

And of course if there are others interested in volunteering on this crusade of a project I am undertaking, please drop me a note here and we can talk.