Thursday, February 9, 2017

Re-thinking how I organize my stamp collections...

We philatelists can be a fickle lot.  We are always looking for the best way, at the most economical price possible, to display our collections as we get more and more stamps.  Sometimes the ideas we have to achieve this end up having an Achilles Heel that we did not consider before, but appears when we move further along in the organizational process.

Those of you who have followed my blog over the past year or so know that I house my collection on Vario Stockpages.  You also are quite aware of my fondness for specialized catalogs and my desire to organize my collection so that it is easy to fit in varieties listed in specialized catalogs along with the "mainstream" stamps listed in the general catalogs such as Scott.

I thought I had worked out an excellent system.  I would create a "key" using a spreadsheet program to create "pages" that would reflect the content on the Vario pages I had or would include in my albums.  Once made I could print these outlines out on paper and place them in the back of the correct album.

I would thus have a paper copy with my albums, plus a digital copy I could save. And the result was this setup :

Algeria Key that I had set up in a spreadsheet and then printed out.

Then a disaster happened - the original master copy I had created with ALL of the album layouts I had developed (around 60 different countries by that point) became corrupted and I could no longer access it.  

So I came to a fork in the road - do I re-enter all that data and had lost, or go in a different direction in terms of how I created a "key" that would let me know where stamps would go on a Vario page.

I decided on the latter course, in part because the old system had one major flaw - it was difficult to include more than one catalog number per cell without the page being confusing.  Also, it did not really provide an easy way to know what the exact nature of the "varieties" would be.  

So, I started rethinking the idea of how best to create a system that would accomplish all of the following

  1. Show Catalog Numbers for both Scott and whichever specialized catalog I used for that nation, if any.
  2. Indicate what exactly the variety for minor-number listings of stamps were - was it a new color shade, a new perf type, a constant plate variety?
  3. Provide a little information about what the stamp depicted or commemorated. This was something I had thought I would not really need, but over time I did miss this element that you get with album pages.

To accomplish these goals I realized I needed to provide the information much closer to the actual stamps in the album, not simply printed at the back of the album.

My first idea was to create small tags that I could insert next to each stamp. Then all the information would be right there with the stamp. After a bit of playing around I found that spreadsheet programs would work best to create these tags and then I could just print them out (on acid free paper) and insert into album next to stamps.

This was the result 

Page from my Algeria album with the "tag" idea implemented

It does fulfill the three requirements I listed above, and would remove any doubt to any future dealers who might end up with my stamps as to what I have.

After getting some collector feedback from the various stamp bulletin boards, however, I came to realize one thing - the tags were definitely overshadowing the stamps.  As the owner of Stamp Boards commented, it looked like I was "collecting paper tags" as well as stamps.  And he was right.

Plus, there is one other consideration here - you can print out a page of tags onto acid free paper, but you still need to separate them, which means a lot, and I mean a great deal, of cutting with scissors. Thinking about all the albums I have and plan to make in the future, I could already feel my hands starting to cramp up!  

Then a collector on the Stamp Boards forum made a comment about how the Stanley Gibbons albums were organized.  The stamps are only on the right side of the page, with catalog information and illustrations provided on the left page opposite. (this is also the setup I believe Mystic uses in its USA albums).  So the albums look something like this

Stanley Gibbons "Imperial" album setup :
Illustrations and text one side, the stamps themselves opposite

It was the "Eureka" moment I was looking for.  This kind of setup would achieve the three goals I wanted to achieve with the information, but not make the pages so cluttered that it distracts from the stamps themselves.

And this is the result 

Page from my Algeria album with the info page opposite to the stamps.

The look is I think quite clean, yet provides all the relevant information I need at a quick glance - which stamps do I need, where does it go on the page, what is its catalog number, why is it a variety.

Now since Vario pages are 2 sided, the way I will lay out my albums will be to have a double-sided info page inserted between two Vario pages. Print out on acid free paper, place into a page protector, and voila, done. No fiddly cutting tags!

So now I am in the process of creating these info pages for my albums. Yes it will be a lot of work, but since my base file corrupted, I have to do it anyways, and it's a fun project that helps me learn more about what the various specialized catalogs include.  Plus, when money is tight and I can't spend a lot of money on stamps themselves, this is a cheap way to enjoy philatelic time.


  1. Really looks nice Gene - and clean!

    It would be nice to have a follow-up report after you used this for awhile. It does seem like a bit of work, but if you enjoy it, it is part of the hobby. :-) And you will have a good deal of information (from various sources/catalogues) readily available.


    BTW, I inadvertently published early the Austria 1850 issue post. I'm still working on it, and it is not due for publication until July. I removed the post, and unfortunately your comment too. I apologize for the mix-up.

    1. I was wondering about that Austria post...since you were still in the W's on the main survey. But hey a little preview definitely caught my attention :D

  2. Great post, Gene. Between you and the fellow on Jim's blog with the brown pages as "notes" that really looks like a winning solution.

    Did you ever give thought to hand written notes? Even if you printed a template with rows marked out that match the facing Vario. It would certainly reduce your time in front of the computer (a goal of mine anyway)


    Ps. Thanks for clearing up the Austria mystery Jim. I had to double check where the posts from after Western Australia went! :)

    1. Mark thanks for the comments!

      Re handwritten notes, given that my handwriting looks something akin to Arabic written by a drunk orangutan, I think the better part of valor is to stick to computer generated pages.

      Plus for me I have no problem spending time in front of a computer, at least I am sitting down. When you work retail and are on your feet 8-9 hrs a day, it's nice to be able to sit down and chill in front of the screen (and get lost down who knows how many rabbit holes surfing the net LOL).

  3. Thank you Gene for sharing this - awesome! Helps me work through and improve my process. Looks great!

  4. Good idea Gene. Similar to what the guy did on Jim's blog, but yours will be more flexible. Good luck with this method.


  5. Hi Gene,
    Great work! You have turned an originally clever idea into your own by developing it even further - excellent - and the pages are looking very clean. Respect.
    Question - do you collect WW - and if so - intending on doing similar for all countries?

  6. forgot:
    Regards, Jon - alias 'Blaamand'

    1. Hi Jon/Blaamand!

      Yes I collect Worldwide and plan to do this for all the countries I collect. Check the post on Algeria, and I am nearly done with Morocco (at least for the era from which I have stamps, roughly 1912 to 1968 or so).

      Right now I am focusing mainly on time periods for countries I have (so right now French Colonials and the immediate post-Independence era). As the collection grows more pages will be laid out, though I do try to have pages for a volume done (so for example I laid out pages for Algeria from 1962 to 1991, though my collection at the moment ends in 1968. Gives me a goal to work for :)