Great thread. Billsey, I'd love to know how you pick your next country to collect! I reckon you plaster the pages of an entire Stanley Gibbons World to your wall, don a blindfold and throw a dart.
Warning, this is liable to turn into a long post... But then, I've got nothing better to do this evening, right?
It's simple really, but takes a special kind of logic... When I was a kid I collected USA (as did everyone else my age who collected stamps at all). sometime during my high school years (9th through 12th grade in the US) I managed to acquire a ratty old Scott International album with a thousand or two stamps in it, all dating from 1940 or earlier. I went through and pulled the US stamps out and set it aside...
[jump forward 25 years]
When I took the hobby back up ten or twelve years ago I found that album again and decided I really kind of liked those stamps from countries with more history than we had. I decided I would see if I could fill the album up. I quickly learned that there were many stamps issued during that time period (1840-1940) that didn't have places in my album! I then did the only thing I could to alleviate the problem and bought a new album. This one was still a Scott International, but the new four volume set to cover those years. I was in heaven, all I had to do was move all my stamps from the first album and place them in the second, while acquiring the material that I was missing. Only trouble was I found that this album was also missing places for many stamps.
The only solution I could find was to do my own pages, to add spaces for stamps I had that the album wouldn't cover.
Which takes me to the next stage. There are a lot
of stamps! There's no way for me to collect them all at once, the want list alone would have taken the rest of my life to complete. So I decided I would go after the world one country at a time, stopping only when I either had 1840-1940 complete or something else stepped in to change my habits. I looked over that old original album and noticed that I had a fair amount of stamps from El Salvador, complete sets in many cases, and the engraving on many of them was quite good. I had my first country to focus on! And it was an exceptionally good first choice, since nothing from El Salvador cataloged for too much money.
First things first, when you start on a country, you have to have a basis to work from. I choose the Scott catalog (prevalent in the USA) and started making new pages, modeled after the pre-printed pages I had but with all the stamps shown, not just some of them. It took three or four months for me to generate a set of pages with boxes for everything, and I put the stamps I had on them. Trouble was that most of those 'complete sets' turned out to be one or two stamps short, because the old pages had conveniently left spaces out for some values (I assume the ones Scott didn't have good stock on). It also turned out that there was a group of El Salvador collectors working on a project called 'The El Salvador Handbook', which contradicted Scott on several points. I decided these guys seemed to have a better handle on El Salvador than Scott did and start to think about what was involved in changing the pages to reflect the new reality. I also started discovering that a lot
of those cheap stamps were just not available at dealers, or even on eBay! By the time another six months had passed I had pretty much run out of work to do on El Salvador, even though the pages were only about half full.
There was nothing else to do, I had to start a new country. The next most full was Chile, whose stamps were nearly as well designed as the El Salvador had been, and I was able to use some of the same people I'd pumped for info on El Salvador to find information on Chile. I was also able to score a copy of the Socopo catalog off eBay. I didn't speak or read Spanish, but it couldn't be that
hard to learn, right? I picked up a well worn Spanish-English / English-Spanish dictionary and dove right in. This time I was able to spot many of Scott's mistakes early on and got the pages closer to right at the start. I also found that a lot of the early material wasn't all that inexpensive, and even some of the middle period was tough to find. I started to run into roadblocks in finding several of the stamps I needed, both for monetary and rarity reasons. Time to start on something new.
Logic said that I should continue on with the Americas, especially South America since they weren't all that popular and could be found cheaply. So I started with Argentina. This turned out to be the most difficult country of all. They had stamps issued that have catalog values well in excess of $1000, stamps that were issued in quite small numbers, varieties that aren't listed in most catalogs, and so on. I was able to buy a Kneitchel catalog off an eBay contact I had and the work with Socopo helped in puzzling out what it said. I started combing the non-eBay auction sites, and coincidentally the economy in Argentina went through the floor, so Argentine collectors started dumping stuff on the international market, in order to get some good old US dollars into their hands. It was during this time that I started getting involved with the eBay Stamp Chat board and saw the nifty web pages
Mitch Ward put together and decided to do some myself. I also started using Bill Steiner's
stamp album pages as the basis for my designs. That led to about a year's worth of effort, cumulating in my Argentina
pages [sorry, I can't link directly to my album pages, you'll have to puzzle out where they are]. By the end of that project I was deciding that I wanted to change the format of my pages and you can see the start of some of those changes with the first few pages, especially the Rividavia stamps of 1864-1872.
My next project was a bit serendipitous. Mitch Ward had been working on his Turkey collection and had all his duplicates together in one pile. He posted on the eBay chat that if anyone wanted them, he'd mail them off. I was his second respondent. He asked me how far I'd gotten with Turkey so far and I responded "I've got four, but two are faulty". Fortunately, the first respondent was only interested in cancels for the early stamps, so Mitch mailed me the rest of them, and had the other guy forward the earlies he couldn't use to me as well. I worked on Turkey for about a year before I again got to the point where most of what I didn't have was expensive, rare or both. I again had spent many hours pouring over the specialist catalogs (Pulko, Pulhan and Burak) with a Turkish-English / English-Turkish dictionary. Bill Steiner used something like 80 pages to cover Turkey, mine were 144, plus I branched out a little and started putting pages in for forgeries and covers.
From there on things tend to make the same sort of sense... Turkey to Bulgaria is an obvious tie. Same with Bulgaria to Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. I started on the French Colonies in the background, since most were small yet they often turn up together in mixtures and collections. Greenland was also a Mitch Ward inspired project, he showed his Thule locals one day on the chat board and I thought they were neat. New Zealand started because I worked for most of a year on our club's auction lotting some really nice NZ as well as other British Commonwealth. I remembered I'd picked up some NZ lots a few years earlier before I got organized, and when I looked them over I found they were better than I remembered. Certainly better than they were described! Azerbaijan got started because I had that first set complete (Right! turns out I had a mix of papers and about 70% were forgeries). Allenstein started because I couldn't think of a good Christmas present for my dad, who's named Allen... You see how it goes.
I'm working on Romania and New Zealand right now, while sitting down for a little French Colonies sorting when I want to relax. I've got several more countries accumulating in the background and I'll get started on one of them when the proper moment arrives...
BTW, I now have quite the shelf of dictionaries, though I have to find a different Bulgarian-English / English-Bulgarian one because the catalog is printed all in upper case and the dictionary is all in lower case, and the upper and lower case letter just don't look alike to me!
So let's hear your story!