Thursday, 29 November 2007

More on the Connoisseur

I promised you more on the Connoisseur, so here it is.

The first edition of the Connoisseur was published in 1977, just as the decimal Machins were starting to get complex. There was definitely a need for it. Douglas Myall hadn't published his handbook yet. I don't remember if Alan Wilson's catalog (the predecessor to the current Machin Collectors Club catalog) was available at that time. Gibbons had its specialized catalog, but not everyone cared for it. The British Decimal Stamps Study Circle was trying to publish a catalog but was never successful at it. So the Connoisseur filled a need and, as far as I know, enjoyed some success.

As you can see on their web site, annual editions were published through 1982, but then they started falling behind. New editions were three years apart through 1995, and then they gave up, except for a supplement in 2001.

However, two things have managed to keep the Connoisseur alive. The Connoisseur is published by a dealer, B. Alan, Ltd. B. Alan also published a new issue bulletin called "Variety Club News" (fondly known as VCN) and included in that were Connoisseur numbers for new issues. I don't know if B. Alan is still publishing VCN, but apparently new Connoisseur numbers are still being assigned.

There is also a Connoisseur album that has been updated through 2002, according to the order form available on the web site. Collectors who purchased the album have a motivation to continue using it, with its accompanying catalog. (The album is very nicely done - and rather expensive.)

All that said, however, there's the question of whether the Connoisseur, if brought up to date and made available online only, would be successful.

There are several factors to that. First, is it possible for an online-only publication to succeed with stamp collectors? Second, now that the Deegam Handbook and the Machin Collectors Club Catalog exist, with Gibbons still alive and kicking, is there room for yet another comprehensive Machin catalog? One dealer told me that the number of customers using the Connoisseur numbers has dropped off in recent years.

Another way of asking that is what does the Connoisseur bring that these other publications are lacking?

It's too soon to say, but I'll toss in what I think are one positive aspect and one negative one.

The positive one is that the sample chapter that is available for download on the web site is full of useful information about the stamps. The chapter covers "Non-Standard Design Machins and Decimal Definitives with Security Features", a group that includes the 1990 double-heads (with Queen Victoria's portrait added), the Millennium Machin, the Pricing in Proportion Machins, the decimal Wilding reissues and others. Each section is well-illustrated and contains an extensive description of the issues listed.

The negative aspect is the organization of the catalogue. That's a subjective judgment, and I know there are many opinions on that topic. My opinions are based on the organization of the older editions, and it is possible that the new version will be different. I will, of course, not make a final judgment until more chapters are available, but here's what Connoisseur did in the 1980s.

When the first edition of the Connoisseur was published, all low-value Machins had been printed by Harrison and Sons. In 1980, the British Post Office began to use other printers for a handful of values.

So Connoisseur was divided into sections. One was Machins printed by Harrisons. The other was Machins printed by anyone else. Worse yet, the organization of these two sections was different. If I recall correctly, singles and cylinder blocks were listed separately for Harrison stamps but combined for the other printers.

As the 1980s moved into the 1990s, the number of stamps produced by these other printers grew. From 1993 to 1997, Enschede printed the whole set of low-value Machins, leaving only a few stamps for Harrison. The division between "Harrison" and "everyone else" no longer made sense.

I suspect that the Connoisseur has rectified that situation by now. But I'm still concerned. Look again at the title of the posted chapter. It includes "Non-Standard Design Machins." In that group are the special Machins issued last year for the new Pricing in Proportion scheme - the ones that have the big numeral and small Machin portrait of the Queen.

But what if our worst nightmare came true and the full set of Machins was issued with that new design? Would it still be "non-standard"? Or would the PiP design become "standard" and the classic design (if I may call it that) become "non-standard"?

With the Machins, and with any current postage stamp series, there's a risk in assuming that what is true today will remain true in the future. Basing the organization of a catalog on today's truths can lead to problems with tomorrow's.

I look forward to seeing what B. Alan will do with this new edition of the Connoisseur. The site for the online edition is here.



Dennis W said...

Thanks for these valuable posts. I am a US collector but have recently become a Machin collector (I was motivated by the article in Scott's Stamp Monthly last Spring), and continue to expand my knowledge as I press deeper.

The Machins give me an opportunity that I wish I had with the 90-year-old Washington-Franklins that, unfortunately, I can only take so far because of cost factors.

Scott's does not categorize basic Machins much beyond 4 factors: color, denomination, perfs, and printing method. The single on-line chapter in the Connoisseur catalog helped me identify printer varieties for the Millenium issues I had (Scott's lists only two varieties). I look forward to other chapters, as I have a sizable accumulation of Machins I could go through.

My question is, for some who wishes to study deeper, which direction should I go: Connoissuer or Deegam? I suppose that is wide-open question that will be difficult to answer, but it's worth asking.

As a side note, being in the USA, I am stuck with Scott's as a baseline. I attend a bourse about once a month and usually find new material at the Scott's level of categorization. There are usually a few tables where the dealers have some Machins, usually purchased from other dealers' stock. Frequently I find different Machins misidentified so it really is a case of caveat emptor when trying to be sure about what you are buying. The dealers are all very understanding and good about this, as they recognize the difficulty in proper identification. Having a Connoissuer or Deegam catalog would make the search even more rewarding.

cdj1122 said...

I look froward also to the Connoisseur Catalog as a matter of curiosity. I have the old one and think some of my gray hair came from trying to comprehend their numbering system. I wish them luck and will enjoy any light that they can shed on any facet of the Machins, but I have the Deegam Handbook, both versions, (As well as the Gibbons Specialized Volumes.) and cannot see any way that they can produce anything more logical, more consistant and more flexible to new issues.
If Connoisseur prints illustrations of known varieties or lists shades it might be worthwhile to have a copy at hand.

Dennis W said...

cdj1122 writes:
I have the Deegam Handbook ... and cannot see any way that they can produce anything more logical, more consistant and more flexible to new issues.

Just to be sure, is the "they" above the Deegam handbook, so you think Deegam is the more logical of the two systems? With exchange rates and everything else, a Deegam is an over $200 investment in the USA now, so I'm looking for all the advice I can get!

Charlie said...

I meant that I do not see how Connoisseur can produce a more logical consistant system of numbering the Machin issues than what Doug Myall has already constructed.
For those who do not have access to the Deegam's handbook, the stamps are grouped by face value and issue date. The numbers are based on the value so "DG160" is a 16p value and "DG165" is 16½p, DG1000 is a £1 issue.
Within that, each succeeding variety gets a number such as;
"DG160.1", or "DG160.2".
For those who wish to break things down into more specific minor varieties each issue can be further sub-divided as;
And so on .....
(Actually there is no 21p stamp, I just used it as an example.)
If there is a new discovery of a variation in the DG21.2.__ it can be added to the group as DG210.2.4 or if it is a sub-variety of, say,DG210.3.3 it can be inserted within the group as DG210.3.3a, quite simply. This happens frequently as alert collectors discover things and report them to Doug Myall so that he can verify the discovery and add it into the list in the appropriate place.
In the handbook, each main variety is identified as to date of issue, printer, color, gum, paper, number of bands or location, and so on.
Each sub-variety is further identified as to head type, numeral variety, location of the value, source and any minor detail that sets a particular stamp aside from its look alike neighbor.
Currently there are 27 major varieties of the 1p crimson/maroon, which are numbered from DG10.1._ through DG10.27.__, at least as far as I know. By going to the first sub-variations level, "DG10.1.1" there are almost 100 potential 1p stamps to collect. A collector who delves into the third level of sub variations which includes those with an "a", "b", and "c" designations nearly doubles that to 185 variations of this very simple "1p" stamp.
But the beauty of the system is the collector can decide to what level he wants to collect. After all, 27 unique 1p stamps mounted neatly on a page or two is quite impressive in its own right.
They are all arranged in a logical sequence. Using these numbers may seem complicated but once the collector learns how to follow it I think most will find it reasonable and easy to use.

larry said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of Machins. I'll post a brief note about catalogs in a day or two.