In The Spotlight

GBCC President Gordon Milne interviews
James E. Kloetzel, Scott Catalogue Editor

 

Published in the October, 1999 issue of The Chronicle, the journal of the Great Britain Collectors Club. Reprinted by permission.

The following GBCC members are especially thanked for contributing to this interview:

Duncan H. Barber, Mississauga, ONT., Canada
Anne A. Hughes, Quincy, IL
Charles Mayfield, Cincinnati, OH
Richard Muller, Tigard, OR
Larry Rosenblum, Sunnyvale, CA

Milne: First of all, Jim, thank you for agreeing to participate in this, my third “In the Spotlight” interview. Let’s start off with the obvious question that most collectors have asked: What prompted you to make the radical changes in Machin listings now?

Kloetzel: I’m happy to be your third subject for the “In the Spotlight” feature, Gordon. I’ve enjoyed your first two interviews and hope this one produces some helpful information for GBCCers.

Most changes in the catalogue listings are prompted by two factors, with varying amounts of influence coming from each. The first factor is requests from collectors, and the second is internally generated ideas. In the case of the Machins, both factors were strongly influential. We have had many requests during the last few years to do something about the Machin listings. Collectors clearly were having trouble locating and organizing stamps with the listings based on the normal Scott practice of assigning blocks of numbers to definitive sets, filling those numbers and then assigning a new block of numbers for subsequent releases.

This system works well when (i) the definitive set is somewhat limited in scope, and (ii) the denominations and numbers of stamps within the set are somewhat predictable.

I think we all recognize that the Machin is the all-time record-holder for breaking these two guidelines! As it came time to break open the tenth new block of numbers of Machins, it was clear that the Scott editors had to resolve some serious questions. New Issues Editor Dave Akin (who collects Machins) also knew from personal experience that when it took him 20-30 minutes to accurately locate a Machin listing in the catalogue, it was time to bite the bullet and create a more useful listing for our customers. The longer we waited, the worse the problem was getting, and there was no end in sight. So it was a matter of creating order out of impending chaos. Dave Akin is the individual who should be credited with creating these new listings and, as you can imagine, the job took many, many hours of study, work, editing and revision.

Milne: Jim, that was, if I might say so, an excellent and clear outline of why you did it. Now, for specifically those who didn’t get the chance to read Dave’s fine summary in the June issue of Scott Stamp Monthly, can you outline, in essence, what Scott has done in radically revising the Machin listings?

Kloetzel: First, we have removed all the Machin listings from the Great Britain postage section, leaving the old numbers unused. Using a new “MH” prefix, we have created a new section of Machins following the section of regional issues.

We have organized all the Machin stamps using the following categories:

a) Currency: Sterling, Decimal
b) Perforation: Normal, Syncopated
c) Victoria and Elizabeth II issues
d) 1997 redrawn portrait
e) Regional issues (organized as a-d above)

We have produced cross-reference lists at each of the old locations for Machins in the postage section, indicating the new “MH” numbers for all old catalogue numbers as an aid. Many stamps previously listed as minor varieties were elevated to major number status. These include stamps with different printing methods and perforation gauges. We also examined the style of numerals in the denominations and used these to describe many varieties that previously were not described or unlisted by Scott.

Milne: In putting these revisions together, Jim, what main data sources did you use?

Kloetzel: We consulted a number of catalogues including Stanley Gibbons and the Michel Great Britain Specialized. And, of course, we had our Scott collection of Machin stamps.

Milne: What has been the overall reaction of collectors to the changes?

Kloetzel: The vast majority of collectors who have contacted us or visited with us at shows have expressed overwhelming pleasure at the changes. Several collectors have had difficulty converting their Gibbons-oriented collections to the new Scott listings, but they still indicated that they really preferred to use Scott numbers. We have received only one negative comments from a collector. We know that some collectors will always oppose any change in catalogue numbers, but in this case we felt that the benefit to existing collectors, and most definitely the benefit to collectors yet to come, surely justified these changes. And we are happy to report that interested parties seem to agree with us.

Milne: When Volume 3 of the 2000 Catalogue first came out, I heard lots of groans from dealers holding stocks of Machins about the hours of work they faced in renumbering their inventory. Have these groans since subsided?

Kloetzel: Dave Akin made a point of visiting many dealers at the August APS StampShow 99 in Cleveland, and he found that most dealers seemed quite willing to use the new numbers. Most said they would identify new acquisitions by the new listing numbers while selling out their existing stock using the old numbers. Thus, it may take a little time, but clearly the conversion to the new numbers will occur. And with the built-in conversion tables we have installed at the old number locations, it really shouldn’t be an overwhelming chore to convert. Only one dealer expressed displeasure at the changes, saying he “couldn’t sell sets any more,” but most dealers, as I said, indicated that their customers were pleased with the changes in the listings.

Milne: Although I’m not a “Machin Maniac” myself, I heard it on good authority that, not surprisingly in the light of the major nature of the overhaul, several errors and inconsistencies have been discovered in the revised listing. How do you plan to handle corrections?

Kloetzel: As with any project of this complexity, no matter how many times you review the work, errors or inconsistencies will creep into the final product. We encourage collectors and dealers to contact us concerning any possible errors that they find. We have received a number of notes already, and we would rather hear about a single error from ten different people than not hear about it from a single person.

Milne: Jim, that’s a very positive and laudable posture to adopt.

Kloetzel: Well, we believe that catalogue users should not assume that others have reported or will report an error. We would appreciate it if they would contact us in each case. We will review all input and make any necessary changes, which will be announced in the Catalog Update section of Scott Stamp Monthly. These changes will then be incorporated into the 2001 edition of the Scott Catalogue.

Milne: Jim, further to these comments, what would Scott’s reaction be to a bunch of Machin experts getting together in, let’s call it, an ad hoc committee to review and verify the new listings and then relay their findings back to you/

Kloetzel: We think that collectors may be our best source of feedback, and we have already received some feedback from actual experts. We’re not sure how much there is to find, but it is, we believe, unlikely to be a great deal. However, we welcome input from all sources.

Milne: In the past, Scott has not included minor varieties of Machins in its album pages. However, in the radical revision, many Machins with previously minor numbering have now been given major numbering status. Does Scott plan to issue new pages to account for these changes?

Kloetzel: New Scott album pages have been released that include spaces for all major numbers per the new listings. Collectors wishing to convert to the new numbering system will need to remount their Machins onto the new pages.

Milne: Ouch!

Kloetzel: Well, Gordon, this is an inevitable byproduct of the new listings, and although we know that collectors do not like to remount stamps, we once again stress that we feel the long-term pluses of the new listings outweigh the temporary minuses.

Milne: A GBCCer reports that she has heard through the grapevine that Scott will be issuing a new album for Machins only. Is this true? If so, will it mirror all the new listings? And when is it likely to be available?

Kloetzel: Thank you for placing that question here, Gordon!

Milne: Actually, Jim, it wasn’t a plant; it was, honestly, a real genuine question from a GBCC’er.

Kloetzel: Well, be that as it may, in fact we have already released a complete set of album pages for the Machins, and these pages include spaces for all the major numbers in the new Scott Machin listings. These pages are Scott item number 200GBM1. Editor’s Note: The pages can be purchased from a dealer or from Amos Press, the publisher.

Milne: Now you’re really making it sound like a plant, Jim! But, go ahead — allowing free commercials in this feature is my way of saying “Thanks” for the time you have generously donated in answering my (and other GBCCers’) questions.

Kloetzel: In that instance, let me add more. These Machin album pages will be supplemented annually. The first annual supplement will include any corrections or omissions that we have found during the first year.

Milne: Okay, Jim, moving on … you’ll be glad to hear, I guess, that I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about your decision to incorporate a complete listing of booklets in the Scott Catalog, Great Britain being, as I understand it, the first country to be accorded such treatment.

This prompts two questions: Why did you decide to do so, and will you be adopting a similar approach for other countries in the Scott Catalogues in the years ahead?

Kloetzel: Whether complete listings of booklets from all countries will ever be incorporated into the catalogues is an open question. For Great Britain it seemed a natural extension of our work on the Machins. We wanted to include all Machin booklets, and we found that the best way to do that was to also list the earlier booklets.

Milne: For the GB collectors using the Scott listings, that certainly seems to have been a popular decision.

Kloetzel: We do plan to tackle other booklet-heavy countries in future editions of the Scott Catalogues. For the last couple of years we have included listings for complete booklets for all countries in the new issues listings in anticipation of future expansion of booklet listings, country by country.

Milne: A smart move again on Scott’s part.

And now some questions that have come in from GBCCers on a more advanced plane, the first being: Why does Scott list phosphors for the Wildings and not the Machins?

Kloetzel: Scott lists phosphors on the Wildings and on many other stamps because those stamps were regularly issued as both untagged and tagged varieties. Untagged Machins are errors, and we have tended not to get into this level of detail in the modern listings of countries other than the United Statues.

Milne: Another question posed, in the same vein, was: Why do you list sideways watermarks for G.B issues but not inverted watermarks?

Kloetzel: The answer to this one is similar to the answer on phosphors. Footnotes in the catalogue indicate that these stamps were issued in a format different from the sheet stamps of the major listings. That is, in virtually every case, sideways watermarks exist only on stamps issued as coils. In the case of about four listings (and I’ll let you search for which ones they are), sideways watermarks are from either coils or booklet panes, but not from sheet stamps. That is the reason for the present listings of sideways watermarks. Inverted watermarks, on the other hand, are either watermark errors or cases where the printers and the Post Office didn’t really care if the watermarks read upright or inverted. We are in the process of considering whether we want to include different watermark orientations of this sort as minor listings, but if we do so, they undoubtedly would show up only in our Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers, that is issued annually in November. We do not feel that these kinds of specialized listing are appropriate for the standard catalogues.

Editor’s Note: In the interest of accuracy, I must offer corrections to Jim’s statements above. First, several low-value Machins, including some printings of the 50p and all printings of the 75p, were issued without phosphor bands or phosphor coating. High value Machins were also issued without phosphor, including the engraved small versions of 1999. Phosphor was not added to these issues because they were generally used on parcels, not on letters that were processed by the sorting equipment that reads the phosphor.

Second, most modern G.B. stamps with inverted watermarks were created intentionally as a byproduct of the method used to produce booklet panes, as were some of the sideways watermarks that Kloetzel mentions. This was neither an error nor a case of not caring.

Milne: On the varieties front, are you planning to include more of these in subsequent issues of the standard catalogue?

Kloetzel: You will find many more additions of varieties in the Classic Specialized Catalogue than in the standard catalogues, although you will continue to see new varieties there also. In the Classic Specialized for 2000, for example, we have included perhaps 30 pages of additional specialization, including numerous additions to the Great Britain section. As testimony to this, between the 1999 and 2000 editions, Great Britain (from Scott #1 through the official stamps) grew from less than eight pages to almost 11, and Canada increased from eight pages in 1999 to 14 in the 2000 Classic. Most of these additions will not be seen in the standard catalogues.

Milne: I have been surprised that few questions came in on the price listing of Machin items previously not included in the Scott Standard Catalogue. Again back to the question of source, where did you go for help on this front?

Kloetzel: We looked at the normal sources of valuing, including foreign price lists. Since all of our Machin numbers correspond to some Gibbons number, a perusal of British price lists proved useful, as did looks at the Gibbons catalogue and other catalogues as well.

Milne: In compiling catalogue prices, for both GB issues in particular and all stamps in general, do you use the results of online auctions? If so, which ones? And what process do you use?

Kloetzel: So far, we have avoided using online auction realizations for valuing. Our experience to date indicates that there are enormous price fluctuations in online buying, with many very inexperienced buyers and sellers involved.

Milne: Good point!

Kloetzel: Further, items of very mixed quality and misdescriptions abound.

Milne: How true!

Kloetzel: We have seen items worth ten cents sell for several dollars and items worth many dollars sell for only a few. We believe that things will settle down in time, but for now, we do not find online transactions very useful in establishing prices.

Milne: As a GBCCer yourself, you know that the Club runs a 1500+ item auction every nine months or so. Most of the items included therein have historically been given a Gibbons number listing, but many GBCCers — mostly those with a North American base — are averse to this practice because they have less easy access (they say) to a Gibbons catalogue and would prefer Scott numbers. Of course, just to prove you’ll never please all of the members all of the time, it goes the other way, too!

This opens up the age-old question of the legality of showing dual listings of Scott and Gibbons numbers, as, indeed, some dealers chose to do. My understanding — be it right or wrong — is that there is no problem listing Scott and Gibbons numbers side-by-side provided that this is not sold as a concordance. Is this still correct?

Kloetzel: Your understanding is correct. Use of catalogue numbers in a price list — and an auction is a form of a price list — is acceptable and does not require special permission. You, no doubt, have noticed that a number of auction houses use both Scott and Gibbons numbers for each lot, and that practice involves no breach of Scott or Gibbons licensing agreements. So, feel free to use Scott numbers in your GBCC auctions, if you desire. And, if I may add my unbiased (sic) input, why would you not want to do that?

Milne: Out of deference to the other GBCC members, I’ve kept my own pet peeve question on Scott GB listings to the end. It is far from being a new one and continues to irritate! It is this: Why do you continue to show in the catalogue pre-decimal “pence” denominated listing with a “p” and not a “d” behind the value number? I know that for non-Brits, the sterling — pounds, shillings, pence — system was and is difficult to understand, but beginner collectors in particular have, I believe, a really tough time identifying pre-1971 material when the stamp itself bears a pence value followed by a “d” and yet the Scott listing shows the value followed by a “p.”

Kloetzel: Well, Gordon, contrary to what your question may imply, the use of the “p” rather than the “d” for pre-decimal pence is not a new invention. In fact, it is the British invention of none other than John Walter Scott himself. The Scott Catalogue has always used “p” for pence, and it has always spelled “catalogue” with the British “ue” on the end rather than the Americanized “catalog.” Although my mind tends to agree with you about the pre-decimal “p.”

Milne: Well, Jim, that is good enough for me!

Kloetzel: I think our hours will continue to rest with old J. Walter Scott on these matters until the term “tradition” has lost its meaning.

Milne: Jim, not wishing to have the last word on this nor to show any disrespect to J. Walter Scott, but Brits traditionally pre-1971 put a “d” behind the number!

To conclude, Jim, if I may, I’d like to fire you some questions about the Catalogue Editor himself. To kick off this final section, how long have you been with Scott and what did you do before that?

Kloetzel: I’ve been with Scott for a bit more than five years now, but I have been in the field of philately much longer, with a brief foray into insurance interspersed in there somewhere along the way. I started my philatelic career as an auction lot describer in the early 1970s with Richard Wolffers in San Francisco, working my way up to auction department manager and then vice president and general manager of the company. Then came a vice-presidency at the Steve Ivy/Ivy, Shreve and Mader Auction Company in Dallas. The great advantage in working with large auction firms is that it allows you to see and work with more stamps in a month than most collectors accumulate in a lifetime. Such experience has its definite benefits, including not only the gathering of stamp knowledge but also a greater understanding of the different perspectives of collectors, dealers and auctioneers. It’s a nice vantage point for seeing how the stamp market works.

Milne: With the immense and continuing proliferation of world issues, how are you able to keep yourself informed on the global scene?

Kloetzel: By paying a lot of attention to the literature and watching what is going on in the trade. We receive not just stamps but literature from all over the world. However, you are right to believe that it is quite a job trying to keep up with it all.

Milne: What does Jim Kloetzel, the collector, collect?

Kloetzel: My primary collecting interests involve United States stamps and covers from the 19th century, specifically items having to do with the American Civil War and the time from there into the early 20th century. I collect illustrated covers of all types, including Civil War patriotics and advertising covers. I also collect revenue stamps from the same period with a special interest in Private Die Match and Medicine Proprietaries. All these times tie into my interests in American history, in which field I was training to be a college professor until I decided on a rather radical career change. I also have many other collections, include a rather decent Canada and Provinces collection, and many other general foreign collections given to me by my father. And I do in fact have a substantial Machin collection in several volumes, which is made up of some stamps collected by me and a great many more collected by my father. He and I have always agreed that the Machins are among our favorite stamp designs.

Milne: How much time does Jim Kloetzel, the collector, get to spend on the non-business side of the hobby? And does being involved with stamps all day, every day, diminish in any way the joy of collecting?

Kloetzel: I spend much less time than I would like, especially during the busiest months here at Scott, which for me run from June through September. During those months I can accomplish virtually nothing in my personal collecting.

Milne: A bit like what happens, Jim, when you’re GBCC president!

Kloetzel: Being involved with stamps all the time has never diminished my interest in them, but it did alter what I collected. At one time I was putting together a collection of high-quality mint United States [stamps], but working in the auction field showed me the futility of thinking that I could really put together a great mint collection. This is one reason I switched to my other collecting interests.

Milne: To how many stamp clubs and organizations do you belong? And do you do so often just to keep your finger on the pulse of the hobby?

Kloetzel: Through Scott Publishing, I belong to countless organizations, and it is true that I am a member of most simply to keep on top of things and to show support for philatelic organizations. A good many organizations, however, have my personal as well as professional interest.

Milne: Are any other members of your family collectors?

Kloetzel: My father has collected stamps his entire life, but out of a family of four brothers and all their children, only my father and I are stamp collectors.

Milne: Do you attend most of the international shows, and, specifically, are you going to London 2000? If so, is that in a working capacity or as a collector?

Kloetzel: My first international show was London 1980. I would enjoy getting back 20 years later in 2000, again in a working capacity, but we haven’t made any firm plans yet. But it’s getting close, isn’t it?

Milne: Jim, to wrap up what has been, for me at least, a most enjoyable, enlightening and insightful interview, I have multi-legged final question. It is this: from where you sit atop the hobby and, as we are about to enter the new millennium, where do you see stamp collecting heading? Is that vision a positive one? Or do you have fears and worries about the future of the hobby?

Kloetzel: Without getting too deep or long-winded on this important subject, let me just say that I have always seen the great strength of our hobby as being the fact that we have traditionally collected items that were made not for collectors but for utilitarian use by the population. It just so happens that we decided to collect these scraps of paper because they offer attractive and great collecting possibilities. Other traditional, strong collecting areas have the same utilitarian base. I think that solid core of collecting interest will be alive and well for a long time. Humans seem to be natural collectors, and stamps have, from their beginnings, been a leading collectible with strong catalogue and research backing. I think this will remain true for a long time to come.

Having said that, I will admit to what logically follows: modern trends of government (and privatized) post offices producing “collectibles” especially for collectors rather than the general population of stamp users weakens the basic strength in collecting stamps, in my opinion. Along with many others, I see a chasm continuing to grow between traditional collectors and collectors of newer, more topically-oriented issues. Collectors love to collect, but they are not stupid. When they feel taken advantage of, they will turn to something else. The lasting lure of older stamps will draw many collectors to them, but many other collectors of modern material will become disillusioned and alienated by the practices of modern stamp-issuing entities, and I’m afraid many of these collectors will be disinclined to continue collecting stamps altogether.

However, as I said, there is that strong base that exists for stamp collecting in generally, and I think that will continue to see us through, though I do not pretend to know exactly what the hobby will look like in 50 years. As we become more computer-oriented and life becomes more fast-paced, an urge to escape to calmer waters in our hobby fields may even lead to a strengthening of the desire to collect these old utilitarian scraps of paper from an earlier era.

Milne: Jim, I think you not only for those sage words of far-seeing wisdom, but also for your generous expending of time to answer the foregoing barrage of questions. In closing, I would like, personally, to commend you and Dave Akin for what I believe has been a step forward of monumental proportions in your Machin listings. I would predict, however, that some of your answers, although outwardly logical and conclusive, will, nonetheless, provoke a foray of further questions. To those who have them, you have opened widely the Scott door, and I thank you on behalf of all GBCCers in general and “Machin Maniacs” in particular for putting a generous “Welcome” on the mat for those collectors who wish to further their dialogue with you. Again, Jim, my most appreciative thanks.

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