A Philatelic Handbook Adventure

(Published: May, 2008, Volume 8, Number 2, Issue #25) (Table Of Contents)
(Author: Mike Birrer)

In 1978 I narrowed my stamp collecting from the vastness of insects in general to issues featuring malaria. By the mid-80's I thought I had assembled a fairly comprehensive collection, so I embarked on an effort to put together a catalog of the malaria philatelic material I owned or of which I had been informed. That was shortly after James Dellinger had founded Malaria Philatelists International and began disseminating a great deal of additional information via the organization's newsletter, Miasma Philatelist.

At the time, image reproduction was by photocopier in black and white. I did experiment briefly with actually photographing the items; but the task was far too enormous, and touch-ups were beyond my photographic skills. To get clean images of cancellations, cachets, and covers, I often had to eliminate unwanted portions of images by scraping them away with an X-acto knife and then re-photocopying them. Catalog pages were assembled on 11x17-inch pages via a combination of pasting and typing. These were then reduced to 8.5x11 inch pages via photocopier. I assembled pages for countries A through France. Then, coping with job changes, tending a family, and attending graduate school, I had to move philately to a back burner - a far back burner; but it was never completely out of mind.

A few years ago I began again to dabble in malaria philately. The advent of the internet magnified exponentially the possibilities for learning about and acquiring new malaria-related philatelic material. I found Larry Fillion's www.malariastamps.com eye-popping collection in short order, and www.ebay.com had not long to wait. If I don't spend a couple of hours working on malaria philately today, I am probably fishing or visiting family and friends. [That will likely change when global wireless access reaches my neck of the woods.] A great deal of material that I had not previously seen has appeared, adding renewed emphasis to the importance of a listing in one place of all the material that we presently know exists, Having abandoned my original paste-up and typewriter methods for a computer and scanner, I have completed listings for countries A through K and am presently in the middle of letter "L" in the catalogue assembly process.

The present issue of MP shows the catalog pages for Jordan's 1962 stamp emission for the malaria eradication campaign. The pages are representative of the format I am pursuing. First are listed the stamp issue and printing varieties, followed by first day cancels, first day cachets, and then the known cancel-cachet combinations. Usage other than first day is then documented. (Only a registered cover with appropriate receiving marks is proof positive that a stamp was on sale in the issuing country. Reportedly, as early as the 1950s a number of stamps were printed with the sole purpose of separating stamp collectors from their money, the stamps never being on sale in the issuing country.) Extensively illustrated, volumes 1 and 2 currently have a combined total exceeding 3,200 images, including more than 500 for India's eleven groups of issues; and all are in color. Some challenging aspects for me have included the many printing varieties of Guinea C29-31, the 31 different cancels and 33 different cachets for the first day issue of Italy 863-4, and the array of India's inland postal cards and letter sheets. The U.N and U.S. issues will surely be challenging, as well. [Be sure to see Mr. Fillion's articles on those two areas in this issue of MP.]

The layout is working well, but I have also chosen to start each segment - cancels, cachets, covers - on a new right-hand page. So doing results in many blank pages; but it will facilitate addition of future discoveries - and I anticipate many - and it will allow collectors to order segments of a loose-leaf version to suit their particular needs. At present I am working with printers to come up with reasonably low-cost printing and binding. I have had a couple volumes soft bound, and they look pretty good. I have also found a binder that will work well for a loose-leaf version, and I am working with the manufacturer to develop a version specifically for the handbook. The problems with either format are that quality paper is expensive, color printing is expensive, and the anticipated 3,000-page end product will require four fairly heavy volumes. The final production cost, therefore, is going to be in the vicinity of $100 per 4-volume set.

Since the handbook's production is a labor of love on my part, I do not intend to sell the handbook for anything above cost. Before getting anything printed professionally, though, I do need to know the level of interest among collectors for such a costly handbook. A person could buy 30 gallons of gas for the same price. If you have malaria-related philatelic material that is not shown in the collection at www.malariastamps.com, I urge you to send scans and permission to use them in the handbook and updates. If you want to enter your pre-publication order, I reckon that will be okay, too. E-mail me at michaelfbirrer@yahoo.com or the editor of MP at malariastamps@yahoo.com.