The following is an article from the first quarter 2023 Philatelic Literature Review (PLR). To read more articles like this, subscribe to the PLR today! And click here to read another article from Michael Bloom from the American Philatelist which gives additional information about the topic of this article.
Once upon a time, members of the International Society of Guatemala Collectors gathered knowledge from members, scoured published research materials and formed a team to prepare a set of new handbooks. That was more than 50 years ago.
During 12 years of research, collating and publishing, these handbooks became the mainstays of Guatemala philately. Printing plates were prepared. The handbooks were published in England by Robson Lowe and distributed. The original printing plates were lost or destroyed.
Disorganization followed. After the initial publication of the handbooks, Guatemala-1 and Guatemala-2, society members wrote articles, monographs and books according to members’ special interests. With the exception of 1990’s Guatemala Philately — 1971-90 Issues and Special Studies, often referred to as “G-3,” no effort was made to coordinate later publications with the original handbooks. Contents and style were a mishmash.
Figure 1. The handbooks were published in (from left) 1969 (54 years old), 1971 (52 years old) and 1991 (32 years old).
Issues arose with the G-1, G-2 and G-3 handbooks (Figure 1). The books are outdated and out of print. They are hard to find, though they may be found occasionally on eBay at more than $100 per volume. G-1 and G-2 initiated a new catalog numbering system. The system lists stamps chronologically regardless of usage. So, for example, airmail stamps are interwoven with regular issues. When G-3 was published, it continued the process by numbering the newest issues. The numbering basically ended with the publication of G-3 in 1990.
The illustrations in G-1, G-2 and G-3 were all black and white. Long sets of stamps were illustrated by showing only the lowest value of the set. To conserve paper, illustrations were consigned to “illustration-only” pages scattered throughout the chapters, making it difficult to tie text to related illustrations.
Many of the books and monographs following the publication of G-1, G-2 and G-3 are hard to find (Figure 2).
Figure 2. The Postage Stamps of Guatemala (2008), 15 years old; Papel Sellado (1999), 24 years old; The Postal Markings of Guatemala (2007), 16 years old; Guatemala Fiscal Handbook (2000), 22 years old; Guatemalan Telegraph Stamps (1993), 29 years old.
A decision was made. The society’s Guatemala publications had clearly reached a dead end. The introduction of new technologies, such as scanning and desktop publishing, provided the tools to move forward. Over the years, the idea of capturing the existing publications and bringing the handbooks up to date had been mentioned, but no actions were taken.
About two years ago, the Guatemala Society’s board decided to tackle the project. It took approximately two years to move from concept to the first electronic publication.
This article’s goals are twofold: First, to announce the new handbook, now titled Guatemala Stamps and Postal Stationery. The second is to provide a roadmap for other specialty societies to create new handbooks that are living documents.
A close look at the society’s dead-end publications
The author is president of the International Society of Guatemala Collectors (I.S.G.C.). The I.S.G.C. was founded in 1948. As noted, its first set of handbooks took 12 years to research and publish. Much of the research took place in Guatemala and required deep searching through government documents.
The original editorial board for G-1/G-2 included 39 individuals, many who were well-known Guatemala specialists of the time. Notable members included James Andrews, Leon Bilak, Roger Frigstad, Roland Goodman (handbook editor), Jack Jonza, Joseph Mandos, and Romeo Routhier. Arturo Taracena Flores, an eminent Guatemalan historian and bibliophile, unearthed much of the official documents for these handbooks from the governmental archives.
A good many of the later contributions originated from research by Cecile Gruson, who lived in Switzerland but traveled to Guatemala to view the archives. Much of the information after the publication of the handbooks was supplied in the form of articles in El Quetzal by more recent writers such as David Lindwall, David Reitsema, and many others.
Organizing: New leadership. We seriously underestimated the resources that would be required to accomplish this multi-year project. It was important to have strong leadership. The society’s president stepped up to organize the project and, with the help of editors and proofreaders from the membership, did most of the planning and execution. It is highly suggested that other societies wishing to follow our roadmap have a larger leadership core.
The process seemed daunting from the beginning. It may seem trivial to scan and capture thousands of pages of text, but it is not. Every word of captured text needed to be corrected for errors caused by flaws in optical character recognition. More than 90 percent of the old illustrations, (more than 3,000,) had to replaced with new scans. Perhaps most daunting of all was the realization that a major design error missed in the early stages might result in extensive correction in later stages.
Organizing: Working in phases. The publishing of the most comprehensive handbook on Guatemala seemed overwhelming at first.
So the first step was to define the scope of coverage of the new volume and then separate the main tasks into phases (Figure 3).
Phase I – prep work
Text capture. Capturing text from old handbooks requires scanning and the use of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. The scanner produces a photographic image of each page, but you will need editable text to proceed further. Shown is an image of an actual page from one of the original handbooks
This page presents several challenges to the scanning/OCR process: tiny font and blurred type so that lowercase c’s look like lowercase e’s. The paper is also glossy, causing reflections that obscure the text.
Figure 4. A page from the Handbook of Guatemalan Philately. Figure 5. A CZUR book scanner.
The use of a book scanner is highly recommended as page-by-page scanning using a flat-bed scanner can be laborious. Book scanners, like the CZUR scanner (Figure 5), can scan open books, with rounded contour, and produce flat images. It does a laser pre-scan to model the curvature of the pages and produces flat text images. It includes OCR software to produce searchable text.
OCR produces a raw text file with LOTS of errors that will need to be manually corrected. Careful proofreading is required by multiple proofreaders. The edited text will be pasted into the desktop publishing software.
Image capture. So far, we have examined how the text is captured, but what about the images?
Images include stamps, covers, and everything except text. One of the major advantages of publishing an electronic version of the new handbook is that high-resolution images can be captured and the reader can enlarge the scans to reveal fine detail.
It is suggested to use a simple, inexpensive, flatbed scanner or a book scanner that can scan two open book pages simultaneously. One of each was used for this project. Choosing the correct scan resolution from the beginning is very important. If the resolution is too low, the reader will not be able to sufficiently enlarge images. If it is set too high, the file sizes will grow to an unmanageable size. It is recommended that stamps be scanned at 600 dpi (dots per inch). The covers should be scanned at 300 dpi.
A lesson learned. When the MS Publisher document was created, all 3,000 images were embedded in the document, such that each high-resolution image was part of the document.
By the time the handbook was finished and ready for conversion to a publishable PDF version, the MS Publisher file had grown to more than a Gigabyte, and Publisher nearly ground to a halt and became unusable!
The solution, a rather painful one, was to delete each of the 3,000 images and replace each image with a link to an image file that resided outside Publisher in a separate folder. This took hundreds of hours over a period of several months. Lesson learned: do not embed the images; embed links to the images.
Figure 6. From left to right: an original scanned image, a de-skewed image and the final de-skewed and cropped image.
De-skewing (Figure 6). Typically, stamps are inserted into stock pages and then scanned. It is impossible to insert them perfectly straight, so the images will have some crookedness or “skew” that will need to be corrected. You will need to decide on the type and color of the background. It is suggested that the background be black, to highlight the perforations, and that it be scanned with margins that can be cropped away. Cropping to the perforation tips provides stamp images that have consistent margins. Microsoft Photo does a great job of de-skewing and cropping.
Phase II – publishing
Selecting a desktop publishing program. Once the text scans are complete and images have been de-skewed and cropped, the next step is to select a desktop publishing program. This is very important because the new handbook is about to become a living document! Years, maybe decades from now, the new handbook will be updated electronically. Once you choose a desktop publishing program, your handbook will live there.
It is critical that the software publisher is still in business and supporting the application. There is no way to ensure this. Choosing a desktop publishing program from a major industry player with a large user base is a good indication of a safe choice, but not perfect. For example, I used Adobe’s Pagemaker software to create albums, thinking that Pagemaker would be around forever, but Pagemaker is gone and there is no easy conversion from Pagemaker to any other desktop publishing program.
New editors will need to get up to speed quickly, so the program should be intuitive and easy to use. For this reason, Microsoft Publisher was our preferred choice.
Valuations. The original handbooks had mixed methods of valuation. Some items had fixed or “absolute” pricing. Of course, these were obsolete as soon as the handbooks were published! Where absolute pricing was provided, the post-publishing task of updating prices became a daunting task.
In some instances, relative pricing was provided instead of absolute pricing. Relative pricing states prices as multiples of the most common variety. For example, if a variety exists once in a sheet of 100, its value would be 100x. As a practical matter, we highlighted that the absolute values had to be considered in light of the date of determination.
Publishing: Electronic vs. hard copy. See Michael Bloom's AP article for the pros and cons of electronic publishing vs. hard copy or book publishing. It is suggested that new handbooks be electronically published first and then in hard copy if desired.
Distributing the new handbook
We needed to figure out how to distribute the new electronic handbook (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Cover of the new electronic handbook.
On the technical side, the publication’s file format must be determined for public distribution. Microsoft Publisher produces a proprietary “Publisher” file with a file extension of “.pub.” Most readers will not have access to Publisher as it is quite expensive.
The most common format for publicly readable use is the “.pdf” format made popular by Adobe with its Acrobat Reader program. While Publisher can export the publication in .pdf format, Acrobat Reader Pro should probably be purchased. There are extensions to Acrobat Pro to allow for auto-indexing the publication.
Now that we know the “what” of what is to be published, the “how” of distribution needs to be considered.
An internet host is needed to house the publication and make it accessible. This can be a website or Dropbox, or MS One Drive file storage site. Now comes the hard question: Who should have access to the handbook?
First, we considered priorities. Which is more important: revenue for the society; growing the awareness of the specialty within the hobby; or, a combination of the two? The I.S.G.C. decided that growing awareness within the hobby would produce revenue indirectly by growing the awareness of Guatemala specialty within the general philatelic community, thereby increasing membership ad income.
The final result is that after January 1, 2023 we would allow anyone to download the new 1,100-plus page Stamps and Postal Stationery of Guatemala for free. Society members will receive notices of frequent updates and be able to download them. Non-members will have to wait a full year for the publication of the annual updates. The new handbook is the most complete handbook for Guatemala ever published. Readers can download the file from this link, www.GuatemalaStamps.com.
Phase III – crowd sourcing
Once a publishing date for the new electronically published handbook was set, we felt that we might be publishing too soon; that important content was still missing, and significant errors needed to be corrected. But we resisted the temptation to delay publication. This is a living document and it will never be complete or perfect.
In the year following publication, we will look at the society’s internal publications, like our journal, El Quetzal, and external sources for content to add. Following its first publication we will begin our crowd sourcing using a Wiki-like process.
Our editors will solicit new content and select which new information to add. What better way to find new content than by going back to the society’s membership? We will ask our members to closely review the new handbook and examine their own collection and research notes for items missing from the handbook, better quality scans, and information to supplement what has already been published.
The I.S.G.C. has a special email account – [email protected] – to collect this crowd-sourced input. Contributors are acknowledged in the handbook.
Old handbooks and monographs vs. new handbook
Contents. The old publications covered a wide range of subjects including stamps, postal stationery, known covers, postal history, postmarks, revenues, papel sellado (revenue stamped paper), routes and rates, first flights, ambulantes (railroads), and some pre-stamp material.
The new handbooks are organized somewhat differently. The first electronic volume – The Postage Stamps and Postal Stationery of Guatemala – covers only postage stamps and postal stationery, but nothing else. The second electronic volume, not yet begun, will include everything else.
Length. G-1, G-2 and G-3 together comprise 811 pages. The Postage Stamps and Postal Stationery of Guatemala, which omits sections of G-1, G-2, and G-3, comprises more than 1,100 pages, so far.
Page size. G-1 and G-2 pages are 7.5 inches by 10 inches. G-3 pages are 8.5 inches by 11 inches. The new handbook pages are all 8.5 inches by 11 inches. At present this is moot since the handbook will first be published electronically. However, at some time in the future the book may be published in printed format.
Image quality and quantity. More than 2,000 color images have been added, all scanned at high resolution. Instead of images being scattered, the basic stamps are located directly below section headings and explanatory images are located as close to the relevant text as possible. The changes in layout and image quality can best be understood by looking at the following versions of the Kennedy issue of 1964 (Figure 8).
Figure 8. An original Kennedy stamp page from the G-2 handbook and its corresponding page in the new electronic handbook.
Note that the page on the left covers four different issues. Only one is the Kennedy issue. The page on the right is solely for the Kennedy issue. The page on the left is confusing, with a Kennedy essay on top, a production issue at the lower left, and a souvenir sheet of another issue at the lower right.
In the new handbook, all relevant images and related test are in the following order: Title of the issue; pictures of the main issues; stamps; artists’ essays; die proofs; plate proofs; specimens; and forgeries. For classic issues, known covers are included.
Figure 9. The original Indian Woman page from the G-2 handbook and its corresponding page in the new electronic handbook.
Another example of the improved layout and imagery is the classic Indian Woman of 1878 (Figure 9). Only the first pages are shown. This chapter on the Indian Woman stamp is one of the most enhanced chapters. It contains an extraordinary number of essays and proofs. It goes far beyond G-1 in showing known covers, many of which were submitted using crowd sourcing and gleanings from auction catalogs.
Into the future
Reviving philatelic handbooks is no small task. It will surely occupy hundreds of hours and require the active participation of many individuals. One benefit I have not yet mentioned, however: increasing the awareness and popularity of a collecting specialty is likely to increase the value of your society members’ collections.
If you need advice on resurrecting your society’s handbook, feel free to contact [email protected].
Guatemala collectors, we need your help. The Postage Stamps and Postal Stationery of Guatemala was published on January 1. You can download the file from the homepage (www.GuatemalaStamps.com). Please compare the information to stamps and research notes in your collection, and feel free to offer submissions for this dynamic piece of literature. For stamps, please scan at 600dpi (300dpi for larger items) against an uncropped black background and send to [email protected].