Brian J. Birch
Introduction updated 16th January 2015
PDFs updated for 2016
Ever since the early 1970s, I have written articles for publication in philatelic periodicals. In the intervening period, the number of articles published each year actually became fewer as their subject matter became more complex and their size grew. In fact, some of these expanded to a greater extent than expected and became equivalent to books. Although I have spent a great deal of time in compiling some of my works over the past 40 or so years, it is evident to me that their scope is such that they will never be finished and will, therefore, never be formally published as a hard copy.
On the one hand, this does not trouble me at all. The fact is that all of these projects have been created for my own interest, amusement and most of all relaxation, rather than for a wider audience. That others might appreciate them is an added bonus. Yet, this value to others is also what does trouble me. Each of my never-ending projects has required thousands of hours of my time to bring them to their current, very unfinished state. I hate the thought that if anything happened to me, this work could all be lost to posterity.
In the late 1990s, the answer was obvious – I had my own web site, created by a colleague at work, www.philatelicliterature.org, and loaded all of my long-term projects onto it. I even know of one correspondent of mine who visited the site and downloaded copies of all of those early works. However, the problem with a site of ones own is time and, in the event, new versions of my works were never uploaded. Eventually my site closed due to my lack of time to maintain it.
Just after the turn of the century, but in no way related to the Millennium Bug, my hard drive failed – this was following a major updating of my works and six months after the last back-up. The next four or five months, when I strove to get the data recovered and re-build my computer, almost lead to the complete abandonment of philatelic research such was the extent of my disenchantment. Then, a year or so later and quite unexpectedly, I received an e-mail from Francis Kiddle. I had only met Francis once or twice at the Royal Philatelic Society London but had corresponded with him on numerous occasions during my researches. His missive advised me that the FIP Literature Commission was intending to set up a web site and were looking for some material with which to populate it. This news undoubtedly offered grounds for a symbiotic relationship and as a result of the subsequent negotiations, most of my long-term works can be found on this site. The only exceptions are those projects carried out for the Royal Philatelic Society London, which obviously retains the copyright and makes the information available on its own web site.
THE STRUCTURE OF MY WORKS
It may seem a bit pretentious to talk about the structure of a number of ones works – all in various states of completion and all of which appear to be stand-alone documents. The reality is somewhat different. I am a philatelic bibliophile, a lover of philatelic literature. Although I love all philatelic literature, that is far too great a field and so I specialise in the literature about philatelic literature and of course, the people who wrote, sold, studied and used the literature. For years, I was quite happy compiling my ad hoc works as the mood took me, giving no thought to structure whatsoever. It was not until 1987, when I traded letters with Stuart Leven of the Western Philatelic Library in Sunnyvale, California, while they were trying to put their library’s bibliographic material into some kind of order, that I realised why having a structure was important and gained an insight through their efforts, into what it should be. In a nutshell, a structure enables one to see clearly what has been achieved in philatelic bibliography and, just as importantly, shows what remains to be done. Having compiled a work like The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion, it is evident that its table of contents defines the overall structure of philatelic bibliography. Further details of that seminal correspondence can be found in the Foreword to The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion.
I am always happy to receive comments about and criticism of my works.
THE PHILATELIC BIBLIOPHILE’S COMPANION
This is essentially a bibliography of all philatelic works that are (or at least appear from their titles) most useful, not to say essential, to a philatelic bibliophile, or even to a philatelic librarian – ergo its Western Philatelic Library origins. Essentially, The Philatelic Bibliophile’s Companion is a series of bibliographies, each one giving access to a different facet of philatelic literature and structured so as to include all types of literature. It deliberately tries to avoid the inclusion of non-philatelic literature for fear of making an impossibly large work into an infinitely large one.
Inevitably, some Sections of a work of this nature become very large and tend to overwhelm the rest. As this point approaches, they are hived off into a separate work, but remain an integral part of The Philatelic Bibliophiles Companion. Although this volume is currently 1,442 pages in length, this has tended to vary considerably at times, falling dramatically as each offspring was created. Examples of such subsidiary documents on the FIP Literature Commission web site are:
Bibliography of Philatelic Periodicals, now combining Sections 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168, and is currently 983 pages in length
Biographies of Philatelists and Dealers, now combining Sections 2.2.8, 5.2 and 5.3, and is currently 3,117 pages in length
Bibliography of Current-Awareness and Retrospective Indexes, Section 22.214.171.124, and is currently 271 pages in length
Philatelic and Postal Bookplates, Section 5.4, and is currently 973 pages in length
It follows that The Philatelic Bibliophiles Companion as a whole comprises some 6,786 pages and is growing by several hundred pages each year. In addition, and owing to its great size, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, I revisited its layout and set-up to eliminate as much blank space as possible and reduced its size by several hundred pages.
Self-evidently, this is a work in progress and re-evaluations occur whenever difficulties and anomalies crop up. Even now, there are many Sections in which only a few or even no entries have been made. Decisions as to format and layout can only be taken when I begin to populate each Section and therefore change is inevitable. For example, those who have followed this site’s progress over several years will have noticed that Section 126.96.36.199 the Bibliography of Cumulative Indexes to Philatelic Periodicals, which was populated until a few years ago, is now empty. In fact, it was combined with another Section, Histories of Individual Periodicals, that had recently been made into a free-standing document, under the title Bibliography of Philatelic Periodicals in order to eliminate the duplication of information that the two documents contained. Indeed, it was for the same reason that a planned index to periodicals covered by the indexes listed in the Bibliography of Current-Awareness and Retrospective Indexes was scrapped and the data incorporated into the Bibliography of Philatelic Periodicals. At some time in the future, I intend to review the other Sections of The Philatelic Bibliophiles Companion relating to periodicals to determine whether they would be better in the Bibliography of Philatelic Periodicals or remaining where they are.
OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK
From time to time, I am sent or acquire unpublished material which I believe should be placed in the public arena. Where this is applicable, and copyright allows, I try to include it in my works, always crediting the author and generally using an indigo coloured typeface to make it stand out. Normally, these items vary from a paragraph to a couple of pages. In 2011, having had several requests for information from the biographical files donated to me by Jim and Ron Negus, I incorporated them into my Biographies of Philatelists and Dealers, as appendices. This added some 222 pages to the work.
Two other works of mine which can be found on this site, form no part of the Philatelic Bibliophiles Companion, although they are closely related to it:
Index to the Philatelic Translations Produced by Brian J. Birch, currently 1,533 pages in length
Bibliography of General Literature in the Philatelic Library of Brian J. Birch, currently 503 pages in length
The contents of these two documents now belie their titles. Although the title Index to the Philatelic Translations Produced by Brian J. Birch was originally accurate, in 2014 I decided to incorporate copies of all of the translations into it and have renamed it Philatelic Translations Produced by Brian J. Birch. Since the beginning, I had sent each translation as a stand-alone document to the FIP Literature Commission and they had placed them in a separate folder. During a conversation with Francis Kiddle in 2013, he pointed out that the number of pages on the site I quoted omitted the translations. On checking, I found out that this added up to 859 pages. (As of 2014, this had increased to 1,185 pages.) At the same time, I was aware of another problem in that I occasionally revised or corrected translations that had already been uploaded to the web site. Although these were minor changes, I had no mechanism in place to get the revised versions uploaded. It occurred to me that a better way of providing the translations was to incorporate them into the Index document so that any updated versions would be made available on the web site each year with the other documents. This was one of my projects for 2014 which cost me hundreds of hours.
Examination of the Bibliography of General Literature in the Philatelic Library of Brian J. Birch, one will find that it is far wider in its content than just being a library list. As well as the library material, other parts of my collections and accumulations are noted therein: Chalmers-Hill Controversy; Ephemera from 19th Century Dealers and Ephemeral Documents relating to Philatelic Periodicals, as well as my Archives and a List of My Own Publications.
Each one of my works on this site includes its own Introduction which explains its origin and, where appropriate, its relationship to The Philatelic Bibliophiles Companion.
The total size of all of my works on this site comes to 8,822 pages. For those who are statistically minded, I added 361 pages during the year so that in total, the size of the work increased by 4.2% over the previous year. Apart from the translations document, I also took on a time-consuming project for the Keeper of the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists which will continue in 2015.
My aim is to increase each work by at least ten percent every year, although this is becoming increasingly difficult as the size of the whole increases and I take on other projects.
I try to provide an updated version of every work to the webmaster of the FIP Literature Commission each January although, if the progress on any of the documents has been relatively minor during the year, I may not bother updating them.
I am sure that the format of the second page of each document will seem rather strange, with its listing of editions and recipient libraries. However, I keep the original documents as Microsoft Word Files ready to be printed as a book and tend to print a copy for my own use when the increase in size justifies it. Hence the edition details at the front to keep track of my own actions. In a similar way, blank pages are sometimes inserted in order to move new Chapters to the right hand page, as in a book. As a dinosaur of more than sixty years, I make few allowances to this new-fangled computer age and even fewer to the internet!
However, the main and more-serious reason for this page is to record the changes that have occurred to the size, content and format of the document over the years and preserve this information for posterity. In addition, it holds the details of each volume that I have had bound (which I have designated an edition, for convenience) and indicates where each one was deposited when a subsequent bound volume was added to my library. It has always been my policy to place the same edition of each of my works with a single institution. For example, all First editions have been deposited with the Western Philatelic Library of Sunnyvale, California, in acknowledgement of their role in the origin of The Philatelic Bibliophiles Companion. All Second editions with the Collectors Club of New York, and so on. The Biographies of Philatelists and Dealers has been printed most often and therefore carries the complete list of recipient libraries, to date.
Before finishing this introduction, it is only right that I offer my thanks to Francis Kiddle, whose initiative first put me in contact with the FIP Literature Commission. To Anthony Virvilis for his encouragement and help over many years and for pressing me to deliver my updates to our webmaster very promptly. I must also thank the Commission itself for their encouragement and their willingness to host my work on their web site.
Finally, I must thank Toke Norby, the FIP Literature Commission’s first webmaster, who worked so hard, and often against his better judgement in the early years, in order to ensure that the final digital product and its presentation were exactly to my liking. I have great sympathy for anyone who has to work with someone who, like myself, believes that computers are simply inconvenient books with an on-off switch, a built-in calculator and an inaccurate clock!