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The Catalogue of the RPSL Museum

Geoffrey Eibl-Kaye FRPSL and Paul Skinner FRPSL

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A MUSEUM NEEDS A CATALOGUE. One was produced in 1965 by Dr J.W.M. Stone (Ref. 1). This contained few photographs due to technological constraints and the cost of printing at that time. In the following 46 years the museum has acquired more artefacts. Photographic, printing and computer technology has advanced such that it is relatively easy and cost efficient to produce a digital, fully illustrated, catalogue of the museum’s present holdings. That has now been produced and is available. The catalogue has two objectives, firstly as an administrative tool for the museum curator, and secondly as a research tool. To meet these two needs the photographic images are available at two resolutions. The lower resolution images enable fast browsing of the catalogue and the high resolution images allowing fine detail to be examined with the aid of a fast high function Philatelic Viewer first developed 15 years by Geoff Eibl-Kaye and re-implemented in today’s technology for this project. All the images are available to researchers who can use them (with appropriate acknowledgment) in any published work derived from the catalogue. The hope is that additional photography, by a researcher, will be unnecessary. Whilst not being made generally available, a full set of camera raw images are available if it is felt that different ‘dark room’ processing is needed beyond that done for the catalogue.
The catalogue is distributed on two DVDs and is designed to run on a PC with minimum screen resolution of 1024 × 768. It has been tested on Windows XP and Windows 7. No Apple version is available.

The Catalogue’s Components
The published catalogue has three components:

  1. A fully structured and normalised relational database implemented in Microsoft Access. This contains all the data. It is not intended that the user should have access to this other than through the Search facilities.
  2. A search program to enable the catalogue to be browsed and searched for explicit categories of artefacts.
  3. The Philatelic Viewer for detailed examination of the pictures.

Artefact Classification and Description
Each artefact is given a Classification. Associated with each Class are Categories which refine the classification. The Classes and their associated categories are shown in Table 1, which also indicates the range of artefacts in the collection. There is a free text description which is searchable. Where appropriate, and in some cases if known, the country of use or origin and the printer are given.

The Search Facility
On opening the catalogue the search results screen (Fig. 3) is displayed. The whole catalogue can be browsed with sort criteria being specified for the order in which the results are displayed. These are specified in the Browse Dialogue (Fig. 1) displayed by clicking the Browse button. This is mainly of use when trying to get a feel for the artefacts in the museum. More importantly, the catalogue can be searched for specific items or categories. The search conditions are specified in the Search Dialogue shown in Figure 2. The results of this search are displayed in Figure 3.
The striped panel contains a one-line entry for each search result. Full details of the selected item are shown below this area. The picture is a low resolution image of the artefact. To view the artefact in detail and manipulate the image, the Philatelic Viewer is opened by clicking the Zoom view button.
Some artefacts have several images associated with them. Examples are transfer rollers which have several transfers round the cylinder face, or a large artefact where a detail picture has been taken of one or more areas. When browsing the results of a search if such an item is selected, the Linked artefact button is displayed. Clicking this displays all the images associated with that object. Those artefacts of interest to the user can be bookmarked during browsing and the list of bookmarked objects saved for future reference, making the collection of research data more convenient. The artefacts in a bookmark list can be retrieved and displayed together.

The Philatelic Viewer
The zoomed image from Figure 3, shown in Figure 4, has been enlarged to show just the detail of  the stamp image. In addition it has been flipped horizontally, to remove the mirror image, and the colour has been inverted so that it resembles more the printed stamp. These make it easier to compare the die with a stamp. Zooming is by either dragging down the slider on the right or using the cursor to draw a rectangle around the region to be enlarged. The other available functions are indicated on the buttons. The Viewer can be opened multiple times, either on the same image or on others, so making comparisons easy.
A useful feature is the ability to invert the image colour. The image detail in a die is largely the result of a small amount of residual ink in the depressions. For an intaglio die this, after flipping, is essentially what is seen as the printed image, since the ink is forced into the engraved lines when printing. For letterpress dies, e.g. the one in Figure 4, the surface of the printing forme is inked. Inverting the colour on such a die gives a fair indication of what the printed result will look like. In Figure 5 a comparison is made of an intaglio die and a letterpress die.

The Project
The project started in 2005 with Ken Dore and Geoff Eibl-Kaye doing the photography and scanning the dies. The intention was to produce a photographic inventory, not a research tool. It was evident that scanning was not going to be satisfactory and that we needed photography of a much higher quality than we could obtain from our efforts. In 2009 it was decided to hire the services of a professional photographer and to focus on making a research tool. It will be observed that there was a significant hiatus. This was the result of several things. Nine months were lost whilst Geoff Eibl-Kaye produced the Archival Edition of The London Philatelist. At the end of that the Museum lost its room and the artefacts were packed up whilst the building was decorated. After a year we managed to get access to the artefacts and tried to sort them out. With the support and outstanding encouragement of Alan Moorcroft we started to design new display cases and prepare suitable displays of the finest artefacts. At that time we also managed to get a work space and could once more plan the photography. The preparation of the material for display and photography, including numbering each item, took nearly a year. All four team members designed the displays, which were intended to lead the viewer through the process of stamp production and to show the rarest artefacts.
The responsibilities of the team were as follows: Geoff Eibl-Kaye, Curator, project leader, designer of the database and user interfaces, and, as a sideline, processing the images. Paul Skinner undertook the massive task of describing every artefact. Ken Dore and Alan Drysdall spent hours cleaning and numbering the artefacts and preparing them for photography. They also assisted in the photographing and logging the image data in the database.
Without the implementation and project management skills of John Wills we would not have the catalogue and search facilities packaged as a shippable product.
It is a testimony to the team spirit, determination and dedication of its members, that this project ever reached fruition, despite the many frustrations on the way there.

Availability of Museum Catalogue
Copies of this new product will be available for purchase. Purchase on-line via the links near the top of the page or please contact the office at No. 41, or order directly from www.rpsl.org.uk. The all-inclusive cost is £25; this covers postage and VAT where applicable.

Reference
1. Stone J.W.M., The London Philatelist, Supplement, Vol. 74, May 1965.

Fig. 1 Fig.2

 

Fig.3 Fig.4 Fig.5a Fig.5b