Thoughts and Advice for Competitive Exhibiting

The notes below were put together by former GBPS President Chris Harman RDP HonFRPSL, an experienced exhibitor and judge at all levels, who was Chairman of the Jury at London 2022. They cover the considerations involved in exhibiting in general, not just the GBPS competitions.

For additional information see the video of Graham Winters' presentation, Some Help With Exhibiting.

Welcome to the world of exhibiting

Displaying versus Exhibiting

A good display does not necessarily make for a good competitive exhibit. Exhibiting competitively is not the same as giving a society display:

  • when you display, you can show whatever you want; you are the only judge
  • when you display, you also have the opportunity to explain your material to the audience
  • when you exhibit competitively, you are subjecting your work to being judged by others without any input from you other than what you have mounted or written on the pages

Why Exhibit?

Most exhibitors will tell you that the putting together of an exhibit is a most fulfilling exercise. They will also tell you that the process of assessing and writing up means that they appreciate and learn more about their material than previously. Conversations with the judges in the feedback sessions can also be very enlightening for both the inexperienced and the experienced exhibitor.

The Rules

Competing means aiming to please the judges. The judges make their scoring according to rules. If you wish to score well with your exhibit, then you should carefully read and follow the rules.

Here are some thoughts and suggestions to assist. However, you need to bear in mind that, while judges try hard to be objective in their assessments, there will always be elements of subjectivity and differences of opinion as between judges. There are no hard and fast rules to guarantee you a gold.

First things first

Here are the initial questions you will need to decide:

  1. At what level do you want to compete – club, federation, national or international?
    • If you are reading these guidelines, the answer is probably the GBPS competitions, but you may also be considering national (or equivalent)
    • For international exhibiting most philatelic exhibitions will require exhibitors to have achieved a certain level of result at national level in order to qualify to compete at international
  2. How many frames do you wish to show?
    • In the GBPS competitions this is 1 frame of 16 sheets
    • At national level the choice is normally between 1 and 5 frames of 16 sheets each
    • Choose the right number of sheets and frames to tell your story (see under Treatment below)
  3. How do you choose a subject to exhibit?
    • Something you are excited about
    • Something you can show well
    • Something you have researched
    • Something coherent

Judging Criteria – Technical Classes (Traditional, Postal History and Revenue)

Marks used for scoring – Traditional, Postal History and Revenue Exhibits

Points are awarded under a number of different headings. These are covered below, together with some comments on how they are interpreted and how you might maximise your score under each heading. The marking headings and marking splits are those used by the FIP and by most exhibitions, although the points may change from exhibition to exhibition or between levels of exhibiting (club, federation, national, international).

Title Page

This is an essential part of your exhibit and is a requirement for most exhibitions. Even if not required, it is most important for both you and the judge. It allows you to set out clearly the concept of the exhibit, its purpose and its scope, in accordance with the characteristics of the relevant class. One of the matters that should be included in the title page is a list of sources of information or bibliography so that the judge can read more detail on the subject. The title page will be provided to the jury in advance of the exhibition to enable them to research matters.

Treatment and Philatelic Importance
(max. 30 points – generally split 20:10)

Treatment – is the evaluation of the completeness and correctness of the selected material and of the progression of the storyline (often called the red-thread). This allows the judge to see clearly what you are trying to achieve. The progression may be chronological or arranged in sections according to subject or, for a traditional exhibit, you might choose to show proofs and stamps followed by usages.

Philatelic Importance – can be a subjective question but, generally speaking, points are awarded according to how significant your subject is within the world of philately. This would be reflected in its scope, degree of difficulty of the subject, and philatelic interest of the exhibit. By way of example, a significant subject from a major country will generally score higher than a less significant subject from a minor country (this will not generally be a factor in GBPS competitions!). Equally, an exhibit that includes significant items within its subject will score higher than one that consists of more ordinary material.

Philatelic and Related Knowledge, Personal Study, and Research
(max. 35 points – generally split 20:10:5)

Philatelic and Related Knowledge – is the degree of knowledge displayed by the exhibitor as expressed by the items chosen and their related description.

Personal Study – is the proper analysis of the items chosen for display.

Research – is the presentation of new facts related to the chosen subject.

It is accepted by judges that it is difficult, if not impossible, on certain subjects that have been the subject of detailed study over many years to unearth new facts. In this situation credit will be given within the context of "Research" for your exhibit to clearly show that you fully demonstrate your grasp of the current state of knowledge of the subject.

Condition and Rarity
(max. 30 points – generally split 10:20)

Condition – requires an evaluation of the quality of the material against the standard of the material that exists. Obviously modern material is expected to be perfect but greater latitude will be given for older material or material which only exists in lesser condition. It is accepted that there is an element of trade-off between condition and rarity and, obviously, rare material in excellent condition will win high marks.

Rarity – this heading should be interpreted as "difficulty of acquisition" rather than price. This can be emphasised by comments in the writing up such as "fewer than xx examples recorded" or "earliest recorded usage". Such comments will assist the judges; but avoid disputable terms such "rare" or "unique".

(max. 5 points)

Presentation – covers the aesthetic appearance of the exhibit, including the clarity of the display and the balance of material and writing up. The presentation and the accompanying text should be simple, tasteful, and well balanced. Avoid large and dense areas of write-up. The judge has a very limited timeframe to assess an exhibit and it is important that you impart the key facts in a limited number of words. You should consider the visual impact not only of each page but also of each frame and the exhibit as a whole.

N.B. Whilst the marks for presentation are only a small part of the total, most judges will tell you that an attractive and pleasing looking exhibit will be received more positively and probably achieve better marks under other headings.

Judging Criteria – Thematic Class

This uses the subject matter of the stamp, postmark etc. as the reason for inclusion in the exhibit rather than the study of the technical details of the stamp, cover, document etc. itself. Thus, the thematic exhibit will use only the thematic information relating to the purpose of issue or use of the material, the primary and secondary elements of the design and other postal characteristics to define what you include in the exhibit. Whilst a thematic exhibit should include technical philatelic information on the material, this will be subsidiary to the thematic aspects.

N.B. Thematic philately is based solely on postal material, one of the aspects that differentiates it from open philately.

Marks used for scoring

Points are awarded under a number of different headings, some of which are the same as used for the Technical Classes. The ones that are different are covered below in more detail, together with some comments on how they are interpreted and how you might maximise your score under each heading. The marking headings are those used by the FIP and by most exhibitions, although the points may change from exhibition to exhibition or between levels of exhibiting (club, federation, national, international).

Title and Plan, Development, and Innovation
(max. 35 points – generally split 15:15:5)

Title and Plan – for a thematic exhibit this is essential. The title, together with any sub-title, defines the scope of the exhibit. The plan elaborates on the structure of the exhibit and its subdivisions and covers major aspects relevant to the title. It should be structured according to thematic criteria. The order of the main chapters and their subdivisions should demonstrate the development of the plan rather than list its main aspects.

Development – covers the correct assembly and positioning of the items in conformity with the plan; the connection between the items and the thematic text; the depth, shown through connections, cross references, ramifications, causes and effects. A good thematic exhibit will have conceptual balance by giving each thematic point the importance corresponding to its significance within the theme; and any elaboration of the aspects of the plan. It will also include a wide range of types of postal material related to the theme (stamps, covers, postal stationery, meter marks, obliterations etc.).

Innovation – is designed to reward originality; the introduction of new themes; new aspects of an established theme; new approaches to known themes; and the introduction of new material.

Knowledge, Personal Study, and Research
(max. 30 points – generally split between Thematic Knowledge 15 : Philatelic Knowledge 15)

Thematic Knowledge – relates to the appropriateness, conciseness and correctness of the thematic text; the correct thematic use of the material; and the presence of new thematic findings for the theme.

Philatelic Knowledge – covers the presence of the widest possible range of postal-philatelic material and its balanced use; the appropriateness of the use of postal documents; the appropriateness and correctness of the philatelic text, when required; and the presence of philatelic studies and related skilful use of important philatelic material.

Condition and Rarity
(max. 30 points – generally split 10:20)

See the notes under "Technical Classes" above.

(max. 5 points)

See the notes under "Technical Classes" above.

Judging Criteria – Open Class

Open philately seeks to broaden the range of exhibiting and allow you to include objects from other collecting fields in support of, and in order to develop, an understanding of the philatelic material shown. It provides an opportunity to present the range of research undertaken by showing the philatelic material in its cultural, social, industrial, commercial, or other context and to show wider and deeper knowledge of the topic.

By allowing an extended range of material, open philately has the further objective of attracting new collectors to the skill and enjoyment of collecting and exhibiting as a hobby and an art form. However, the philatelic material must be at least 50% of the exhibit. A good open philately exhibit is expected to include a wide variety of non-philatelic material. This can include documents, advertisements, letters etc. as well as three-dimensional objects such as armbands, coins, medals etc. The only restriction is that the material should not be thicker than 5mm so as to fit into standard exhibition frames.

Marks used for scoring

Points are awarded under a number of different headings, many of which are similar to those used for thematic exhibits but with different marking splits. These are covered below in more detail, together with some comments on how they are interpreted and how you might maximise your score under each heading. The marking headings are those used by the FIP and by most exhibitions, although the points may change from exhibition to exhibition or between levels of exhibiting (club; federation; national; international).

Title and Plan, and Treatment
(max. 30 points – generally split 10:20)

Title and Plan – is essential and should identify the aim of the exhibit, including relevant general information on the subject being developed in the exhibit and a plan explaining its development. A well thought-out introductory page will assist both the exhibitor, the judge and the public.

Treatment – should be a logical progression of the topic to enable the judge to understand the contents of the exhibit. Indication of personal research by the exhibitor will be rewarded, as will a bibliography or references giving sources of information on the subject.

Knowledge and Research
(max. 35 points – generally split between Philatelic Knowledge 20 : Non-Philatelic Knowledge 15)

Knowledge and Research – research should be interpreted in a wider sense and should generally show your thorough knowledge of the topic. This knowledge is documented both through the choice of material and the use of brief but sufficient text to explain and present the material. The marks are generally divided between philatelic knowledge (20 marks) and non-philatelic knowledge (15 points).

Condition and Rarity
(max. 30 points – generally split 10:20)

See the notes under "Technical Classes" above.

(max. 5 points)

See the notes under "Technical Classes" above.

General Comments

The exhibition frame will normally be designed to accommodate sixteen sheets in four rows of four sheets (some European countries still use twelve sheets in three rows of four). There will be a maximum sheet size (being the sheet plus its protector) which must not be exceeded. It is possible to use double-width sheets that give two sheets to a row or pages which are three sheets to a row. This will allow you to display larger blocks, covers or documents.

Competitive exhibiting is first and foremost a visual aspect of the hobby. It is an opportunity to show off your collection, your material and your knowledge. It is not a time to be over-modest. Make sure that you clearly demonstrate your knowledge of the subject and identify your key items by presenting them in a way that makes them obvious.

Hand-written exhibits are perfectly acceptable but most write-up today will be computer derived. Choice of font can make a difference and it is worth considering what font best suits the material that you are showing. A stylish modern font may be appropriate for an exhibit of modern stamps but may look incongruous alongside 18th century material. Do not use too small a font – the judge has limited time to review your exhibit and will miss information if the descriptions are too small or difficult to read. Many of the best exhibits make good use of headings in order to guide the viewer through the "red-thread". It is often possible to impart more information in fewer words through the use of headings than in a whole paragraph of dense type.

Dark coloured leaves are not generally acceptable in exhibitions. However, it is worth considering the aesthetic effect of the paper colour in the context of the material being shown. Bright white paper may show up modern material to good effect but will generally clash with older material and postal history items, where an off-white paper may be more pleasing.

Where to go for further help

First and foremost it is most instructive to view how other exhibitors present their material and how well they were scored by the judge. Time spent at an exhibition examining exhibits of areas with which you are familiar and those which are not familiar to you is time well spent. Talk to one of the ABPS federation or national judges, whose names are to be found on the ABPS website.

In continuing to develop as an exhibitor:

  • read carefully the judges’ written comments on your exhibit
  • go to the judging critique to receive detailed comments on your exhibit
  • judges are prepared to assist you in developing and improving your exhibit
  • be prepared to reconsider, re-arrange and re-write your exhibit in order to improve it

Chris Harman
October 2021