Choosing the Right Postage Stamp Catalog
By D. J. McAdam
To properly collect stamps or related philatelic material, a collector must be able to identify an item in a manner that is easily understood by other collectors. In order to accomplish this, one uses a stamp catalogue (or catalog – I’ll use the two terms interchangeably). Thus, for example, if one were speaking of a United States stamp and stated that it was “Scott 1401,” anyone having access to a Scott Stamp Catalogue would be able to easily determine that the item in question was the 6-cent coil stamp issued in 1970 that had a portrait of Dwight Eisenhower as its design. Furthermore, the catalogue would have an illustration of the stamp, and would also offer an estimated value of the stamp in both used and mint condition. This estimate is what is meant by “catalogue value.”
The system is fairly simple and straightforward, and would probably be even more so if everyone in the world used the same stamp catalogue, which of course is not the case. What one needs to know, then, is which catalogue to use for which purpose. The answer to this lies partly in where one resides, partly in what one collects, and partly in how much disposable cash one wishes to devote to stamp catalogues.
Let’s start with where one resides. In the United States, many stamp collectors use the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, currently issued in six volumes. Volume 1 lists postage stamps of the United States, and of countries whose names begin with the letter A or B. The rest of the world’s countries are divided across the remaining five volumes. If you collect worldwide, you theoretically need all six volumes; on the other hand, if you only collect the stamps of Brazil ( a “B” country), you only need Volume 1.
Similarly, if you only collect the stamps of the United States, you could use Scott Volume 1, but another option would be to obtain the Scott Catalogue US Specialized. This catalogue goes into greater depth concerning areas such as errors and die types, which brings us to the topic of choosing a catalogue based on what one collects.
If one collects the stamps of Great Britain, one could certainly use the appropriate Scott catalogue, but a specialist would be far more apt to use the Stanley Gibbons catalogue, because: a) the Stanley Gibbons catalogue offers greater detail to specialists, and; b) British Empire specialists the world over are apt to use Stanley Gibbons. Here’s a brief list of some (not all) of the stamp catalogues one might use or encounter:
|Scott||Most commonly used catalogue in USA; also offers a US Specialized catalogue.|
|Stanley Gibbons||Most commonly used catalogue system in the United Kingdom and some other countries, also used by specialists in the British Empire. Stanley Gibbons offers a large number of area and country-specific catalogues.|
|Michel||Widely used catalog throughout the world, in German language. Used by specialists in Germany, and often by specialists in other countries, particularly European countries..|
|Unitrade||Used by specialists in Canada.|
|Yvert-Tellier||Used by specialists in France, sometimes simply referred to as “Yvert.”|
|Facit||Used by specialists in Scandinavian countries.|
|Higgins & Gage||Used by specialists in postal stationery.|
Sometimes, too, catalogues are discontinued. Minkus, for example, had its own catalogue and numbering system, but the last Minkus catalogue was published in 2004.
We mentioned there were three considerations when choosing which stamp catalogue to use, and the third consideration is financial. Stamp catalogues are not cheap. What to do? Well, first, don’t buy new catalogues every year if there is no need. Older catalogues still work fairly well for identification purposes, and since the values given are only estimates anyway, and change with time, one could do internet searches to try to determine the market value of an item. Second, if possible and practicable, make use of your public library. Most decent-sized libraries in the United States have an up-to-date Scott catalogue in the reference section, and probably older Scott catalogues which can be loaned out. If your library does not, make a polite suggestion to the librarian.
Finally, don’t be discouraged by the fact that there are various stamp catalogues in use. Yes, it makes things a bit more complex, but complexity in a hobby, at least to a certain degree, can add a bit of enjoyment.
Two items are worth updating:
First, I neglected to mention the Edifil catalog when this article was first written. Edifil puts out a number of fine Spanish-language catalogs, and is particularly useful for those who collect Spain and Spanish Colonies.
Second – and I realize I’m partially contradicting the advice offered above – I’ve now personally switched to using Michel catalogs for my own stamp collecting needs, even though I don’t read German and I still reside in the United States. This is because a good bit of my collecting interests are related to European countries, which I personally feel are better covered by Michel than other catalogs.