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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Practical Advice: Know Your Catalogs

The majority of U.S. stamp collectors use Scott Catalogs as a means of classifying and evaluating stamps. The Scott U.S. Specialized Catalog is, in my opinion, the best and most authoritative catalog for classifying stamps of the U.S. and its Possessions, although Brookman is also very useful when it comes to pricing. As far as the rest of the world goes, however, Scott may be generally useful, yet inadequate because stamp collecting is all about specificity.

Any philatelist interested in profiting from buying and selling stamps (in other words, any stampselector), should have some awareness of the vast galaxy of catalogs and philatelic literature that exist beyond Planet Scott, and how he may exploit these information sources. This is especially true of those who wish to collect, trade, or invest in stamps of other countries besides the U.S..

Catalogs from other countries often contain information which Scott does not provide. Michel Catalogs (German), for instance, provide printing quantities for many worldwide issues, and also include a warning when an issue has been extensively faked. Michel's Germany Specialized Catalog also lists and values rare cancellations on early German stamps. Scott frequently will not list all of the major varieties that exist for particular stamps - varieties which often are listed in other catalogs. This is important because a collector or dealer who is only familiar with Scott, and who is therefore ignorant about rare, expensive varieties which Scott doesn't list, will mistakenly evaluate them as the more common basic stamps. Scott also omits many types of non-regular issues of foreign countries, in contrast to specialized stamp catalogs of many countries which list their own "back-of-book" issues, such as revenues, telegraph stamps, franchise stamps, semi-officials, occupation stamps, locals, forerunners, etc..

Furthermore, there may be differences in the market values of the same stamps as sold in different countries, which are reflected in differences in catalog values. A stamp which has a Scott Catalog Value of $5 may have a Michel Catalog Value of 50 Euros, or a Gibbons (British) Catalog Value of 150 Pounds, or an Yvert Catalog Value of 300 Euros, either because of differences between the stamp markets, or simply because one or more of the catalogs is inaccurate. I am not recommending purchasing all of the stamp catalogs and relevant philatelic literature that are published every year, because this would bankrupt most collectors, but I do suggest that it might be worthwhile to accumulate a small collection of reference materials. Frequently, older editions of foreign catalogs may be purchased very inexpensively, and while their catalog values may be obsolete, their listings of varieties, printing quantities and other information will still be very useful. If there is a philatelic library nearby, it might be worth paying a visit in order to see what materials are available. In any case, the important thing is to be aware of the vast array of catalogs and other philatelic literature that exist beyond Scott Catalogs, which are not delivered from Mount Sinai, written in stone.

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