A great catalog makes collecting so much more fulfilling. – Eugene Denson, APS member
How do you build a themed magazine issue about stamp catalogs?
Former APS Editor-in-Chief Gary Loew and I struggled with this question for months as we developed the concept of the January 2022 issue of The American Philatelist. There was never any doubt in our minds as to the importance of this theme, or its relevance to readers. For most collectors, a philatelic catalog is the first book they add to their bookshelves – a reference for all that exists to collect and how to identify it, and a guide for purchasing.
As I noted in my column of the January issue, catalogs give us a shared language to talk about our collections, both general and deeply specific, and offer a blueprint for how to collect them. Do you organize your collection based on the Scott catalog system, including back of the book? Do you prefer a town-by-town organization of your postal history collection, based on a specialized catalog? The catalogs you use and your collections are intertwined and deeply personal.
This project came with some challenges, however.
The first of these is scope. We realized immediately that the issue could only cover postage stamps, not revenues, nor postal stationery, nor postal history. Even fitting a solid representation of postage stamp-focused catalogs into a single issue proved impossible, however – which brings me to the second problem: choosing coverage.
A list of the top countries collected by APS members eased this matter – of course, we would prioritize the countries that more collectors would be interested to see. Gary also developed a geographical region list to ensure that our coverage would not be a “popularity” contest alone. Countries with more complex and interesting philatelic histories would be considered as well.
As we began to solicit reviews from experts of our chosen countries, we ran into some further difficulties. When our Israel reviewer had a family emergency and was not able to contribute at the last minute, we had no back-up. We asked several authors if they could help cover independent Africa – and while eventually we met Peter Thy, who wrote a review of post-colonial British Africa catalogs, we were not able to share the full coverage we had hoped.
This, as a side note, has raised several questions in my mind. Why was it so hard to find multiple experts on the literature of these areas? Was it a simple problem of our failing to locate and ask the right people? Are there plenty of people who could have written these reviews, but they are not members of the APS? Or is there just not enough interest in those specific country collecting areas? I find the last very hard to believe, as it implies a very U.S.-centric way of thinking about organized philately. But without isolating the problem, it is hard to develop a useful solution.
Perhaps our lack of members who collect certain areas affects how we prioritize the resources we share. Perhaps a shortage of resources in certain areas affects who wants to join the APS. It is a chicken and the egg conundrum.
As we wrestled with questions of scope and coverage for the January issue, we developed a few solutions.
The first of these is the Catalog Reference Hub, a new feature on the APS website (www.stamps.org/catalogs). The Hub currently has the full-length catalog reviews that appeared in excerpted form in the January issue, and as time goes on will include other catalog reviews that appear in The American Philatelist and the PLR, articles about using catalogs, links to online APS courses through the C3a platform, and links to relevant library resources. The Hub is currently designed to sort reviews geopolitically, but as we continue our catalog coverage, more complex sorting and indexing methods will be available.
Which brings me to the other solution: continued coverage of catalogs in print. This first PLR issue of the year was always intended to be a joint issue with the January edition of The American Philatelist It continues the theme, offering more catalog book reviews, a brief guide to using the Stanley Gibbons family of catalogs, and a lengthy listing of publications published by specialty collecting societies. But your responses already have proven that this subject is very important to you, and that our coverage should not end there.
I’ll give a few examples. In October, we sent a request via the weekly APS newsletter for members to tell us about their favorite specialized stamp catalogs. We received over 70 responses. I’ve shared some of these responses here:
- Dai Nippon Catalogue of the Postage Stamps of The Republic of Indonesia
It is not possible to collect Indonesian revolutionary stamps without the Dai Nippon catalog. Scott [catalogs] only lists 139 of the thousands of stamps available, most of which are hand stamped overprints of Netherlands Indies issues or Japanese occupation issues. Scott does mention that some stamps “bear handstamps previously applied by local authorities during and after the Japanese occupation. Such multiple-overprinted stamps command prices that may be more or less than the values shown, which are for examples without other overprints.”
This caveat is frequently ignored, however, by both small internet dealers and large auction houses. Scott 2L8 is routinely offered online for close to the catalog value of $100, without the seller or buyer being aware that the very common Japanese overprint on it reduces the value to about $5. Similarly, I have seen people pay hundreds of dollars for high priced emergency issues for Aceh when in fact the apparent postal cancellation on the stamp is actually a printer's cancellation indicating that it is printers waste. On the other hand, Scott 2L76, which is misidentified in Scott as having a value of 200r when actually it is 150r, can be worth triple or more of the catalog value if part of the overprint is 2 mm larger than usual. The collector would know none of all this without the Dai Nippon catalog.
The main problem with the catalog is that it has not been updated since 2005, so the prices can be pretty out of date. It is possible, though, to compare catalog prices for stamps listed in both Dai Nippon and Scott and come up with a rough “inflation multiplier.” No other catalog comes close to being comprehensive for these issues though, so this is the one you must have.
- Robert Brew
- The Stamps of Iran
My favorite specialized catalog is The Stamps of Iran by N. Farahbakhsh [2021 Edition]. Although I specialize in the stamps of the Islamic Republic, there is such a wealth of information in the catalog, both historical and philatelic, on the Qajar and Pahlavi periods that I can literally sit down and read the catalog like a very interesting book. Moreover, I met the original publisher of the catalog, the noted Iranian philatelist F.N. Farahbakhsh, when he was passing through Bahrain on his way home from an international show in Singapore; we spent several hours in the souk drinking tea and discussing Iranian philately well into the night. A truly great catalog isn't just a detailed listing of stamps and their descriptions; it's a "book" that can also be read in its own right. The Stamps of Iran is just such a catalog.
- Emory Earl Toops
- The State Revenue Catalog I would have to suggest, if not already considered, The State Revenue Catalog which is a 733 pages, hardbound book in color. It’s available from the State Revenue Society and several dealers and for those who thought state revenue stamps had no value and were not an interesting collecting field, the catalog could very easily change their minds. - E. J. Guerrant
Regrettably, we were only able to follow up on a few of these responses in time for the January issue. The takeaway, however, is that not only are collectors eager to share about their favorite catalogs, but they want other readers to be aware of them, want to see them updated, and want to learn more about them. The same takeaways were clear from the letters we received after the January issue arrived in readers’ mailboxes. I’ll share a few more here.
More Catalogs from Scandinavia
I very much enjoyed your January issue of the The American Philatelist that included “The APS Definitive Guide to Stamp Catalogs.” I have always been a proponent of a collector obtaining as much literature as possible in order to gain the most knowledge about their collecting interest. One type of literature that a collector should add to their personal library is a catalog or catalogs that cover their area of collecting.
I was disappointed to see some catalogs missing from the section devoted to Scandinavia, starting on page 54. Though that section did an excellent job of reviewing the Facit catalogs, that section of the magazine should have included a mention of the following catalogs for country specific collectors:
AFA Catalog, which is a specialized catalog for Denmark collectors; LAPE Catalog, a specialized catalog for Finland collectors; Norma Catalog, another specialized catalog for Finland collectors; and Norgeskatalogen, a specialized catalog for Norway collectors.
Examples of these catalogs are in the American Philatelic Research Library and are available for borrowing.
River Grove, Illinois
Club Evaluate Library
Our local stamp club, the Rio Rancho (New Mexico) Stamp Club, is in the process of re-evaluating our club library and found the January catalogs issue to be very comprehensive and instructive. We found the articles to be well written, complete and literally covered the subject worldwide from a philatelic perspective.
We are canvasing our membership to better understand their collecting interests and determine if additional specialty catalogs may be needed. It seems that to date we’ve relied primarily on the U.S. Scott catalogs, especially the Scott Specialized, which does meet most of our members' needs. However, some of our members also have specialized interests and need catalogs that better meet their collecting interests.
Paul L. Morton
Secretary, Rio Rancho Stamp Club
Rio Rancho, New Mexico
As you read these letters, peruse this issue, and reread the January AP, I have a challenge to set to you. Did you notice a lack in our coverage? Is there something you would like to learn more about? Do you have expertise using a specific catalog or in a collecting area that you would like to share? We cannot continue a concentrated effort to give catalogs their due – whether in the AP or PLR – without your help.
I am humbled by the willingness of members to help make the AP and PLR a success. My challenge, to develop publications that reflect your interests, is made infinitely easier because of your contributions. I look forward to hearing from you on this topic. My email is [email protected], or phone number (814) 933-3803 ext. 207.
In this issue
Leading this issue off is a brief introduction to the Stanley Gibbons catalogs. Stanley Gibbons is one of the “Big 4” catalog families, the others being Yvert & Tellier, Michel, and Scott. The January AP included “how-to-use” articles for the other catalog sets. In this issue, we share what you can expect from a Stanley Gibbons catalog, including SG’s history as a catalog publisher and recent publications. My thanks to Jeff Stage, Scott Tiffney and Ken Martin for volunteering additional insights into Stanley Gibbons for this introduction.
“An Incomplete Review of Specialized Society Catalogs” is the second major part of the catalog issue. The specialty societies affiliated with the APS are prolific publishers of useful collecting resources, including catalogs. We asked them to share those publications with our readers. While by no means a complete listing of the catalogs published by these societies (you’ll also note that only a few dozen out of over 150 societies contributed), this sample demonstrates the sheer amount of knowledge accumulated over decades and distilled into reference materials by these societies. It’s commendable work that contributes to our growth as collectors and strength as a hobby.
In the November 2021 AP, Gary Loew wrote a book review of Jerzy Kupiec-Weglinski’s treatise The History of Airmail in Poland and Its Contribution to Airmail Services of Europe (1914-1939). I spoke with Jerzy after the review’s publication about his research process and learned that it took a decade of concerted effort, not to mention assistance from many other collectors. Jerzy has contributed his recollections about developing and writing this book in this issue. Ultimately, his work is about revisiting that which is “known,” accepted knowledge in the hobby, and digging deeper to discover that there is more to the story.
Another article also arose from a conversation, this time with regular AP revenue author Ron Lesher. His mention of worldwide revenue collecting and the state of its literature spurred this article, hopefully the first of several on revenue literature. Ron speaks on how the lack of revenue coverage after WWI in country catalogs led to a drop in the dealing and collecting of worldwide revenues until a renewal of interest in the 1970s and on. This is just one example of how a lack of literature stunts the growth of a collecting area, and fresh and updated literature reenergizes collectors.
“A Look at North America's First Philatelic Periodical” by Brian Birch is about the first North American philatelic magazine, published by Samuel Allan Taylor in 1864. With only a few copies in existence left of the first issue, Brian records its contents and context. The advertisements within the Record show clues of long gone locals and dispatch companies, early dealers and writers.
Finally, I have sad news to share from the APRL. Former APRL librarian Gini Horn passed away in February. Even after Gini’s retirement, she was a great friend to the APRL and offered her advice and mentorship freely. She will be greatly missed. Scott Tiffney shares a tribute to Gini’s memory.
Some changes to the PLR
You may have noticed some changes to this issue, both its layout and its contents. The first I will point out is the margins. A small expansion of about one quarter inch on the inside and bottom margins has gained us around one page for every 10 that are published. While hardly noticeable unless comparing two issues side by side, we won’t waste even a few extra pages to share resources.
The second change is to the cover and header styles, designed by graphics specialist Chad Cowder.
Finally, Scott Tiffney in his column discusses the New Acquisitions column. The library is fortunate to receive many hundreds of new books, catalogs, exhibits and more every year, many of which are donated by APS and APRL members. Scott already publishes a monthly list of these new acquisitions on the APS website, stamps.org/news. The quarterly column will be transitioned out of the journal and can be found online only.
I welcome your comments about these changes.
A few items of note
The Pratt Award
The Collectors Club of Chicago has announced the winners of the 2021 Pratt Award, awarded to articles or publications contributing to Newfoundland philately. 2021’s recipients are as follows:
- Anthony B. Thompson, of Sweden, for “Newfoundland’s Moiré Patterned Bookend Paper 1937-1940” in the first quarter 2021 BNA Topics whole number 566.
- ohn M. Walsh and Robin J. Moore (both residing in Canada) for two articles: “Newfoundland: Discoveries in the Design Sizes of the 1933 Gilbert; 1937 Long Coronation and 1938 Royal Family Issues” in the January 2021 issue of Maple Leaves whole number 359 and the follow up article: “Newfoundland: Discovery Design Sizes Found on the 5 Cent, 2 Cent Die ii, 4 Cent Rose Lake and 8 Cent Values of the 1932 Perkins Bacon & Co Issue. (Further Proof of Their Different Printing Press Uses and Capabilities)” in the July 2021 issue of Maple Leaves whole number 361.
The Collectors Club shares more information about the award at https://www.collectorsclubchicago.org/pratt-newfoundland-philately-award/.
A Great Britain and Ireland philatelic bibliography
I was contacted by David Beech in early January. David is a frequent contributor to these pages, and also wrote a very valuable introduction to the January AP, “Stamp Catalogs: Origins, Importance and Context as seen from a British Focus and World Perspective.” As a side note, if you have not read this article in the January issue, I cannot recommend it enough. David winnowed down the long history of stamp catalogs to its most important points, making a pit stop at the debate between the French and British schools of stamp classification.
More recently, David has published a second version of his work “The History of Philately in Great Britain and Ireland - A Bibliography of Monographs, Grey Literature and Selected Texts,” at www.rpsl.org.uk/Publications/Guides. The first version appeared in the second quarter 2016 PLR. The bibliography is indexed and key word searchable, recording publications that offer information about the formation of philately and philatelic societies in Great Britain and Ireland.
In David’s own words: “As little has been written, in recent years, on this subject this work should be viewed as a work in progress with a special focus on Philatelic Society history. The author would be pleased to learn of any candidate for inclusion in any further version of this listing, or of further information, improvements, corrections, etc at email: [email protected].”
Goings-on at the APS
It is not too late to sign up to attend Summer Seminar, the week-long learning event held at the American Philatelic Center from June 19-23. Education Director Cathy Brachbill has recruited nearly a dozen philatelic experts to teach hands-on courses on a variety of philatelic topics. I can say with confidence that people leave Summer Seminar with lifetime friendships, connections that help them climb to a higher level of collecting, and insights from within and outside of the classroom. Summer Seminar fosters a spirit of sharing and community and I cannot recommend the event enough. Learn more and register at www.stamps.org/SummerSeminar.
The 12th annual Volunteer Work Week will be held a few weeks later, from July 18-22. We greatly appreciate the assistance provided by the volunteers who descend upon the building every year during VWW, as they help manage donations in the APRL and Education department, index philatelic journals, and help organize the archive. If you are interested in participating this year, visit www.stamps.org/learn/volunteer-work-week.
Philatelic and literature exhibit entries are open now for the Great American Stamp Show, to be held in Sacramento, California, from August 25-28. Literature exhibit entry forms are due on May 1. See www.stamps.org/GASS for more information about exhibiting and the show itself.
Finally, while this news is far in advance of the event, the American Philatelic Society will play host to and co-sponsor Aerophilately 2022 with the American Air Mail Society and Kelleher Auctions. The event will be from November 4-6 – not October 21-23, as previously shared. More information is available at www.americanairmailsociety.org, including exhibit entry forms.
I look forward to meeting some of you at these events.
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