What was your first philatelic book?
The first philatelic book I ever picked up was Thomas Alexander’s The Travers Papers Official Records, edited by Barbara Mueller. The two-volume book compiles original documents and official records from a wide variety of sources to shed light on the early operations of the United States Post Office Department. It includes important selections from long-overlooked and underused U.S. Post Office Department records about the production of the earliest U.S. postage stamps.
For those of you who have read my first “Behind the Curtain” column, you know that I discovered The Travers Papers not by happenstance, but because I began my career at the American Philatelic Society in the back room of the library, recording and sorting the research files donated by the Thomas Alexander estate. However, The Travers Papers, while an excellent resource, is not the most effective introduction to the hobby, unless you are highly ambitious and want to dive straight into the riptide that is U.S. Classics collecting without first learning to swim. Not for me.
The first philatelic book I actually used is a different story: the Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue of U.S. Stamps & Covers. When I took on the APS’ social media responsibilities, I was hit by a constant flow of online messages and emails: “What is this stamp I found? [Is it worth anything?]” I taught myself to read the catalog listings, quickly learned the meaning of philatelic vocabulary, and armed myself with an encyclopedia of knowledge. “Let me check the Scott catalog” was my new refrain. Later, when the American Philatelic Center shut down in March 2020 in response to the emerging pandemic, I strained my muscles – and broke a strap on my favorite tote bag – hauling the six-volume 2020 Scott Standard set out to my car so I could actually get work done at home.
This may read as a sales pitch for the Scott catalog – it really isn’t. Just as Scott catalogs shaped my understanding of philately, your own go-to catalog, whatever it is, likely shaped your own collecting journey. The catalog you prefer is very personal! Your favorite catalog gives you the language and vocabulary that you use to describe and organize your collection and the specialized knowledge you need to make smart buying decisions. It also gives every collector a shared language – a shorthand to communicate with each other, a place to start debates and discussions, and a resource that makes buying and selling stamps from each other easy.
My favorite part of creating this issue was seeing the passionate emails pour in when we asked APS members to recommend their favorite catalogs. Very honestly, “passion” was not what I was expecting. Yet your responses proved me wrong.
I’ll quote just one here. Several more are scattered through the issue. Thank you to Eugene Denson, who told me,
“I am collecting Falkland Islands and Dependencies. It’s far away but I have visited twice on cruises, and the postal history is absorbing. The catalog for serious collectors is The Specialized Stamp Catalog of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies Including Postal History and Cancellations 1800-2020…
“I imagine you will get more people telling you about it. It is a great catalog, and a great catalog makes collecting so much more fulfilling.”
This is my last “Behind the Curtain” column before I doff this cap and don that of editor-in-chief. I look forward to beginning this new era with you. Please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.