By: Robert Zeigler, President, APS Board of Directors
In stamp collecting, as in so many things, knowledge is power.
Sometimes, collectors simply try to complete a collection based on basic catalog numbers according to the Scott or some other catalog. This certainly can be rewarding, but there are many ways to collect.
Beyond forming a general stamp collection, if a collector decides to specialize and go more deeply into the stamps of their chosen country or area of interest, a great way to start is to acquire a specialized catalog of the desired country.
Many such catalogs are in English. If so, great! If not, many are written in the Romance languages of Western Europe (chiefly French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese), or the Germanic languages. (English is part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European Language Tree, but is heavily influenced by the Romance branch.)
Many such catalogs can be deciphered by a reasonable effort even if you do not know the language. A philatelic vocabulary is fairly limited, and a little study can help a lot. Non-Western languages are more of a problem, but even then a specialized catalog, with illustrations, can help you expand your interests and your collection in ways you may have never imagined.
In addition, modern translating software — much of it free on the Internet — has become much more sophisticated in the last few years. Google Translate, Google’s free service, can instantly translate words, phrases and web pages between English and many other languages. For example, an Editorial Associate working with Dr. Edwin J. Andrews on his feature on Polish leader Josef Pilsudski in The American Philatelist last November, found this quote by Pilsudski:
“Naród, który nie szanuje swej przeszłości nie zasługuje na szacunek teraźniejszości i nie ma prawa do przyszłości.”
By simply copying and pasting it, complete with all nine diacritical marks, Google Translate provided this in 0.48 seconds:
“A nation that does not respect its past does not deserve the respect of the present and has no right to the future.”
Not bad. Google supplies English translations of more than 100 languages in all, from Afrikaans to Zulu – or, if you require it, from Afrikaans to Zulu, or from Zulu to Afrikaans. And when you choose a language to translate, Google Translate even provides tiny typewriters that enable you to add letters that don’t exist in English for languages like Greek or Russian.
Some collectors erroneously imagine that specialization, based upon going deeply into the varieties of stamps issued by a given country, is an eccentric form of behavior, and denigrate it as “flyspecking.”
However, such collectors may change their attitude if, for example, a careful look at a circuit book enables them to select a stamp for a small sum that, because of a rare variety of which he or she has learned, is in fact worth far more.
Above and beyond the profit motive, there is the thrill of discovery, the genuine excitement that comes of learning and knowing more about a subject that interests you, and even the realization that you may just add to the world fund of knowledge about a given stamp or the nation that issued it.
I have had this experience, at least in finding unusual and occasionally even rare varieties, quite a few times in my chosen collecting area of Switzerland. Whatever your area may be, I suggest you look more deeply, with the use of a specialized catalog, and you may be surprised what you can find.
And, after all, isn’t learning more about the world why you’re proud to be a philatelist?
Editor's Note: The column was published in the February 2019 issue of The American Philatelist. We are bringing the archives of The American Philatelist to the Newsroom - stay tuned for more columns and articles from 2019, and read the full February issue here.