Very early in his or her collecting efforts every stamp collector will need the guidance of several sources of information. Fellow collectors are helpful and there are many forums where helpful tips and enthusiasm can be shared. Dealers can help in the education process, and most are knowledgeable and honest. But the indispensable source of information about stamps remains the catalog.
Even though catalogs have moved online in recent years, their content and purpose remains the same: to provide graphics and text that help identify stamps from the past, present and near future.
There are dozens of well-regarded catalogs, both in print and online. But the most commonly used in the U.S. is without doubt the Scott Catalog. Volume One covers United States issued stamps, while the subsequent volumes contain listings of other countries, listed in alphabetical order.
First published as a 21-page pamphlet in 1868, it has grown to five large volumes and remains the authoritative source for thousands of collectors of stamps worldwide.
While copies can still be found in most moderate to large-sized libraries, and on CD, the most up-to-date version is available online via subscription at www.scottonline.com/info_NEW.asp.
Naturally, the prices listed can only serve as a general guideline, since market rates will vary from dealer to dealer and among collectors.
The Scott catalog wields a large influence in being an extensive source of stamp issues from the last 150 years. But it also helps define standards of quality and even – to some extent – what qualifies as a valid stamp. If it isn’t listed in Scott, most U.S. dealers will refuse to trade that stamp.
In Europe, the major catalog is the Michel, first published in 1910. It, too, is available online, at www.michel.de. Though printed in German the catalog is heavily used by American and other dealers and collectors. The graphics are still useful and the text is often simple enough that those with a knowledge of only a smattering of German can follow well enough for the catalog to be valuable.
Even older is the Stanley Gibbons catalog, first published in 1865. This British company rightly enjoys bragging rights for having first developed the market for trading stamps in Britain. Their influence now ranges far outside the UK, however. The catalog and related businesses, including the auction house, have an online presence at www.stanleygibbons.com/home/index.asp.
There are dozens of other large catalogs emanating from and covering other countries around the world – France, Switzerland, Australia and others all enjoy their homegrown variety. And this is as is should be, since philately is both a hobby enjoyed and a business practiced all over the globe.
All these catalogs, and many other sources, help the collector determine the value and validity of what they own. But they also serve as a reference for dreaming about and pursuing those gems they seek to acquire in the future. Good hunting!