Friday 3 April 2020

On The Collector's Bookshelf: beyond the basic catalogues

As a collector you will have basic catalogues for the areas you collect.   It might be Stanley Gibbons simplified Stamps of the World (SOTW) if you are a world collector, their Great Britain Concise or even the Deegam Catalogue if you are a specialised Machin definitive collector.

As collectors progress from the very general when they are young, realising that collecting the whole world is very difficult, many decide to specialise in one or more areas.  For the collector who has only been collecting GB or Commonwealth, that may be to concentrate on King George VI stamps, in which case Gibbons' Commonwealth & British Empire (or Part 1) catalogue is needed, and the Murray Payne catalogue which includes more detail on KGVI is also useful.

That applies wherever you are in the world.  If you are in North America, or Germany, India, China, if you decide to concentrate on all King George VI issues, then the Part 1 is essential although you may not buy a new one, nor replace it every year.

Other Countries
When I decided that the whole world was too big I reduced my scope - GB, Commonwealth, and Europe seemed to be enough.  I had my grandfather's Commonwealth collection which was mainly KGVI because they were new issues then.  Unfortunately because times were tight for most people during world war II, many were short sets, missing the top values, so I had plenty of scope.

When I looked at GB I decided that the 19th century period was too expensive for what I could afford at the time.  But the equivalent period in some countries was cheaper - at least here in Britain.  I concentrated on the Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden etc.  The earliest Facit catalogue I still have is 1968! - and I have more than a dozen.  The catalogues are bilingual Swedish/English and contain far more detail than does Gibbons' Scandinavia catalogue - as you would expect and each one has specialist articles not repeated in the others, which is why I ahev so many.  As I mentioned before, I like covers as well as - or even more than - stamps, and so the inclusion of prices for stamps on cover sometime during the 1970s was a welcome addition. 

Side Interests
Over the course of a few decades I bought (as a collector) mixed auction lots which included something I wanted, and through my cover-browsing, many covers and postcards that I thought just had something interesting about them.  Nowadays the internet is a great help in researching the totally unknown, but there's nothing quite like getting your nose into a catalogue!

But who can afford to buy new catalogues?  The answer of course is to buy second-hand.  I have bought several from dealers selling 'previous years' or from charity shops.  Review copies are sent to magazine publishers and I bought enough at one Stampex to fill a whole Samsonite briefcase and more!  And as a writer and blog publisher I have been sent a couple of new ones which have proved useful, even though one of them was the Sakura catalogue of Japanese stamps.

Back of the book
This term is used, mostly in North America, for those issues not in the main part of the (Scott) USA catalogue which lists revenues, postal stationery, parcel post, and a whole host of stamps not found in the main part.

We've all found odd stamps in old collections, whether bought at auction, inherited, or single sheets from dealers.  You are attracted to what you want or need, but there is often something else that you can't find in SOTW, or even in Gibbons' specialist catalogue for your country.  But the specialist catalogue published in the country that you are interested in holds a wealth of information, and with colour printing getting cheaper, these catalogues are more useful than ever.

You may have seen the revenue stamps shown in this Hungary catalogue, which has a detailed listing.  Or you may be interested in Greece and have a range of (easy-to-read) postmarks on what are often lightly-coloured stamps.  Which ones are from the mainland and which are from islands?  Which are from islands that were only briefly occupied during the war?  (As always you can see these much larger if you click on them.)


If you collect Denmark, the AFA series of catalogues contain some really interesting nuggets of information.  Especially this 72-page volume about postage rates.

The first picture is from the  Postage Rates tables.  
The second shows, under headings for different postage rate periods, which stamps were current and what purpose they served.


Possibly the most fascinating is the reverse of this which shows individual stamps - definitive and comemmorative - with the purpose they served and the period for which the rate was valid.  The first line shows that AFA460, the 50 øre Frederick IX definitive was valid for the inland letter rate for just three days - 30 June 1967 to 2 July 1967, whilst 462F, the similar 80 øre was valid for overseas letters for the same period.

Where can you find such information for the stamps of Great Britain?  You can't, not in a similar format.

Finally for today, a clip from the specialist Australian Commonwealth Specialists Catalogue (section 9A!).   For every stamp issued, this catalogue shows the technical details which you would hope for,  including which printer and pressAlso shown is which stamp each one replaced, permanently or temporarily.

Most useful for the postal history collector, is the 'Usage' section, which shows the sometimes multiple uses not only when it was first issued, but when the rates increased later.  Finding examples for each of these - or in some cases even any use singly on cover - is the challenge that collectors of Australia have.  Here's a link to discussion on the 1966 definitive birds.

Oh that we had something like that for Great Britain - most of the data is out there, and not just at the Postal Museum, but in hundreds of collectors' libraries.  But it is fragmented: it needs collating, but I doubt that that will be achieved in my lifetime.

Update - PS: More sorting out, I found this piece I wrote for our club newsletter - 22 years ago!

How about these se-tenant stamps from the Netherlands?

In Stamps of the World they are SG 314 & 426a priced at the basic 10p each - which we all know means they are worth next to nothing. But this is a pair. I don't know if it's listed in SG Part 4, but in the NVPH Speciale Catalogus van de postzegels van nederland, it is no 379a. 

The same stamps also occur in the reverse pair (2½+7½ - no 379b), and as strips of three: 7½+2½+7½ or 2½+7½+2½, numbered 379c and 379d respectively. 

My NVPH is the 1985 edition, but prices for this sort of item don't often go down, and even if they do, the prices here are relative guides. 

Used prices are, in Dutch guilders: 379a 75c; 379b 1.75; 379c 6.50; 379d 7g. (Current rate 3.25=£1).
At 75c my pair is about 23p - not much, but better than two singles.


Another pair is one that I bought from the club packet.
These are in SOTW as SG522 (cat 85p) and 524 (cat 10p). NVPH lists these as 356a-d in the same combinations as the above. 

But the prices are much further away from SG for pairs and strips:
7½+2½ - 7g50 mint - that's nearly £3.
2½+7½ - 45g mint - that's nearly £14!
Strips are 70g and 77.50 - £21 to £23.

Incidentally there were over 89 million 7½c stamps, which explains the low price compared with the 2½c of which only 12½ million were produced. 

OK, so my pair isn't worth £14 until I sell it - but I have access to a wide marketvia the internet.

(1998 report, 1985 prices don't forget!)

I hope I've demonstrated why it might be a good idea to get a 'local' catalogue for your chosen areas of study.  As well as those specifically illustrated I have several of the Scandinavian, Israel (Bale), Switzerland (Zumstein), Germany (Michel), France (Yvert & Tellier), Italy (Sassone), Belgium (COB), Netherlands (NVPH), Armenia, Ukraine, USA, Canada, Ireland, and South Africa - and that's just the ones I can see!

If you have any questions on these, email to the address at top right.  I look fooward to hearing from you!

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