Refresher Course

Online tools and resources for researching your stamp collection

By Janet Klug

As digital technology becomes more pervasive, new resources are becoming available to stamp collectors on the worldwide web. It is easier and faster than ever before to find a book, article or document that will help you learn about a stamp or cover you have in your collection.

Figure 1. The American Philatelic Research Library has a vast holding of philatelic research material. The library's searchable online card catalog provides ready access to useful information. Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 2. Three Australian military stamps issued for use by the British Commonwealth Occupation Force occupying Japan after World War II (Scott M1-2 and M6). Click on image to enlarge.

"Where do I look?" has always been the difficult question when a collector wants to know the specifics about an obscure subject that is not covered fully – or mentioned at all – in a catalog.

Today, major philatelic libraries have their card catalogs online. A search through these card catalogs can help locate all kinds of documentation about an incredibly wide variety of subjects.

The American Philatelic Research Library has had its card catalog online for several years. You can access the online catalog at www.stamplibrary.org. A view of just one row of shelves at the APRL is shown in Figure 1.

If you are a member of the American Philatelic Society, materials you borrow from the library will be mailed to you for a small fee plus the cost of postage both ways.

If you do not have Internet access at home, your local public library probably has one or more computers designated for public use, and library staff who can help you. Barring that, you can always call the APRL at 814-933-3803 ext. 241, or write to the library at 100 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823.

Before you begin your Internet search, take a few moments to click and read the instructions for using the library services. Once that has been done, you can click "Online Catalog" and begin by searching keywords, author, title, subject, language and other kinds of records.

There is an instruction box to the right of the search screen. This tells you how to improve your search by using various symbols and words. It takes a little practice, but just finding one reference source you did not know existed makes it all worthwhile.

To test the search function for this article, I used a subject from my own collection: Australia's overprinted military stamps (Scott M1-7) issued for the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, which occupied Japan at the end of World War II.

These stamps are overprinted "B.C.O.F. Japan 1946." Three of these stamps, a ½-penny Kangaroo stamp, a 1d King George VI stamp and a 2-shilling Map and Kangaroo stamp (Scott M1-2 and M6) are shown in Figure 2.

In the library site's subject search box, I entered the sequence "british" and then clicked the "Submit Query" button. The ampersands (&) assure that each of those words will be present in the results.

The search netted 23 records, some of which were books and some of which were articles.

To find out more about a suggested publication, click "Full Display" in the link below the item that is described. If you want to borrow that item, click "Add to Cart."

To check the books and other publications out of the library, click the cart and finalize the borrowing process.

The catalog search is also a magnificent way to find articles in magazines or journals that you already own.

Other philatelic libraries also have card catalogs that are accessible to you via the Internet. Find out more about philatelic libraries by visiting their web sites and exploring to see what is there for you.

The web site of the Northwest Philatelic Library in Portland, Ore., is at www.nwpl.org.

The Western Philatelic Library in Sunnyvale, Calif., has a web site at www.fwpl.org.

The web site for the Weinburgh Philatelic Library in Dallas, Texas, is www.utdallas.edu/library/uniquecoll/speccoll/wprl/wprl.htm.

The Rocky Mountain Philatelic Library in Denver, Colo., has a very robust web site and card catalog. Check it out at www.rmpldenver.org/start.do.

The Peggy J. Slusser Memorial Philatelic Library of the Postal History Foundation in Tucson, Ariz., has a searchable catalog available online at www.postalhistoryfoundation.org.

Information about using the research materials held at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's library can be found online at www.sil.si.edu/libraries/npm. The web site also has links to special collections that are available to researchers who make appointments to use these materials.

The National Postal Museum's massive collections contain a wealth of materials that may be of interest to serious researchers. Without knowing what is available, it could be impossible to discover these materials. That is why the museum has undertaken the job of creating finding guides for its collections.

The finding guides are available online at postalmuseum.si.edu/findingguides. Once you look at a few of these finding guides you will want to pay a visit to the National Postal Museum to see what other treasures are there to enjoy. The finding guides are PDF files that you can download on your own computer or print for future reference.

Many specialty societies and clubs have their own libraries that are available for use by members. It is worthwhile to join organizations that match your particular interests in the hobby so that you can make use of the materials that are available.

The Royal Philatelic Society London has recently created a database search. The database includes issues of the society's journal, the London Philatelist, as well as auction catalogs, exhibitions, museum artifacts and much more.

You do not have to be a member to use the database, but some content may not be accessible to nonmembers. The link to the database search is at www.rpslcatalogue.org.uk.

In another section of the society's web site, you can check out files of handouts prepared by speakers for distribution at society meetings. Visit www.rpsl.org.uk/events.html, and look for the meetings and handouts link.

Many of the handouts are in the form of PDF files that you can read, download or print out.

The British Library has an extensive stamp collection and research materials, and a substantial web site at www.bl.uk/collections/philatelic.

From this landing spot, a collector or researcher has access to links that give an overview of the collections (general, Great Britain, airmail, country and special collections), show some philatelic rarities, and provide information on how researchers can use the British Library materials.

Many of the world's best museums have amazing web sites with content that can be extremely useful for stamp collectors. Use your preferred search engine (such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, for example) and search for your favorite stamp subjects. You will be amazed at what you can find.