Refresher Course

Stamp information available from many sources

By Rachel Supinger

In addition to being a wonderful recreational activity, stamp collecting can also be educational, both in itself and as it represents the world around us. For many, the educational part of the stamp hobby is the most fun. Each new tidbit of knowledge makes the collector just want to learn more.

Figure 1. Commercial periodicals, such as Linn's Stamp News and Scott Stamp Monthly, are excellent sources of information about stamps and stamp production.
 
Figure 2. Stamp catalogs are an important starting point for information about stamps. Different catalogs provide different information, such as production methods, subject information, specifications and current market value.
 
Figure 3. Stampsites.com is a stamp-hobby-specific search engine that allows users to search for information regarding postage stamps and related items without having to wade through sites on rubber stamps or metal stamping. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 4. The American Philatelist is the monthly journal of the American Philatelic Society. Journals contain information about a club or society and articles on stamps and postal history, with specialty societies producing journals just for your favorite collecting area.
 
Figure 5. The Virtual Stamp Club is based exclusively on the Internet, with members meeting daily via message board. Click on image to enlarge.

Looking at stamps can certainly be enjoyable in its own right, but knowledge about production methods, the history of a subject, postage rate information and the social circumstances surrounding a stamp or item of postal history must be obtained from other sources.

Obviously, you are one who is interested in learning more about stamps, and you have chosen an excellent source of information — this issue of Linn's Stamp News. A few other commercial periodicals are available for stamp collectors as well. Figure 1 shows a recent issue of Linn's and an issue of Scott Stamp Monthly, another useful stamp periodical.

Some other sources of stamp information include catalogs, societies, literature, postal authorities, dealers, auction catalogs, exhibitions and the Internet. Different catalogs provide different types and amounts of information, including market value; printing information; date and location of stamp issue; stamp specifications, such as dimensions, gum type or tagging; and perhaps some additional information on the subject of the stamp.

Catalogs are available today not only in book form but also in CD-ROM form, for use on your home computer, and even on the Internet. An example of the variety of catalogs available, including a CD-ROM version offered by Scott Publishing Co., is shown in Figure 2, top middle.

In addition, Figure 2 shows a volume of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, a German-language Michel catalog, the Durland Standard Plate Number Catalog and a Brookman Guide, a price list for U.S., U.N. and Canadian stamps and covers. The catalogs may then lead you to your local library, bookstore or your own computer to look further into the history of a subject.

Information specific to stamps can also be found on the Internet by using special search engines or resource pages. Stampsites.com, a service of Linn's, contains only pages specific to postage stamp and postal history information, so if you enter "Turks and Caicos," for example, you get links to articles about the stamps of Turks and Caicos, instead of links to government bureaus and tourism sites. A screen shot of the home page for Stampsites.com is shown in Figure 3.

If you were to use a general search engine, such as google.com, you would need to enter more specific search terms, but you may still find yourself facing hundreds of sites and articles about rubber stamps and metal stamping.

Resource pages, such as Joseph Luft's Philatelic Resources at www.execpc.com/~joeluft/resource.html, or the Philatelic SuperSite at www.cancelnations.com, provide links to a wealth of information from societies to free stamp collecting lessons. Askphil.org, the web site maintained by the Collectors Club of Chicago, also lists more than 1,500 local stamp clubs and offers lessons for all levels of collectors.

General collecting societies, such as the American Philatelic Society or a local stamp club, or specialty groups, such as Collectors of Religion on Stamps or the Philatelic Music Circle, offer collectors the opportunity to interact and correspond with others who share their interests.

Stamp collectors' organizations will also often provide members with a newsletter or journal. The American Philatelist, the monthly journal of the American Philatelic Society, is shown in Figure 4. The journals provide general articles on stamp collecting, club news and specialty articles. Specialty societies, of course, offer more specialized journals. Clubs often provide a venue for members to exchange stamps and related items through trading, club-sponsored auctions or a circuit (a mail-based trading circle).

Stamp-collecting organizations conduct lectures and seminars to teach more about specifics of the hobby. They sponsor stamp exhibits that allow any collector to show off a collection. They also conduct bourses (sales events) where stamp dealers sell stamps and related items. Many societies have web sites with the latest club news or e-mail lists for members to interact more easily. The APS lists specialty societies and local stamp clubs on its web site at stamps.org.

At least one club is based solely on the Internet — the Virtual Stamp Club. This form has proven effective because members can interact via the message board anytime they wish on any subject they wish. The club's home page, at www.virtualstampclub.com, is shown in Figure 5.

Postal administrations can provide information on recent stamps. A directory can be found online at linns.com in the Reference section.

Once you've learned the basics, you may seek more information from specialized literature on your subject. If you are fortunate enough to live near a philatelic library, be sure to take full advantage. Many of these libraries are maintained by stamp societies. The philatelic libraries comprise handbooks, pamphlets, postal service publications, trade catalogs, exhibition catalogs, auction catalogs, commercial periodicals, society journals and books that can help you in your stamp collecting.

The American Philatelic Research Library, operated by the American Philatelic Society, is located in State College, Pa. It has a collection of books and articles that can be searched using an indexed retrieval system.

Stamp literature is also available from societies, dealers, auction houses and often your local library or bookstore, depending on the subject and print run. Linn's publishes a directory of dealers and stamp auction houses each year called the Yellow Pages for Stamp Collectors.

The American Stamp Dealers Association also offers a directory of its member dealers, available in print or on its web site at asdaonline.com.

Linn's also provides news each week on stamp exhibitions and bourses happening around the United States and at major shows around the world.

Stamp events provide knowledge that only experience can bring. They offer the chance to meet and interact with other collectors, as well as the opportunity to add to your collection and to view items that you only wish you could own. Exceptional stamps and postal history items can be seen in auction catalogs as well. Stamp and postal museums provide the opportunity to see unusual postal items. They also offer programs, lectures, seminars and other activities for collectors.

Some museums are operated by or with official postal agencies and some are privately operated and funded. In the United States, the National Postal Museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is located in Washington, D.C. The Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History is located in Weston, Mass. It is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to learning and activities for stamp and postal history collectors. Museums also operate research libraries.

These many sources of stamp information will likely lead you to even more sources. So, the next time you look at a stamp or a cover in your collection and say, "Where can I find out more about this?" you'll know where to look for the answer.