By Fred Baumann
The year 2018 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Scott catalog, first published by John Walter Scott as a slender price list of United States and foreign stamps in 1868. The 21st-century stewards of the enterprise he began are taking steps to ensure that North American collectors will still be turning to Scott another century from now.
In August 2014, Scott unveiled its first “stamp eCatalogues,” an unwieldy term for an agile concept: to make available, accessible and affordable in digital form popular subsections of Scott’s massive annual six-volume print juggernaut.
This enables regional or single-country collectors to access a familiar catalog using new technology, complete with color images of stamps and current catalog values.
Pages can be displayed and used on PCs, laptop and notebook computers, tablets and other portable digital devices.
Scott invites the curious and the skeptical to test-drive these digital products at no cost. Go to the Scott online catalog bookstore and click on “FEATURED” at the top of the page.
This takes you to a page of 2015-16 eCatalogues, and when you scroll down to the bottom you’ll find both a “Scott eCatalogue Tutorial” and a “Free Sample eCatalogue.”
You need to create an account at no charge to access these, but both of them are free to download and try out.
The tutorial begins, “The Scott Postage Stamp eCatalogues can be purchased for online viewing at www.scottonline.com, which requires an Internet connection; they are not available for offline viewing. … ”
That’s an important point. This isn’t a product like a book or disc that you buy and cart around with you. It’s a service you can access anywhere on the worldwide web using your Scott account.
It also says: “Purchased eCatalogues you purchase can be viewed online with any PC, Macintosh, Android mobile, and Apple mobile browser. They can also be viewed using the Scott Postage Stamp Catalogue app, which can be found at the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.”
This makes the Scott eCatalogues extremely versatile. That versatility is enhanced by special features, including a three-page-across browsing view ideal for quick stamp searches, and another setting to display or hide notations you’ve made on your pages.
In the top-right corner, the “?” button takes you to the Olive Book Reader quick start guide, part of which is illustrated here. It’s a handy how-to directory offering clever tips to view, explore and search catalog listings, a way to quickly bookmark favorite pages, and suggestions for how to make notes and highlight listings as you go.
What I like most about the Canada eCatalogue is its convenience. Instead of needing a space of 11 inches by 16½ inches to open this year’s 6-pound Vol. 2 (countries from C to F), which I then have to crane over to squint at on the corner of my desk, the pages come up crisp and brightly lit on my PC, easy to open, enlarge or minimize as the task requires.
If that’s all it did, I’d consider it well worth its $15 price — about one-sixth of the cost of the new Vol. 2. That neatly works out to just 20¢ apiece for the 75 pages of Canada, Newfoundland and other pre-Confederation provincial issues, commonly referred to as British North America (BNA).
Also, in the new Canada eCatalogue, Scott lists and values many previously unlisted errors. A silver-omitted 1977 25¢ Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee error (Scott 704a) is shown nearby with a se-tenant example of the normal stamp above it.
Clearly, Scott has made a strong and promising start with its Canada eCatalogue, adapted directly from its printed counterpart.
I have chosen not to show a page display, because it looks the same as any ink-and-paper Scott catalog, but with the top and bottom of the page cut off. (Of course you can display a full page on your monitor; you just can’t read the text.)
And this highlights one of the ways in which Scott could — and eventually should — make this product much more user-friendly for digital devotees.
Catalog pages are formatted vertically, whereas most PC and laptop screens are horizontal. What looks best and is easiest to read on a computer screen, as seen nearby, is actually half a page from the catalog, split horizontally. It may not impress you on this printed page, but at my desk I can make it 14 inches wide, filling my screen, delivering life-size views of the stamps and making the smallest Scott footnotes refreshingly readable.
Looking deeper into the crystal ball, it would be even more convenient for collectors if Scott would one day add pages presenting all catalog numbers and listed issues for each extended series of stamps.
Canada’s Centennial definitives of 1967-72 are a case in point, with listings unhelpfully spread across pages 21, 22 and 24. As in the print catalog, of the 16 face-different stamps in that series, only three are pictured (plus parts of the two types of the 6¢ black). No booklet panes or coil varieties are illustrated, although many are valued.
A se-tenant 1971 Centennial series booklet pane with three 1¢, one 6¢ and two 8¢ stamps (Scott 544a) is shown nearby. It’s an attractive item cataloging only $3.50 mint, never-hinged, and I suspect collectors would enjoy being able to see it in their eCatalogues. (And that, of course, is a big advantage of a digital catalog: it takes neither ink nor paper to add another page.)
Adding to the back of the book more thoroughly illustrated stand-alone sections devoted to such popular stamp series every year or two would incrementally increase the usability and value of each new eCatalogue edition, and give collectors a good reason to buy it.
Still farther down the line, once Scott creates Canada eCatalogues that get better all the time, there’s no reason not to begin to progressively incorporate entirely new material into the listings: booklets and booklet covers, colorful Canada semi-official airmail stamps, Canada revenues, perhaps even basic postal stationery and first-day covers.
This would be a boon to collectors, and help Scott better compete with its principal British North America competitor, the annual Unitrade Specialized Catalogue of Canadian Stamps, pictured nearby.
Understand clearly that this is work that would take years. As currently offered, Scott’s Canada eCatalogue is no more than the relevant bits from Vol. 2 made available on a server for what it would cost to make black-and-white photocopies, with very little additional work.
However, every improvement I’ve described would take many extra hours of work for skilled staff.
With roughly 16,500 to 18,000 or more new worldwide stamps to describe, date, scan and price every year, Scott staff already have plenty to do.
And if Scott does decide to make selective improvements to its Canada eCatalogue, how will it balance the competing calls to improve eCatalogues for Australia, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan and Mexico?
The only part of the future of which I am certain is that collectors in 2115 are not going to plunk down $1,300 each year for an 80-pound, 13-volume paper catalog that gives them little more than the latest crop of new issues and a few value changes. Scott’s eCatalogues are a first step down a road to a better future for philately.
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