Increase your knowledge and enhance your enjoyment with literature

Jun 12, 2006, 10 AM

By Janet Klug

We stamp collectors are fortunate.

Few hobbies generate more articles, books, catalogs and other forms of literature.

Good reference works are available for nearly every philatelic specialty you can name. It is puzzling to me that many collectors fail to see the advantages of acquiring a good basic stamp hobby library.

The more you know about what you collect, the more you will enjoy collecting.

Acquiring knowledge is just as exciting, perhaps even more exciting, than acquiring stamps.

Furthermore, the deeper your understanding of your collection, the better your chances of finding the desirable varieties, unusual postmarks, scarce uses or elusive material for your favorite specialty.

So what should be on your book shelves? The most obvious necessity is a set of stamp catalogs.

If you collect only one or two countries, you could easily limit your purchases to just those volumes of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue containing listings for the countries that you collect.

If you collect the whole world or thematically, you will want a complete set of the Scott standard catalogs.

Your subscription to Linn's brings a nice perk in that you can order these and other Scott Publishing Co. products at a discount through the Amos Advantage program. Look for ads in Linn's or visit the web site at

Although the Scott standard catalog is the one used by most collectors and dealers in the United States, other catalogs are available.

I collect British Commonwealth countries, so I frequently refer to the Stanley Gibbons catalogs.

Stanley Gibbons offers a range of general and specialized catalogs.

The Stanley Gibbons Simplified Catalogue Stamps of the World covers the world in five volumes. As the title implies, it is a general catalog that does not list paper, perforation, shade or watermark varieties.

The Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth & British Empire Stamps 1840-1952 Stamp Catalogue offers fairly detailed listings for the range of countries and time period within its scope.

The single-volume Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth Simplified Catalogue covers all colonies and Commonwealth nations up to the present in one volume, but the listings are far less detailed.

The Stanley Gibbons Great Britain Specialised Stamp Catalogue is a five-volume affair covering the subject in great depth.

Stanley Gibbons also offers a number of specialized one-country or one-area catalogs, such as those for Australia, Canada, Central Africa, India, New Zealand and Southern Africa.

Be aware that the Gibbons valuing and numbering system is different from the Scott system. Most U.S. dealers sell their stock using Scott numbers.

The German-language Michel catalogs and French-language Yvert et Tellier catalogs also cover the world and offer specialized catalogs, but they require some facility in those languages.

There are many other country or area specialized catalogs. All have some advantages for collectors, and it is a good idea to investigate to find out which is best for you.

Good general references come and go, and having one or more of them in your personal philatelic library will help you quickly answer your basic questions.

One book I use frequently is Fundamentals of Philately by L.N. Williams. This 862-page book is still available from philatelic literature dealers. Check the ads in Linn's for dealers who might carry this excellent book.

To find out what sort of reference material exists for your area of special interest, your first step should be joining a club or society that matches your interest.

Many of them are listed on the American Philatelic Society web site at

By joining a group, you will benefit from the regular contact with others who share your interest, and through the regular journal or newsletter you will learn more about what you collect.

Many societies publish books and catalogs of their own, usually offering members a discount.

A case in point is the newly published Encyclopedia of United States Stamps and Stamp Collecting, edited by Rodney Juell and Steven Rod, the cover of which is shown in Figure 1.

This 730-page book was published by the United States Stamp Society and is available for $30 (non-members) or $25 for members. Order the book from the USSS, Box 6634, Katy, TX 77491-6634 or from the web site at

You can also use the searchable card catalog, the article index, and list of journal holdings of the American Philatelic Research Library to find out what is available in your area of interest. The card catalog is available online at

If you are a member of the APS, you can borrow library materials. While you are on the web site, read the section titled "How to Use Library Services" and discover how easy it is.

The last couple of years have provided some amazing new books that will set the standard for philatelic scholarship for years to come.

One recent example is Understanding Transatlantic Mail, Vol. 1, by Richard F. Winter, the cover of which is shown in Figure 2. The book includes a CD that shows many covers in color.

Published by the APS, it is available at $95 for nonmembers and $76 for APS members. Order it from APS, 100 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823 or from the APS web site.

I purchased this 482-page volume not because I collect transatlantic mail but because I wanted to learn about this fascinating subject. I barely got through the first chapter when a transatlantic cover came my way.

By using the book, I was able to identify and decipher the markings on the cover, work out the postal rates and determine what postal treaty applied to its carriage from the United States to Europe. Without the book I would still be scratching my head.

A good way to get a sampling of recent philatelic research and scholarship is by joining the American Philatelic Congress, which publishes an annual hard-bound volume of papers on a variety of subjects.

Annual membership is $40. Write to the American Philatelic Congress, 400 Clayton St., San Francisco, CA 94117 or from the web site at

The volume for 2005 contained nine papers within its 225 pages covering subjects as diverse as the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean, British East Africa, the sinking of the Titanic and others.

One of my favorite recent purchases is a set of 11 CD-ROMs produced by the Royal Philatelic Society London that contain the entire run of the London Philatelist journal from 1892 through 2005. It is an amazing but invaluable resource.

Load a CD onto your personal computer and with a couple of mouse clicks you can search for and access articles on your favorite subjects.

I have spent literally hours at a time moving happily from one subject to the next and then running to my albums to check and compare what I have with the published research.

To order, write to the Royal Philatelic Society London, 41 Devonshire Place, London W1G 6JY, United Kingdom or visit the web site at

Enjoy your collecting more. Acquire some good books, catalogs and journals and lose yourself in your favorite subject.