Want lists and databases assist collecting

Oct 6, 2003, 10 AM

By Janet Klug

You go to a stamp show, sit down at a dealer's table, and begin perusing nicely priced, good quality material.

There is only one problem. As you look at the 1-franc red-orange and violet Warriors stamp, Somali Coast Scott 46, shown in Figure 1, you can't remember if you need it or already have it.

Has this ever happened to you?

It seems a waste of precious resources to spend money for stamps that you already have in your collection. The obvious solution to this problem is traveling with a want list in hand.

The simplest way to create one is by carefully going through your stamp albums, page-by-page, and writing down the Scott catalog numbers of the stamps you need.

If you use notebook paper and start a new page for each country, it makes it easier to update your want list and transport it in a loose-leaf binder.

Figure 2 shows a page from an album and a simple want list for stamps from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

As you acquire stamps from your want list, cross off the numbers. This is an inexpensive, low-tech solution, requiring only pen, paper, catalog and time.

Some collectors convert old catalogs into want lists.

They clip the listings for the countries they collect and staple them together. The numbers are crossed off as each stamp is acquired.

This method has some very useful advantages and some disadvantages.

The most important advantage is that the catalog values accompany the catalog numbers. Additionally, notes about watermarks, forgeries and perforation varieties are there for easy reference.

Because the catalog lists values for both mint and used stamps, a collector can cross off whichever examples are acquired for a collection.

What are the disadvantages of using old catalog pages for a want list?

Catalog values often change, so a want list made from pages of catalogs will go out of date fairly quickly. Unless you keep adding new issues to the listings, it will never be completely up-to-date.

Maybe you want to track more data about your stamp collection than just what you have and what you need. In this case, you will want to design a database to include the type of information you will find useful.

Here are a few ways to do it.

Pen and paper. In today's world, most people think that a computer is required to create a database, but a database is really nothing more than a log of information.

For those of you with cyberphobia (fear of computers), fear not.

You can construct and maintain an inventory of your collection using nothing more than a pen and paper.

What sort of data might you want to log?

Perhaps you use one or more specialized catalogs whose numbers are different from Scott numbers.

A 1/- yellow-green and black Victory From the Victory Memorial stamp of Barbados is shown in Figure 3. The stamp is Scott 148 and Stanley Gibbons 209.

You could make your own concordance of catalog numbers as part of your database.

Maybe you want to track condition, grade, whether a stamp is mint or used, types of postmarks, price paid, and date and place purchased.

Your database can include whatever information you desire, but remember that the more data you have to record, the more labor-intensive managing the database becomes. The more complicated it becomes, the less likely you will be to keep up with recording the entries.

To begin, all you have to do is set up columns on a page, one column for each piece of data you want to track, such as catalog number, condition, date acquired, price paid and others you want. The catalog numbers go down the page in the first column, followed in succession by the data in the remaining columns.

Once you get the design of your log sheets just the way you want it, make photocopies and begin filling in the data.

A more complicated inventory for stamps of Tonga that shows Scott and Stanley Gibbons numbers, as well as catalog value, purchase price, vendor from whom purchased, date of purchase, and notes is shown in Figure 4.

The computer. Computerizing the data you want to track is not that difficult, and it offers advantages that a handwritten log cannot provide.

You can sort the data by date of purchase, price, catalog value, the stamps you have, or the stamps you need. You can print any number of reports, including with scanned images.

Most computers today come with software that can do the job. High-end office programs such as Microsoft Excel (a spreadsheet program), or Access (database software) can be adapted very well to create the kinds of reports you might need for want lists, valuations or items needing to be upgraded.

Microsoft Works also comes with database and spreadsheet applications that will work.

It takes some familiarity with using the programs and how to query the database to generate the exact report you want.

If you aren't quite comfortable working with databases or spreadsheets, there is software made especially for stamp collectors that will get you up and running with your own personal database.

The best aspect of these programs is that a great deal of the work and data entry has already been done for you.

Some of the choices include:

Stamp Manage 2003. This software program includes the United States, Confederate States, Canada and possessions.

The software loads from a CD-ROM and works with Windows 98, NT, 2000, ME, and XP.

A 12¢ S.S. Arawa stamp, Scott 78, from Hawaii, a United States possession, is shown in Figure 5, taken from the CD.

The program uses Scott numbers and allows the user to produce reports on purchases made during a month or year, by color, watermark, type, and a number of other sort options. The software included 7,500 color images.

The database can be exported to other applications, and it even works to create searches in the online auction eBay. Cost is $49.95 from

Scott U.S. Stamp Collector's Database. This program allows searches by many categories and features color scans of most U.S. stamps. It also allows tracking of first-day covers. Cost is $59.99 (Amos Advantage price) from

The Stamp Collector is shareware that is downloadable from the Internet for $14.95 at

This program is not as feature-laden as other, more expensive programs, but it will allow the inventory of all stamps in your collection, no matter what country they are from.

There are many other database programs available specifically for stamp collectors.

After determining what you wish to track and the sort of reports you want to generate, shop for software that meets your needs.

Some software has trial versions so that you can get a feel for how it works and what it will do for you.

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Remember, you are going to spend a lot of time entering data. You don't want to do it all over again in a year or two because you can't upgrade your software.

When considering any software product, make certain you check the product's specifications and compare them to your computer's operating system and memory.

Make certain you keep receipts for any larger purchases you make. These are easy to keep track of if you buy some top-loading page protectors and slip the receipts in.

You can organize the top loaders in another loose-leaf binder, by year or month of purchase, by album, or by type or whatever makes sense for the way you collect.

This will help you establish a value for the better items in your collection and will prove useful in filing an insurance claim, should the need arise.

Low-tech or high-tech, whether keeping a simple want list or a total inventory, have at least one of these tools at your disposal the next time you go stamp shopping.

You'll find you will save both time and money.