Create your own reference collection to find quick answers

Mar 24, 2008, 11 AM

By Janet Klug

Do you ever find yourself looking up something for your collection that you have previously researched, maybe even more than once?

It could be almost anything, such as the definition of a seldom-used term, or how to tell the difference between two look-alike stamps. Perhaps you have a mental block about how to tell if a coil is horizontal or vertical.

Looking through catalogs and books repeatedly to find the answers to these kinds of questions is very frustrating.

There is a fun way to fix the problem. You can create your own personal reference collection customized to meet your needs.

Start with those terms or catalog numbers that cause you the most grief. Acquire a three-ring binder and some good quality paper. Explain the term or show what differentiates one stamp from another look-alike stamp. Do this in language you understand.

Put a key word at the top right of each page you create. This will help you find what you are looking for quickly. If you use alphabetical tabbed dividers, you can flip to the page even faster.

Look at the sample page in Figure 1. This page illustrates the difference between vertical and horizontal coil stamps.

It can be very confusing. Is a horizontal coil one that comes off the roll of stamps with the face of the stamp in a horizontal position? Or does a horizontal coil refer to the perforations being at the top and bottom of the stamp, horizontal to the stamp's design?

Horizontal coils have vertical perforations, and vertical coils have horizontal perforations. The introduction to the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers specifies that the horizontal and vertical configurations refer to the perforations.

I made the page in Figure 1 for my reference collection so I could get over the mental block I have about coil stamps.

With this page inserted into my reference collection binder, all I have to do is open the binder, flip to the "C" section, look up "Coil" and I have my answer. It is a lot faster than rifling through a thick catalog or hunting for a misplaced book.

Notice the word "Coil" at the top right corner of the page. I filed this page in a binder using alphabetical dividers, so it only took a couple of seconds to find it.

Those of you with computers may say you can find the information you need quickly by using a search engine such as Google.

I tried this. I asked Google for "coil stamps." Google came back with 144,000 hits for web sites where I might possibly find the answer to my question. Usually if you cannot find a good match in the first page or two of the hits Google offers, you need to try again with a better description of what you are seeking.

In this instance, maybe "horizontal coil stamps" would be better.

Within seconds Google offered me a Wikipedia ( article that told quite a lot about coil stamps and illustrated the difference between horizontal and vertical coils. But it was not faster than looking in the three-ring binder containing my reference collection.

My own reference collection is heavily laden with look-alike stamps and how to tell one from another. I also use this to make cross-reference notes for catalog numbers, thus reducing the time it might take me to find out what the Stanley Gibbons Australia Catalogue number or the Australian Specialized Commonwealth Catalog number is for a Scott number equivalent.

This project could take years to do a thorough job, but I am not especially interested in doing a thorough job in my reference collection. I just want a range of catalog numbers, and if I have looked up a specific stamp in the past, I will make a note of it on the reference page.

Shown in Figure 2 is an example of one of my reference collection pages for the 1-shilling, 6-penny violet-brown Mercury and Hemispheres airmail stamp, which is a fairly common Australian stamp.

The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue lists the unwatermarked variety as Scott C4 and the watermarked variety as C5.

Other catalogs state categorically that this is not an airmail stamp.

Some specialized catalogs list a thin paper variety as well. Since the thin paper variety is not listed by the Scott standard catalog, I had to rummage through specialized catalogs to remind myself if the thin paper variety was unwatermarked or watermarked. Now I just go to the reference collection for the answer.

Your reference collection should serve your particular needs. If you try to make it too complicated, you will not keep up with it. Remember, you are making this for your own personal use.

Use a brightly colored three-ring binder for your reference collection and keep it in the same place all the time. This will further reduce the searching time. Remember, the whole idea is to make finding the information you need as quick and painless as possible.

If you must illustrate something, use examples of cast-off stamps from your own collection, scans, photocopies or line drawings that you make yourself. You can use a computer and printer or a typewriter to make the pages of your reference collection, but I find using a pen and paper is the fastest way to get the job done. It does not need to be fancy. It merely needs to be useful.

Creating a reference collection offers another advantage. By making the pages and doing the associated work, you are imprinting this information more solidly in your mind.