There's more to the catalog than stamp listings

May 2, 2021, 8 PM

By Rick Miller

Collectors often tend to overlook the wealth of information and accumulated collecting wisdom that can be found in the introduction to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue.

These pages numbered with the suffix "A" precede the country listings in each volume of the catalog. They are chock-full of the answers to many collecting questions and things that every collector should know.

Just past the table of contents, you will find a letter from editor James E. Kloetzel. In these letters, Kloetzel usually discusses value changes and editorial improvements specific to that volume of the catalog.

For example, in the 2005 edition of Vol. 1, Kloetzel calls attention to a set of Dinosaur stamps issued by Antigua and Barbuda that were overprinted "Barbuda Mail," Barbuda Scott 1312-19. In the new Vol. 1, the set increased in value from $10.05 to $51. The high-denomination $5 Stegosaurus stamp in the set, Scott 1319, is shown in Figure 1.

By reading the editor's letters, you can get a feel for the stamp market as well as some understanding of Scott Publishing's editorial philosophy.

On the next page you will find a list of acknowledgements.

These are the people, experts in their fields, who assist the full-time Scott editorial staff in listing and valuing every postage stamp in the world every year.

Take a moment to think about the scope of the Scott catalog. It is the only general, worldwide postage stamp catalog that is updated every year. It is a truly Sisyphean task that would not be possible without the assistance of these experts.

Some collectors might carp about how well Scott succeeds in this enterprise, but it is important to remember that no other catalog publisher in the world even tries.

Next is the a listing of contact information for general and specialized philatelic societies. If you are interested in joining or getting specialized information from a particular society, this is the place to go.

The listing gives mailing addresses and phone numbers and e-mail addresses where available.

Next comes "Expertizing Services." Most collectors know the big three when it comes to expertization: the American Philatelic Expertizing Service, the Philatelic Foundation and Professional Stamp Experts. A quick glance at this section shows a score or more listed.

Anyone in the stamp hobby should not be buying or selling stamps unless he has read and absorbed "Information on Catalogue Values, Grade and Condition."

The information in this section is basic, primary and crucial. Buying stamps without this information is like playing football without a helmet: you are going to get badly hurt.

For example, the 1-franc Hunting Elephants stamp, Belgian Congo Scott 25, shown in Figure 2, has a catalog value in unused condition of $210. But you really won't know what that catalog value means without reading and understanding the value, grade and condition section of the catalog introduction.

Have you ever wondered why some stamps are listed in the Scott catalog and others are not? Reading the "Catalogue Listing Policy" section should give you some idea.

The section begins boldly with the statement, "It is the intent of Scott Publishing Co. to list all postage stamps of the world in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue." It then delineates many categories of nonpostage-stamp items that are not listed.

For example, "Semiofficial or unofficial items not required for postage," are among those items that are not listed by the catalog. This explains why the 50-kapeikos semiofficial Lithuanian Blockade Fund label with simulated perforations shown in Figure 3 is not listed. It was not required for postage, even though it was sold by the post office and is found on mail.

Note that the Scott standard catalog is a postage stamp catalog. With few exceptions (mostly in the listings for the United States), what won't be found in this catalog are revenue stamps, postal stationery, telegraph stamps, local stamps and charity labels.

"Understanding the Listings" explains how the information about postage stamps is displayed in the catalog listings.

"Special Notices" explains the Scott method of classifying and numbering stamps and gives a rather cursory listing of catalog number prefixes for some classifications.

It also gives background information on new listings; number additions, deletions and changes; and notes on understanding valuing notations such as italicized prices, minimum catalog value and premiums for postally used stamps.

For example, the 20-centimo olive-green and brown-orange Christ Preaching the Gospel stamp, Italy Scott 143, shown in Figure 4, has an italicized catalog value of $30 in used condition and an unitalicized value of $1.10 in unused condition.

This section explains that, among other things, italicized values can represent a warning. When the value of a stamp is considerably higher in used condition than in unused condition, collectors are cautioned to be certain that the cancellation on a used stamp is genuine and from the period when the stamp was generally in use.

There follows a list of color abbreviations and other abbreviations used in the catalog listings.

"Basic Stamp Information" provides some collecting basics on paper, watermarks, inks, separation, printing processes, luminescence, gum, reprints and reissues, remainders and canceled-to-order stamps, cinderellas and facsimiles, forgeries and counterfeits, fakes, and restoration and repairs.

For example, the catalog describes the 2-centesimo dark red and black on salmon paper Lindbergh's Airplane stamp, Panama Scott 256, shown in Figure 5, as "rouletted."

By looking under "Separation" in this section of the introduction, you can find an explanation of what that means: "In rouletting, the stamp paper is cut partly or wholly through, with no paper removed."

"Terminology" is a short glossary of frequently used terms.

In each volume, a currency conversion table gives the conversion rates for a number of currencies as of the time of the catalog's publication. Each table is for the countries in the specific volume.

The "Common Design Types" section pictures and lists issues where one design was used for a number of stamps from different countries. The stamps from different countries will have different country name inscriptions and sometimes be denominated in different currencies, but the stamp designs are the same or very similar.

The section shows the stamp design and then provides a listing for all of the stamps for which that particular stamp design was used.

The section provides common design types for Europa issues, Portugal and colonies, the French Community and the British Commonwealth.

Stamp illustration numbers for common design type stamps are prefixed with the letters "CD."

The 10-escudo blue-violet Alfonso de Albuquerque stamp, Mozambique Scott 286, shown in Figure 6, is common design type CD38.

Stamps with common design types are not illustrated in the catalog listings for countries, only in the Common Design Types section in the catalog introduction.

The next section of the introduction is titled "British Commonwealth of Nations."

Great Britain, the British Empire and the British Commonwealth once enjoyed a special status in the Scott catalog.

From 1943 to 1998, the 2-rupee brown and rose Queen Victoria stamp, India Scott 50, shown in Figure 7, was listed in Vol. 1 or Vol. 1B of the Scott catalog.

When the catalog first went to two volumes in 1943, it was natural that Vol. 1 would lead off with the stamps of the United States, because that is the country most commonly collected by stamp collectors in the United States. Rather than fill out the volume with countries of the world in alphabetical order, the editors then chose to include in Vol. 1 the rest of the Americas and the British Commonwealth.

British Commonwealth countries remained in Vol. 1 or Vols. 1A and 1B until 1998, when the catalog assumed the basic organization that it has today: six volumes, with the U.S. and possessions, the United Nations and countries of the world A-B in Vol. 1, and British Commonwealth nations scattered throughout all six volumes alphabetically by name.

The British Commonwealth of Nations section of the introduction is the last vestige of the special status that these countries once held in the Scott catalog.

This section breaks the British Commonwealth down into three tiers: "Great Britain," "The Dominions, Present and Past" and "Colonies, Past and Present; Controlled Territory and Independent Members of the Commonwealth."

The section "Colonies, Former Colonies, Offices, Territories Controlled by Parent States" follows next. Such entities are listed under Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia and Spain.

The section on dies of British colonial stamps illustrates dies A and B of Queen Victoria colonial stamps and dies I and II of King George V colonial stamps.

British colonial and Crown Agent watermarks common to the stamps of many British colonies are found only in the introduction. They are not shown in the country listings.

The introduction concludes with a list of pronunciation symbols, used with the permission of Merriam-Webster.

Not all of the useful additional information is in the introduction. The "Illustrated Identifier" at the back of the catalog shows illustrations of some hard-to-identify stamps, many of which are not inscribed with the country name or are not inscribed in Roman letters.

For example, using this section, you can identify the stamp shown in Figure 8 as a 2-para King Nicholas I and Queen Milena stamp, Montenegro Scott 88.

The "Index and Identifier," located at the back of the catalog, is a tool useful in identifying stamps that are not inscribed in English and in locating the volume and page where they are listed.

If you browsed through the introduction five or 10 years ago, you ought to read it again. The contents are updated, expanded and improved over time.

The next time you pick up a Scott catalog take 30 minutes to peruse the introduction and the other sections before dashing off to the country listings and values. You might be surprised at what you find.