The Stamp Guy – Those ubiquitous catalogues

You can tell when it’s catalogue day at the Post.  Unwanted spares linger on the desks, fated for recycling, we hope.  On most days, rubbish bins betray a bevy of abandoned blurbs.  But, it’s a fact of life.  Merchants must show their wares or they would perish from the earth.

Catalogues come in many stripes and serve many purposes.  They let us know what is available, even if we aren’t looking to purchase.  They furnish our dreams, spur our desire for things we didn’t know we “needed”.  For stamp collectors, it can get as bad as lottery tickets and gambling.  “Know your limit” before you even look.

At the arena they say “you can’t tell the players without a program”.  So you buy one to know who’s on first, or to get a team picture or maybe even a play-off schedule.  With 10,000 stamps issued every year by 190 plus countries, how will you “tell the players without a program”?

It wasn’t so bad back in 1840 when Great Britain printed the first “Penny Black”.  One stamp, one penny, one country, one letter.  Then more countries got into it.  Then worldwide immigration and travel, and soon there were colour-coded stamps:  green for a penny (remember the penny post card?), red for two-cents,  and international letters were carried by blue five-cent stamps.

But then came commemorative stamps, multi-colour presses, all sorts of places and events and people to honour.  And now it’s evolved into topics and gimmicks of all sorts.  Pretty soon you’ve got a serious pile of paper.  So, in 1868, John Walter Scott, a New York dealer, printed a 21-page pamphlet listing all US and foreign stamps issued from 1840 to Date.  Every stamp was assigned a number and value.  Over the years, Scott’s Standard Postage Catalogue has grown to six volumes, over 6000 pages.  Canada’s latest stamp will be about #2400.

Wherever you are in the world, the assigned number will be recognized.  I can order Mozambique #68 from a dealer in France and he will know exactly what to send me, and I will know what I will receive.  Or if I advertise I have Canada #300 for sale, another collector will know exactly what it is.

Other companies, especially in Europe, print their own catalogues.  Gibbons, in Great Britain, is focused on the British Empire, but it now issues various country and regional volumes as well.  Michel is in German, but is another standard.  The Unitrade Catalog is an excellent, full-colour, detailed Canada listing.  Though I find their price estimates a bit high compared to the market at large, their information is most excellent and helpful.

Values are determined by auction results or dealers’ purchases and sales shown on their price lists.  It’s often the old capitalist bromide:  supply and demand.  The recent sunflower coil stamp appears to be in limited supply with only 40,000 stamps vs. 12 million for the booklet version.  So, we’ll see what value it has soon enough.  The lowest value in most catalogues is twenty cents because a dealer has to pay overhead regardless of the size or rarity of a stamp.  Sometimes common stamps are harder to find because they’re just a nuisance to keep around.  And, as a sales incentive, most dealers discount from the catalogue value, even up to 30% or more.

Dealers have to have the catalogue as a point of reference, but at $70 a volume, most collectors don’t buy a set every year.  All six volumes set you back $420, plus $40 shipping and don’t forget HST.  So most buy a set every few years, or even a used set because the basic information (catalogue number, issue date, etc.) remains the same.  Prices can be determined easily by contacting dealers.

Presently, I have ordered the 2012 Scott’s for myself and awaiting the first volume in April.  Some lucky peson will get my 2004 set as a door prize at our first Fall meeting.  The Golden Stamp Club will meet at 3:00pm, Sunday, March 27, 2011 in the basement of Trinity Lutheran Church, 909 Ninth St., Golden.  Questions?  Contact  Ron Tabbert at 344-5939, or relich@uniserve.com .