|Introduction to Stamp Collecting|
Books and Other Sources
By Jim Watson
One of the joys of stamp collecting is the wide scope of philatelic literature. Stamp have been the subjects of journals, books, and newspapers since collecting became popular in the 1860s. Collectors have published many thousands of books on subjects from general stamp collecting to details of one particular stamp. Ultimately stamp collecting involves learning about stamps and postal history. Often this leads to the desire to publish original findings. New publications add to the vast body of knowledge about stamp collecting. In its own way this group of web-published pages is another step in the saga of philatelic literature.
For more information about the literature of stamp collecting, contact the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL), an affiliate of the American Philatelic Society (APS). The APRL has an on-line card catalog and a large searchable data base of articles of philatelic interest. It is the premier philatelic library in the United States. It is also affiliated with several regional philatelic libraries. Books are available directly to Members and through the Interlibrary Loan Service to non-members. Articles can be copied and sent on request for modest fees.
The starting point for someone interested in learning about stamp collecting is any one of the excellent handbooks that have been published over the years. Two of the best are:
1) Cabeen, Richard McP. Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting New York : Thomas Y. Crowell Co., c1979 xii, 630 p.,  leaves of plates : ill. ; 22 cm. Includes index. Revised by the Committee on Publications, Collectors Club of Chicago.
2) Williams, Williams, Leon Norman Fundamentals of Philately State College, PA : American Philatelic Society, 1990 xv, 862 p.: ill., facsims., photos; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. The first edition of this book was published in 1971 -- verso of title page. APS Handbook series American Philatelic Society.
For further information about stamps in a dictionary or encyclopedic form, one should read:
3) Sutton, R.J. Stamp Collector's Encyclopedia (The); Stamp Collector's Encyclopaedia (The) New York : Arco Publishing Company, Inc., 1975, c1966 365 p. : ill. ; 18 cm. (The different titles were for different editions.)
Finally, the collector will soon find that one of the standard catalogues is a necessity. The de facto standard in the United States is the set of catalogues published annually by the Scott Publishing Company. To repeat some advice from an earlier section, one should read and reread the introductory material in any of these catalogues to learn or refresh one's memory about stamp collecting.
The Scott Catalogue is published (currently) in three approaches. One catalogue, composed of six bulky volumes, covers the world of stamps and lists most of the stamps which Scott deems collectible. The volumes are arranged alphabetically by country. This group is called Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. The title is preceded by the year date. Like car model years, the 1999 catalogue is published during the summer of 1998. As a complete set of current catalogues is expensive, the beginning collector should consider an older, used catalogue that covers his area of interest. It will have everything but the latest stamps, latest prices, and newest finds. Take care in selecting the particular volume as Scott has rearranged the content of the catalogues over the years.
The second Scott catalogue is the Specialized Catalogue of U.S. Stamps that is the "Bible" for U.S. collectors. It provides extensive coverage of U.S. stamps and is the right starting point for someone who is going to pursue U.S. stamps vigorously. Again, an out of date copy can be nearly as useful to a collector as a new copy.
Finally, Scott also publishes a Classic Stamp Catalogue that includes only the stamps issued through 1940, the first 100 years of stamp issuing. This catalogue is useful to those who wish to concentrate on older stamps. Except for price changes, this catalogue does not change much from year to year.
All of the items in this bibliography can be purchased by bidding on lots offered at eBay. Each has been offered recently. Alternatively, you can contact one of the several dealers in philatelic literature if you wish to obtain a copy sooner. Nearly all dealers will have the catalogues and most will have good handbooks available for purchase and immediate delivery.
There are, of course, catalogues that are favored in other countries and in other languages. Often these are the catalogues of choice for the stamps of their country. The collector should take the time to learn about the literature published about the stamps in which he is interested. It will add to the rewards of the hobby.
As you learn more about stamps you may want to add some of the many interesting books about more limited areas. Many interesting items are available in the Publications subcategories of the eBay Auction. Useful bibliographies were recommended by members of the eBay Users Stamp Club in 1999: Part I, Part II, Recommended Italian Literature (As submitted by Paolo Bagaglia).
If you want to share the name of a book on stamps that you can't do without and it's not listed here, please email me the name of the book, author, publisher, and why you think it's helpful for collectors. If you have comments on the books listed here, please let me know, and email us your "mini-review."