A Beginners Guide to Philatelic Literature

Stamp collecting is blessed with extensive literature.  There are many thousands of books published about various facets of the hobby.  The collector who wants to enjoy his hobby to the fullest will make use of the available resources.

The first reading you should do is to read the introductory topics in one of the catalogues.  These will give you guidance on how to read the catalogue information, philatelic terms and practices, guides for grading stamps, and other information pertinent to the area of interest.  Most public libraries have the catalogues available in their reference sections,

The beginning collector will probably soon want a catalogue of your own.  You should obtain a catalog appropriate to your area of  interest.  If you are in the US, you are probably destined to have a Scott's.  Scott Publishing Co. publishes new catalogs each year.  The principal ones are the Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue comprised of 6 volumes (provides information for the world-wide collector), the Specialized Catalogue of U.S. Stamps & Covers (covers United States philately in detail), and the Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers (provides information for the world-wide collector but only through about 1940).  The title of each catalogue includes the year for which it was issued.

Unless you collect all the current stamps or price by Scott's,  you don't have to have the latest edition.  Quite usable but outdated copies are always available in on-line auctions.  Anything issued in the last ten years should be quite useful.  If you collect another country, you should probably have a catalog which holds the same position as Scott's in that country.  For example, British Commonwealth collectors should have a Stanley Gibbons; collectors of Germany will appreciate a Michel.  Each of these publishers provides general catalogues as well as catalogues for limited areas of interest.   Here too, used copies are quite useful and generally available in on-line auctions.

As you proceed with the hobby you may find need for a general reference that expands on the type of information in the catalogue.  A typical book for U.S. collectors is
Cabeen's Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting.  It provides the second level knowledge about a lot of subjects after you've decided you want to know more than the definition of a term.  (BTW, Sutton's The Stamp Collector's Encyclopaedia is good for definitions, explanations of items, and finding stamps from printing on the stamps.)  Another book of general interest providing vast information on stamps, their production and use, is Williams Fundamentals of Philately.  Either of these volumes would be a good next volume after acquiring a catalogue.

Other sources for literature are philatelic literature dealers.  There is a list of them and their web sites on the
Philatelic Literature Recommendations by members of the eBay Users Stamp Club (Part I link at bottom of the page).   There are also a number of philatelic libraries listed as well.

As one progresses in philately, one finds that it is all but impossible to cover the entire field.  This leads to limiting your collection to a particular area of interest.  This specialization will be helped by acquiring the literature in the field.  Here you will need some advice.  Probably the best advice is available from the specialist societies active in the area of interest.  Many of the specialist societies have contacts which can be made through information available at the APS web site under Affiliates.  You should also review literature lists such as the Philatelic Literature Recommendations by members of the eBay Users Stamp Club.  Ask, too, on the philatelic chat boards.

We would be remiss if we neglected to mention that a number of periodicals are available which provide extensive coverage.  Linn's is representative of the newspapers.  Many of the society journals, such as The American Philatelist are excellent.

And, of course, the Internet provides access to much philatelic information.  Start with a search on google.com.

Here are links to the literature guides made up by suggestions of members of the eBay Users Stamp Club: 

Part I - General, United States, Possessions,  and Mexico

Part II - The rest of the world

Recommended Italian Literature - A special listing by Paolo Bagaglia