J. Walter Scott

No American philatelist has had more influence on our hobby than John Walter Scott. Scott became involved with stamps at a very early period and by the late 1860s was publishing a price list that he later expanded into a worldwide stamp catalog.  Scott was originally a seller of stamps, and it was only in the late 1890s that his publishing business became more profitable than his stamp selling business.

Stamp dealers generally divide into two broad groups—dealers and publishers. Most of the great American publishers—Scott, Minkus, and Harris among them—began as traditional stamp dealers selling stamp by stamp to collectors. Smart and hard working stamp dealers can make a nice living. But publishers, especially album publishers, have far fewer competitors and can sell a product that can be manufactured rather than be purchased from retiring collectors as is the case of traditional dealers. It’s no coincidence that the most successful stamp dealers over the last century have nearly all been publishers.

By 1900, Scott was far more of a catalog and album publishing company than a traditional stamp dealer. As the first American album producer, Scott always had the largest market share of any album producer. And, of course, Scott has the copyright on the Scott catalog numbers. As the only catalog publisher in the United States, Scott numbers are synonymous with philately in this country. All collectors use the Scott catalog to decide what they need, and all stamps that are bought and sold are sold based on Scott numbers and Scott values.

For most of its history, the Scott publishing company has had excellent owners and managers. First, there was J. Walter Scott himself, and then in the early twentieth century the company was run by John Luff, the greatest philatelist of his time. By 1930, the company was managed by Hugh Clark, who, with his wife Theresa, designed and published the Scott Specialty series of albums. It is hard to overstate what a boon to philately in this country the Scott Specialty series has been. Comprising scores of volumes, the Specialty series is a group of albums, usually one per country, that has spaces for all the issued stamps of that country. Annual supplements are issued for new issues. The Scott Specialty series lets collectors easily concentrate on the stamps of whatever country they want.

There are many collecting hobbies. One of the things that distinguishes philately form most other collecting hobbies is catalogs like the Scott catalog. Without the Scott catalog, philately never would have developed into the popular hobby it has become (There are probably as many Revenue stamps as there are postage stamps, and there are also a significant number of postal stationary items that have the same government cachet as prepaid obligations as do postage stamps. And yet revenue collecting and postal stationery collecting have languished. This is because there are no accepted catalogs for this material that are easy to use—the last Forbin general catalog for worldwide revenues was issued over a century ago, and the Higgens and Gage catalog of worldwide postal stationery is out of date, incomplete, and hard to use).

J. Walter Scott had no idea when he issued his first price list that he was starting something that would be of so much value to a major hobby. Where he deserves credit though is in that he saw how philately was developing, and throughout his career he was innovative and sought ways to make his numbering system and albums of greater and greater value to collectors.

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