Using The Scott Catalogue

Once you have decided to collect, and have purchased your album, hinges, and a batch of stamps, you are ready to get down to play. You will need to learn how to use a stamp catalogue. Catalogues number and price stamps, and it is in this way that most philatelists collect and trade them. There are several major stamp catalogues in the world. In England, most collectors use the Stanley Gibbons catalogue; in France, it is Yvert & Tellier; Germans use Michel; and Americans and Canadians by and large use the Scott catalogue.

The Scott catalogue is the major stamp catalogue in the United States, and every collector should learn how to use it. Scott does not illustrate every stamp, but it does illustrate every design type. On many stamps the design remains the same, but the denomination on the stamp changes from stamp to stamp within the set. Every stamp has its own unique catalogue number. The importance of the Scott catalogue primarily is due to its effectiveness as a form of shorthand among collectors. For example, “Trinidad #4” means the same thing to collectors using Scott all over the world, which greatly facilitates philatelic communication.

Stamp catalogues originally grew out of stamp dealers’ price lists. They are far more than that now, giving collectors a wealth of information about the stamps they may be collecting. Don’t trust the prices in the catalogue, though. They bear only a slight relationship to reality. The prices listed are hypothetical ideas of what a collectors should expect to pay for a particular stamp at the particular time the catalogue was issued. In general, stamp sell at a fraction of the catalogue value that usually averages two thirds, but prices can range from 1 percent of catalogue to 1,000 percent (and more). However, a significant number of stamps do adhere to our two-thirds rule.

More realistic in terms of stamp prices are dealers’ price lists. Stamp dealers in this country are like dress merchants or green grocers— either they soon learn the prices at which their wares can be sold or they are soon in another business. Be especially careful to ensure that when you compare stamp prices, you are comparing prices for stamps of similar quality. Prices vary more widely for reason of quality than for any other factor, including rarity. A stamp that catalogues for $500 and is in damaged condition might well sell for $100, whereas a $100 catalogue value stamp in excellent condition may sell for $500.

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