Philatelic collecting is a large spectrum. It begins with a simple accumulation (“Things I Like” or “Stamps from the Mail”), then a targeted accumulation (“World Classic Covers” or “Ships on Stamps”), progressing to a one-of-a-kind collection, then a specialised collection. Finally, many collectors make the leap to preparing philatelic exhibits, from the local level all the way to the international (F.I.P.) level, where the Grand Prix is the ultimate challenge.
For someone bitten by the specialist or the exhibitor bug, it’s important to know the “lay of the land”: what exists or is available (out of what was printed or issued), what varieties are worth seeking out (often unrecognised by the current owner or dealer), the range of usages and frankings, and what is the exact scope or range of what you might be considering pursuing.
To answer many of these questions, specialised catalogues and handbooks, available from literature dealers or on loan from various philatelic societies, are a good first step. For example, if you collect the “Penny Black,” the Litchfield book, “Guidelines to the Penny Black,” will enable you to determine the plate from which at least 85% of them were printed.
For classic Europe, the Muller or Macoveanu catalogues give detailed listings, often with varieties, printing quantities, “ideal” sizes of margins, and much more. Each is often available, as is the Robson Lowe “Encyclopaedia…” for the British Empire, the last Grobe handbook for the German States, or the Yvert specialised catalogue of classic France. Though the prices therein are usually dated, the relative prices for multiples or covers are a useful general guide.
Finally, the matter of provenance can be useful, which can often be gleaned from auction descriptions. The auction catalogues from when important collections were sold will usually have detailed information regarding specific items, and, in some cases, background on some issues, which you can use to describe them.
Auction catalogues can sometimes be found on line (often in the “Archives” section of a company website, such as our own) and can be downloaded and/or printed out, for reference, Many companies sell a limited number of original catalogues (for example, see our “Shop” section, which includes a range of Burrus catalogues and the Kanai Mauritius, among many others).
The “standard” catalogues, of course, often give useful information. Michel, Stanley Gibbons, the Scott Classic, as well as Yvert and Sassone, have been continually improved to the point where they now incorporate much specialised information in their listings.
The choices for collectors are nearly endless. Though the shipment of handbooks or auction catalogues is more expensive than ever, due to the near-universal abolition of “printed matter” rates, one “find” of a premium item in a generalist’s stock or auction catalogue can make up for the purchase and shipment of the item that made the buyer the wiser.
At David Feldman, we have an enormous reference library, which we use constantly to enhance our auction descriptions, as well as many years of personal experience in handling a great number of specialised and especially “Grand Prix” or other exceptional collections from many countries and subjects for over 40 years.
If you are seeking some advice, whether in buying or selling stamps, proofs and covers from around the world, or if you want to pare down your holdings in order to concentrate on something else, please give us a call or send us an email. You are under no obligation to do so, and we count hundreds of the world’s specialised collectors among our long-time friends.
So feel free to contact us at your convenience.