Sine Waves: The “Ugly” Side Of Stamp Catalogs
By Richard L. Sine
With the presumption that you have used a stamp catalog and are familiar with information presented in a stamp’s listing, abbreviations and acronyms, and the like, let’s look a bit at what goes into what you see.
Even through my time at Scott Publishing ended in 1992, I do not believe updating an annual publication has changed a lot.
When I first arrived at Scott, there was a catalog staff that knew what it was doing. At the time, the Scott catalog listings, other than new issues and values, were static. That is, to make a change in a description cost the firm $1.75 for each physical line. Consequently, only when egregious errors were discovered was something revised.
With the production change about 1988 where everything became digital, we then were able to “correct” anything and everything we found that was wrong. Toward then, during my remaining time at Scott, with each catalog year we corrected no fewer than 10,000 items. With the move to fully digital came the ability much more easily to add varieties, which would be inserted into existing listings, and handle new issues.
While catalog listings are considered the final word to nearly all the collecting public, remember that they are merely the most current information known about a given item. That information is subject to change at any time better information becomes available. That is just the way it is.
If you are a more general collector, such possibilities for change may not mean a lot to you. The more you specialize, the greater the possibility that adding or changing a listing easily may provide you with more items to procure. This certainly has happened to me.
Of course, if you are a specialist and something has been added or changed in your area of interest, you may well have been part of the effort leading to that change. Collectors are a major source of information leading to catalog adjustments.
Without even considering catalog value (which will be discussed separately), stamp catalogs – whether Scott or one of the specialty catalogs – are dynamic. The non-value information may well be as important to you as the current year’s values. I don’t get a catalog every year. The most recent edition I have caused me to review nearly all of the pre-1945 items in my collection because of what I found to be quite a bunch of new and changed listings.
The new varieties I was able to confirm added a lot to my total catalog value. More importantly, the number of “different varieties” in my collection increased. I should note that, over the years, I purchased a lot of bulk lots and only now (a few decades later) am going through the material stamp-by-stamp for what I expect to be the final time.
Look upon your catalog, then, not as (only) a way to calculate a value of your collection, but rather as your primary reference resource as to just what it is you have. Understand how your catalog is “built” and it will reward you with more information than you expected. Your catalog is your friend.