Essential philatelic reference books

From time to time, the library receives a question that is best answered not by a search but by human expertise. These are the questions that are both broad and subjective: what are the essential books in a personal philatelic library? what is the best book for a new collector?

To come up with a short list of essential books for a personal philatelic library, I asked the APS and APRL staff, as well as readers of The American Philatelist, for their top picks. The following list is a compilation of their responses.

Fundamentals of PhilatelyFundamentals of Philately (revised edition) by L.N. Williams, published 1990 by the American Philatelic Society. APRL call number: HE6213 .W724f 1990

First published in article format in the AP in the 1950s and revised several times in the following decades, this is still a go-to reference for stamp collecting. At 862 pages, it is a hefty tome, but one philatelists can turn to again and again.

The book gives a short history of stamp collecting, then delves into paper, watermarks, design and production, printing processes, inks and color, gum, and separation. Throughout, the author defines terms from the basic to those even advanced collectors might scratch their heads over (“Mechanical Mezzotint” or “Hectograph,” for example).

Encyclopedia of United States Stamps and Stamp CollectingEncyclopedia of United States Stamps and Stamp Collecting (2nd edition) by Rodney A. Juell, Lynn R. Batdorf, and Steven J. Rod, published 2016 by the United States Stamp Society. APRL call number: G3700 .A11 E56 2016

Like Fundamentals, the Encyclopedia explains the history and production of stamps and defines key terms, but with a focus on the U.S. In addition, helpful for a U.S. collector, the first part of the book includes sections on the major stamp issues and periods, beginning with stampless covers and postmasters’ provisionals through 21st-century issues, and including federal and state revenues, postal stationery, carriers and locals, and more. Each section includes color illustrations and resources to consult for more information.

Linn's Complete Stamp Collecting BasicsLinn’s Complete Stamp Collecting Basics by Michael Baadke, published 2004 by Linn’s Stamp News. HE6213 .B111L 2004

At 392 pages, this paperback is substantial but takes up about half the space on your bookshelf or in your briefcase that each of the previous two titles do. It also takes a slightly different approach, with sections on the basics of stamp collecting, how to obtain stamps, and how to organize and store them. The section headings may be more approachable for the true novice, with plain-language titles like, “Why does my stamp have a lot of holes in it?” for the section on perfins.

The contents are primarily from the author’s Refresher Course column in Linn’s Stamp News. While the book is organized with a beginner in mind, the index makes it equally useful as a reference for returning collectors or those looking to expand into new areas.

This is PhilatelyThis is Philately by Kenneth A. Wood, published 1982 by Van Dahl Publications (Albany, OR). APRL call number: HE6196 .W876t

This three-volume hardcover set is subtitled “An Encyclopedia of the Fascinating World of Stamp Collecting.” Instead of the narrative approach of the first three titles, Wood’s book takes an encyclopedic approach, with brief entries arranged alphabetically. The entries include not only philatelic terms (“Cancelation, Fancy”) but also geographic (“Caroline Islands”) and organizational (“Canadian Bank Note Company”).

APS Stamp IdentifierAPS Stamp Identifier (3rd edition), published 2004 by the American Philatelic Society. APRL call number: HE6215 .A111 2004

This small, spiral-bound book can be kept easily near a collector’s desk or tucked in a bag. It serves a very specific purpose: to help a collector identify the country of origin of a stamp based on the words printed on the stamp. For example, if you find a stamp overprinted “G.P.E.” you can look up the abbreviation in this book to discover that your stamp is from Guadaloupe, a French colony. Tables in the back of the book provide help for reading other alphabets: Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hebrew, and Russian.

The Stamp AtlasThe Stamp Atlas by W. Raife Wellsted and Stuart Rossiter, published 1986 by Facts On File. APRL call number: G1046 .P8 W456s 1986

We all know that collecting stamps can improve your knowledge of geography, and the pages of this magazine demonstrate that philatelists are often interested in the history of the countries they collect beyond the postal system. The Stamp Atlas provides that background, from large areas of the world to specific stamp-issuing entities. It includes color maps, but also narratives, illustrations, and photographs, focusing on postal systems and postage stamps, but including plenty of contextual information.

The World Encyclopedia of Stamps & Stamp CollectingThe World Encyclopedia of Stamps & Stamp Collecting by James A. Mackay, published 2006 by Lorenz Books (London). APRL call number: HE6215 .M153cg

This glossy book, with numerous color illustrations throughout, includes two major sections: A Guide to Collecting Stamps, and The World Directory of Stamps. The first section provides a summary of the different types of postage stamps and tips for starting a collection. The second section goes around the world by region, giving some history and showing some of the stamps produced in that region. For example, the section on Eastern Scandinavia includes brief descriptions of the countries and their stamps, as well as call-outs on specific topics (master engraver Czeslaw Slania, Vikings in Stamps).

This book can be a useful reference for the philatelist, as well as an attractive coffee table book for explaining the hobby to non-collectors.

The Buyers GuideThe Buyers Guide: Get the Most for Your Stamp Collecting Dollar (2nd edition) by Stephen R. Datz, published 2000 by General Philatelic Corporation.

Though it doesn’t contain the details listed in larger or more specialized books, Datz’ slim volume is a handy guide for the U.S. collector. Member Ray Hutter says he studies this book before attending a stamp show, “and I am not concerned about walking away from a pressure-dealer because I know what I want.”

Official Stamp Collector's BibleThe Official Stamp Collector’s Bible by Stephen R. Datz, published 2003 by House of Collectibles.

Datz packs a wealth of information into this paperback — from general background on stamp collecting to tips for buying and selling at auction. It also includes handy references even more experienced collectors will turn to again and again, such as philatelic terms in various languages and current and former country names. While some of the information may be a little dated, features such as the foreign stamp identifier make it, as member Blain Roman writes, a “go-to book.”

Post DatesPost Dates: A Chronology of Intriguing Events in the Mails and Philately by Kenneth A. Wood, published 1985 by Van Dahl Publications.

While not “essential,” this book may help you enjoy your own collection more. As member John Blakemore writes, it is “full of interesting surprises.” You might not have a rare gem like the one-cent magenta in your collection, but you might have the first one of something!







Resource of the Month: Mellone’s FDC Catalogs

One of the endearing areas of enjoyment in philately over the years has been, and to a large extent still is, the discovery and collecting of first day covers, also known as first day cachets (FDC’s). With their printed designs or inventive inscriptions adding color and sometimes context to the issued stamp, they provide a welcome element of color and artistic design to a first day cover usually issued in the commemoration of a particular thematic, historical or philatelic event. FDC’s can commemorate everything from a first flight, a moon landing, or the Super Bowl. These one-of-a-kind cachets are made  by individuals, private companies or in some cases by a government for first day of issue stamp events. Here in the U.S. the first cacheted FDC was produced by prominent philatelist and cachetmaker George Ward Linn in 1923, for the Harding Memorial stamp issue of the same year.

Continue reading “Resource of the Month: Mellone’s FDC Catalogs”

New books at the APRL, October 2017

APRL acquisitions, October 2017. To request loans, copies, or scans, or to search our catalog, visit the APRL website.

book coverAbout BEP ([Washington, DC]: Bureau of Engraving and Printing, [2004]). [In process 000066225]

AFA Danmark, Faeroerne, Gronland, Dansk Vestindien frimaerkekatalog (Aarhus, [Denmark]: Aarhus Frimaerkehandel I/S ; Aarhus, [Denmark] ; Otterup, [Denmark] : AFA-Forlaget, [1975-2017]). [G6920 .A1 A111d]

AFA Danmark, Gronland, Island, Dansk Vestindien specialkatalog (Aarhus: Aarhus Frimaerkehandel ; Otterup : E. Daugaard : AFA-Forlaget, [1966-2016]). [G6920 .A1 A111ds 2016]

Allen, C.N. [C.N. Allen scrapbook for Scott U.S. 725] ([n.l.]: [n.p.], [1932-ca.1961]). [R9 P4 S4 CS2] Continue reading “New books at the APRL, October 2017”

Chicagopex to feature literature

Chicagopex is one of only two shows in the U.S. to feature a literature competition (the other is APS StampShow). This year, the show will also feature three book signings:

  • Nov. 17, 1 p.m. – The Pictorial History of Walt Disney’s First Superstar: Mickey Mouse,  by Edward Bergen
  • Nov. 18, 2 p.m. – U.S. Contract Mail Routes by Railroad (1832-1875) by Hugh V. Feldman
  • Nov. 19, 11 a.m. – Holocaust Postal History by Justin Gordon

I’ll be at the show, so if you’re there, stop by the APS booth and say hello!

Crawford Medal nominations open

The Royal Philatelic Society London is accepting nominations for the 2018 Crawford Medal “for the most valuable and original contribution to the study and knowledge of philately published in book form during the relevant period.”

Nominations are invited of books published in 2016 or 2017. Send nominations by email to or by letter to the Society at 41 Devonshire Place London WS1G 6JY, using the subject “Crawford Nomination.” Nominations are accepted until Feb. 1, 2018. If the nominated book is not in the RPSL library, the nominator will be asked to provide a copy.

Volunteers unpack Canadian donation

On Sunday, three students from Penn State came to volunteer as part of the university’s Rebuild-U day of service. They unpacked a recent donation from Library and Archives Canada — 93 boxes! — and moved it to shelving on the second floor of the library, where it is ready to be processed and added to the collection.

The donation contains material being deaccessioned by LAC and not previously included in our collection — perhaps most notably, documents of the Universal Postal Union and other postal treaties.

Thank you Brennan, Emily, and Justin for your help!

New books at the APRL, September 2017

APRL acquisitions, September 2017. To request loans, copies, or scans, or to search our catalog, visit the APRL website.

book coverThe addendum to the Catalog of United States perfins (San Anselmo, CA: Perfins Club, 2010). [G3701 .P438 P438c 1998 Add.2]

Anderson, C. Stephen; Cliff, Athol W. [Anderson, C. Stephen (cachetmaker)/Cliff, Athol W. (distributor)] ([AFDCS Anderson CLOSED STACKS 2])

Bamert, Peter; Menuz, Wayne; Walton, Bill. Postal stationery of Mexico (Chester, VA: Published by the United Postal Stationery Society, Inc. in cooperation with MEPSI (Mexico Elmhurst Philatelic Society International), 2017). [G4411 .P860 B19p 2017]  Continue reading “New books at the APRL, September 2017”

Resource of the Month: Member Lists

In the course of doing reference work here at the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL), there are often resources that spring up in the library collection that at first glance would not necessarily be considered to have much research value or practical philatelic information capable of answering a specific research request. One of these unique and often overlooked resources here at the APRL is what are known as the American Philatelic Society Member Lists, originally called the “List of Members” and still later by the 1970’s, the “Annual Membership Directory”. The original Member Lists date back to 1889 when they took the form of a loosely bound typewritten list arranged alphabetically by member surname. The 22 page 1889 list provides the member’s number in the American Philatelic Association (as it was known then), their full name, and title prefix (Dr. or Rev. for example) as well as an address which could be a P.O. Box number, just a city, or a full street and city address. Continue reading “Resource of the Month: Member Lists”

ZIP codes and unintended consequences

Most postal historians know that ZIP codes were created by the U.S. Post Office Department in 1963 to make the delivery of increasing volumes of mail more efficient. These Zone Improvement Plan codes were never intended to be used for anything but mail delivery. They were created with the post office in mind, not neighborhoods or communities.

However, they’re frequently used as a proxy for neighborhoods for statistical purposes. For example, if you visit the U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder, the search box prompts you to enter a state, county, city, town, or zip code.

A recent article from ThoughtCo. examines the use of ZIP codes as proxies for neighborhoods and the implications (along with some fun facts about ZIP codes).


Resource of the month: Album Weeds

One of the more common reference requests received at the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) concerns forgery information for not only U.S. stamp issues but also worldwide issues. Among the more recent and notable resources for forgery information available at the APRL include the Serrane Guide and the Tedesco Index of Literature in the English Language that Describes Postage Stamp Forgeries (the latter being available online from the APRL) . Even the latest editions of the Scott’s U.S. Specialized Catalogue have begun to include listings for counterfeit stamps. Often overlooked but no less useful is one of the earliest attempts to compile resource material about known forgeries of worldwide stamps, Album Weeds, also known by its subtitle How to Detect Forged Stamps.

Album Weeds began as a series of articles in The American Philatelist under the title “The Spud Papers” first written by noted British philatelists W. Dudley Atlee and Edward Loines Pemberton and later by English priest and philatelist Robert Brisco Earée. Earée, Atlee and Pemberton wrote the articles, which appeared in various philatelic publications between 1867 and 1881, in an attempt to describe various known worldwide forgeries. They introduced their initial series of articles by writing “if philatelists would only study their stamps a little more, instead of merely trying to see how many they can collect, we are certain that they would soon learn for themselves far more than any book or the Spud Papers can teach them.”

Some of their earliest submissions also included an actual example of the forgery being described along with explanatory text. Their writings proved highly beneficial and popular to collectors at the time and were eventually compiled and formatted into a book with illustrations under the title Album Weeds.

The first edition was published in one volume in 1882 by Stanley Gibbons. Later in 1892 a second one-volume edition was published followed by a two-volume third edition in 1906. Today the 1906 third edition has been reprinted by different publishers as an eight-volume set.

Organized alphabetically by country and then chronologically by the date of each forged stamp issue, the resource continues to be a remarkable compilation of forgery information. Relying primarily on text to describe each country’s known forgeries with some minimal supplementary illustrations included, each country section begins with an introductory paragraph detailing the extent of each country’s forged issues followed by in some cases subheadings titled “Paper,” “Watermarks” and “Perforations” for further explanations of each. Following these general sections are descriptions of specific issues listed chronologically with further details under the subheadings of “Genuine” then “First Forgery,” “Second Forgery” and so on. Also included in each country section are descriptions of known forged postmarks. What ultimately makes Album Weeds a valuable and useful resource still is that it provides detailed primarily textual accounts of some of the earliest and most significant stamp forgeries.

Whether it be the 1851 issues of Hawaii or the 1861 Confederate States New Orleans issue, Albums Weeds provides extremely useful historic, and in many cases still current, information regarding the genuine characteristics of these particular stamps as well as their known forgeries.

Various editions of Album Weeds are available in the main book collection on the first floor of the APRL and can be used onsite or requested remotely for borrowing by APS members.