Using a Stamp Catalog

Stamp collectors use stamp catalogs to identify postage stamps. This can be a very simple process or a fairly complicated one, depending upon factors such as issuing country, year of issue, and so on. In addition to offering a representative picture of what a stamp looks like, catalogs also provide information on whether a particular stamp is watermarked and, if so, information on the watermark itself, as well as the printing process used to produce the stamp, the size of the perforation (if any), and other data when warranted, such as the type of paper a stamp was printed on.

Most Vatican stamps, for example, are fairly straightforward. If we look at the three stamps issued in 1964 honoring the Centenary of the Red Cross (which actually occurred in 1963), we will find in a stamp catalog an image of a stamp showing an image of the Good Samaritan. We’ll also find that there were three values issued in the set; a 10-lira stamp in reddish brown, a 30-lira stamp in dark blue, and a 300-lira stamp in gray. We’ll be told that the stamps were perforated 14 x 13½, and that they have a watermark that looks like crossed keys.

Vatican Centenary of the Red Cross

Stamps issued in the nineteenth century are, as one might expect, more of a challenge. Stamps with similar appearances can have differing watermarks, differing perforations, or might have been printed on different types of paper. Ink colors can vary. Some of these differences can translate into a large difference in relative rarity and, hence, a large difference in the actual value of a stamp.

So . . . do you have a two dollar stamp or a two thousand dollar stamp? If the latter, you’ll probably need to get an expert to agree with your assessment by issuing a certificate, but your first step in answering the question would be to consult a stamp catalog.

There is not one universally-used stamp catalog, just as there is not one universally-used language (although, as a side note, the French nuns who educated me assured me that the French language was destined to become this lingua franca).

On the Akarius website, we identify stamps by their Michel Catalog numbers. (Our use of the Michel numbering has been authorized by Schwaneberger Verlag Publishing House, Unterschleissheim, Germany.) This might seem at first blush an odd choice, given that Michel is a German-language catalog and our website is geared toward an English-speaking audience. Additionally, Michel values are shown in euros, and we price our stamps in $US. We made the decision to go with Michel because we primarily deal in Vatican and European postage stamps, and feel that these are most adequately covered by Michel. The language issue is not all that daunting ­– blau means blue – for stamp catalogs, and it’s never a bad idea to learn something of other languages.

Does this mean that every year you have to run out and buy a full set of Michel catalogs, or any other stamp catalogs for that matter? Not unless your stamp funds are unlimited. First, you only need catalogs for areas that you collect. If, for instance, you only collect Vatican, Italy, and San Marino, then you only need the Michel Southern Europe (Südeuropa) catalog, which covers Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Fiume, Italy, Kosovo, Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Trieste, Vatican, and Yugoslavia. (By contrast, some catalogue publishers go alphabetically, meaning you’d have to have three catalogs if you wanted to look up stamps issued by Vatican City, Italy, and San Marino.)

Second, buying a new set of catalogues every year may be overkill. Values change, and new issues of stamps come out every year, but stamp catalogs are not inexpensive, and you would like to have some money to actually buy stamps.

Third, Michel offers an online catalog on a subscription basis – see https://www.briefmarken.de/michelshop/de/online-kataloge . There are a few choices offered and you don’t want the Münzen option unless you’re looking for a coin catalog, but this may be an appropriate choice for some.

Whether you utilize a Michel stamp catalog or some other stamp catalog, you’ll find that the prices of the stamps on our website are usually less – sometimes much less – than current catalog values. We also clearly identify the stamps we offer for sale with clear images and helpful descriptions. So remember, while it’s tempting to buy stamp catalogs and philatelic accessories, it’s also a good idea to make sure that, as a stamp collector, stamps come first. Have fun shopping!