The Literature of Stamps

[This is taken from Edward J. Nankivell's Stamp Collecting As a Pastime, originally published in 1902.]

Few hobbies, if any, can boast of such a varied and extensive literature as stamp collecting. Expensive works have been published on the postal issues of most countries. They have been published in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish. Those published in English alone would make a library of some hundreds of volumes.

From its foundation, in 1869, the Philatelic Society of London has set itself the task of studying and writing up the postal history of Great Britain and her Colonies. Towards the accomplishment of this great task, it has already presented its members with splendid monographs on the Australian Colonies, the Colonies of North America, of the West Indies, of India and Ceylon, two volumes on the British Colonies of Africa, a separate monograph on Tasmania, and last, and most ambitious of all, a massive and comprehensive history of the postal issues of Great Britain. All these works are expensively illustrated with a profusion of full-page plates and other illustrations, and they represent years of patient toil, far-reaching investigation, and untiring research. The History of the Adhesive Postage Stamps of Europe has been written in two volumes by Mr. W. A. S. Westoby, and  the same author, in collaboration with Judge Philbrick, some twenty years ago published a work on The Postal and Telegraph Stamps of Great Britain. Messrs. W. J. Hardy and E. D. Bacon, in a work entitled The Stamp Collector, have sketched the general history of postage stamps. Other works too numerous to mention here have been written from time to time for the edification of the stamp collector, and the list is continually being increased by the addition of even more important works.

One of the most interesting and comprehensive series of philatelic works, still in course of publication, was commenced by Messrs. Stanley Gibbons, Ltd., in 1893, in the form of philatelic handbooks. These handbooks are written by leading philatelic authorities. Each important country, i.e. important from the stamp collector's point of view, has a separate volume devoted to it, and into each handy volume is condensed as much as may be necessary to guide the advanced collector in specialising the postal issues of the country which he favours. There have already been published:—Portuguese India, by Mr. Gilbert Harrison and Lieut. F. H. Napier, R.N.; South Australia, by Lieut. F. H. Napier and Mr. Gordon Smith; St. Vincent, by Lieut. F. H. Napier and Mr. E. D. Bacon; Shanghai, by Mr. W. B. Thornhill; Barbados, by Mr. E. D. Bacon and Lieut. F. H. Napier; Reprints and their Characteristics, by Mr. E.D. Bacon; and Grenada, by Mr. E. D. Bacon and Lieut. F. H. Napier.

For the instruction of the beginner, Major Evans, R.A., has compiled an excellent glossary of philatelic terms, under the title of Stamps and Stamp Collecting; and there is, further, A Colour Dictionary, by Mr. B. W. Warhurst, designed to simplify the recognition and determination of the colours and shades of stamps—a by no means unimportant matter when the value of a stamp depends upon its shade.

But the most popular of all the philatelic publications are, of course, the monthly periodicals. The first stamp journal is said to have been The Monthly Intelligence, published at Manchester in 1862. It had but a short life of ten numbers out of the twelve required to complete Vol. I. But other journals followed in rapid succession, with more or less success, from year to year, till in 1893 a list of the various ventures in this line totalled up to nearly a couple of hundred. The Stamp Collectors' Magazine, started in 1863, may be said to survive in Alfred Smith and Son's Monthly Circular; The Philatelic Record, established in 1879, is now in its twenty-fourth yearly volume; Gibbons' Monthly Journal is in its twelfth yearly volume; and The London Philatelist is in its eleventh yearly volume; and all may be said to be going strong. How many ordinary periodicals can boast of equally robust lives? And yet some people are still to be found who speak in all seriousness of stamp collecting as only a passing craze.

Properly speaking, tradesmen's catalogues can scarcely be regarded as literature, and yet it would be very remiss on my part to close this chapter without a reference to the excellent catalogues with which stamp collectors are provided. What other hobby can boast of such comprehensive and detailed catalogues, giving the actual selling price of almost every item, and regularly revised and brought up to date from year to year? Messrs. Stanley Gibbons' Priced Catalogue is comprised in four volumes:—Part I., The British Empire, 244 pages; Part II., Foreign Countries, 458 pages; Part III., Local Postage Stamps, 122 pages; Part IV., Envelopes, Post Cards, and Wrappers, 317 pages; in all, 1,141 closely printed double-column pages of small type, with thousands of illustrations. This excellent catalogue is at once guide, philosopher, and friend to the stamp collector. Some people irreverently style it "the Philatelist's Bible." It does not profess to be anything more or less than a mere catalogue of goods for sale, but it is an open secret that it represents the combined work and the combined knowledge of the best Philatelists of the day, and that neither trouble nor expense is spared to include within its pages everything that a collector needs to know to enable him to gather his treasures together, and to arrange them in the best possible and most authoritative order.

Much the same story might be told of the literature of stamp collecting in other countries. In the United States, in France, and in Germany there are numbers of robust periodicals, some stretching back into the early days, and there are scores of volumes of philatelic lore, many of which find a well-deserved place on the shelves of English collectors.

As an indication of the value attached to philatelic literature, I may mention the fact that an English collector recently paid over £2,000 for a by no means complete collection of works relating to stamp collecting.





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