The more I deal with catalogs (especially specialized catalogs) from other countries, the more I get frustrated with the Scott Catalog. I think my biggest source of frustration are the pictures, or lack thereof.
I understand that there’s not room to print a picture of every single type of stamp — especially for something like a definitive issue with a lot of denominations that look virtually the same. In this case, Scott uses a single illustration (denoted with its own number) and that illustration number is subsequently listed on all of the relevant issues below it. Here’s an example that makes sense to me:
Most of these stamps refer to illustration A5, which is above. The design of all of these stamps are substantially the same, with the majority of them only differing in color and denomination, and the several highest denominations having a different design, matching illustration A6. This makes sense.
Then you have this:
Stamps 248–262 each have their own illustration number. That makes sense, right? While the design is similar, the subject of each stamp is different — so a different illustration makes sense. The user of the catalog can quickly match the design of their stamp to one of the pictures to get a starting point on determining which stamp it is. (I only say starting point because I’m not super familiar with this issue, so I don’t know if there are varieties that aren’t on this page, etc.)
Now for the Problems…
The first major issue I’ve had with the Scott Catalog is when new stamps that are part of (or similar to) an existing issue are issued after the original issue. Here’s a listing for the Nobel Prize Winners series in Sweden:
Numbers 603–605 all have a similar design, but there is only one picture. Easy so far. Then there’s the bottom: “See Nos. 617–619, 637–639, 673–676, 689–692, 710–713, 769–772, 804–807.” That’s a lot of other numbers to look at. And here’s what one of those subsequent sections looks like:
No illustration. It refers back to illustration A137 which you have to search for (not visually!) in order to see if the stamp you’re looking for is similar.
I get that for someone who is well-versed in stamps from a certain country, this gets easier over time. The Austrian “Monasteries and Abbeys type of 1984” is a particularly egregious example, being spread out over many pages — but they get easier the longer you work with Austrian stamps. But for someone first sorting out stamps from a given country, it’s a particular challenge. I remember struggling with them when I was first starting with Austria, just as how I was struggling with some of the above when first starting with Sweden.
To make things worse, sometimes the illustrations flat out don’t seem to represent the subject matter. Take the below stamp for instance — I had to use an app to identify it.
This app is fantastic by the way, it’s called Stamp Identifier, made by the people over at Colnect, and along with Google Lens you can identify almost anything. I usually stick with this one, however, as it has been a goal of mine for several years to disconnect from Google as completely as I can.
The app identified this stamp as Scott number 740 under Sweden. Let’s look in the catalog for that stamp. Below are two pictures (from the same page) showing both some of the illustrations from this issue as well as the relevant catalog numbers.
There it is! Number 740! The denomination matches, the color matches, the illustration…number A174. Doesn’t even come close. This stamp is far different from A174 than any of the stamps in the series above with all the different illustrations. How would anyone who didn’t have a prior knowledge of Swedish stamps ever find this before there was an app?
I understand that Scott is already working with 6 volumes (in 12 books) that take up a lot of space. And every year postal services around the world are issuing even more stamps, which is even more pressure on space. There is no way that Scott could reasonably put a picture of every single stamp in their catalog. But if they could remove some of the useless duplication (like the 1936 series above) maybe they could’ve given number 740 it’s own illustration. Maybe they could put another picture on the subsequent Nobel Winner issues (or Monasteries and Abbeys!!) to help people who are delving into a new area.
Every catalog publisher, I’m sure, deals with this to a certain degree, but from what I’ve seen of the catalogs from a few other countries (Stanley Gibbons, Michel, etc.) they seem to have struck this balance a little better — or at least more consistently. And it’s not just because the worldwide Scott set is a general catalog — there are similar issues in the US Specialized catalog, in my opinion.
Striking a better balance with illustrations in the printed books could make these a lot easier to use for collectors, especially collectors that are venturing into a new area. And while it makes sense to not have an illustration of every single stamp for the printed catalog, the digital version definitely should — but as you can see there are some gripes about the digital version as well, see what Ted the Talking Stamp Collector has to say about it — and he makes very good points.
I do appreciate the catalog. I appreciate what Scott has done for many years, I appreciate that they have challenges and I also understand that they need to be profitable to continue to be able to provide information for collectors. But the examples above are the frustrations that cause me to recommend pretty much any other catalog for non-US material.
Andrew has been collecting since 2020, and created this website in 2022 to document his philatelic experiences.