English Catalog Reviews
Updated Comments for 2002 Catalog
Price increases continue at a rate notably faster than the general rate of inflation - this year's catalog is priced at $40, up another $2 from last year. Slightly offsetting the extra cost however is the fact that the catalog has grown by about another 25 pages (as one would expect due to the continued release of new stamps that need to be included).
Unlike the last several years, there have been no major changes to their basis for valuing stamps. But there have been some value changes, of course, and in their Letter from the Editor they make the interesting point that over the last year the US dollar has strengthened against most other international currencies, and so, for that reason, many stamps have dropped in price - as measured in US dollars - while remaining the same value or slightly increasing in their home currencies. This means that the decrease in US dollar price which has occurred for some stamps and countries does not point to a drop in the value of stamps, but rather an increase in the value of the US dollar.
The most noticeable improvement in the catalog for this year is a major project that has seen most of the earlier stamp images re-scanned. Gone are the older poor quality images with no halftoning and which don't show the perfs, and now most stamps are very much improved in their image quality and are framed with a black background to show their perforations as well. This must have been an enormous project for Scott and they definitely deserve a resounding 'well done' for the improvement in image quality which is now the case. I also noticed that they have included a few extra images, in particular for overprinted souvenir sheets, although some of these new images have not been numbered. These extra illustrations of course make the catalog easier to use, although I do long for the day when they might copy Michel and illustrate every different stamp. Sadly this is unlikely to occur, but one can hope, can't one!
And what about the values for Russian stamps? Scott says that there are more than 1,100 changes to Russian stamp values, which are mostly upwards, and in the range of 10-15%. They also indicate that MNH stamps in the 1938-45 period are some of the most consistently increased value stamps, a situation which is consistent with my auction prices realised observations.
Scott #1 increases in value for used copies. 2-10 stay the same. 12-25 show slight increases in used, as do 41-5 and many others through the imperial and RSFSR periods, with more increases being noted for used than for mint examples. Early USSR stamps remain unchanged in value until reaching the set 304-25 which reports a decrease in MH value from $79.80 down to $59.10 (including 323 reducing from $25 to $19 and 325 dropping from $17.50 to $12). The first notable increase occurs with the set 349-50,353-8 which increases from $33.25/38.85 to $42.50/50.00.
Scott does indicate that most of the changes are in the period 1938-46, although I noted a lot of changes through 1949 as well, and while Scott says that the price increases were generally in the nature of 10-15%, there were many stamps that increased by a great deal more than this, including some that have doubled in value.
Skipping ahead to have a quick sample of the early 1950s, very few changes were noted - maybe three increases in set values over a four year period of stamp issuances. There continue to be occasional increases into the early 60s, for example the two foil stamps 2533 and 2534 increase in value from $10/4.25 and $10/4.50 to now $12/5 in each case. Skipping further ahead to the early 1970s, a quick perusal of a five year period showed no changes in any values whatsoever. This is generally a significantly over-valued era (in my opinion). A similar scan through the early 1980s also showed no changes at all - an even more over-valued era (in my opinion).
The catalog features stamps all the way through #6635, issued on 5 April 2001, which indicates a much tighter turnaround between closing it off for updates and getting it to the printers than was the case in earlier years.
So, all in all, the catalog has vastly improved its appearance, and with a claimed 1100+ price revisions (but primarily in the period prior to about 1970 or so) it is probably a necessary item to purchase for the active collector interested in keeping on top of his values. It is regrettable, however, that the most profound price increase of all continues to be in the price of buying the catalog - an 11.1% increase in two years is hard to justify in this era of increased efficiency in computer assisted publication methods.
Updated Comments for 2001 Catalog
Scott have now published their 2001 catalog, which retails for $38 ($2 up on last year - their catalogs are going up in price faster than the stamps priced inside them!), and can generally be purchased for less through discount resellers.
The 2001 catalog contains yet another revision to how they handle minimum value stamps.
For the 2001 year they have increased their minimum value from the 15c value used from 1992 up to 20c. (In 1991, a 5c minimum seemed to apply.) While it is very true that no dealer can profitably sell one single stamp for only 15c, it also remains true that neither can the dealer sell a single stamp profitably at 20c, and in any case, very few dealer transactions comprise a single minimum value stamp. In other words, if Scott are attempting to put a minimum necessary transaction price on selling a single minimum value stamp, they are almost as far removed from commercial reality at 20c as they are at 15c. When you allow for dealer time to buy the stamp, sort it, display it, and then sell it, plus allowing for an underlying minimal cost of the stamp itself, it is hard to come up with any sort of pricing equation under 50c that makes any commercial sense for a dealer.
Scott's problem is that they are basing their entire pricing model around a marketplace fiction that just doesn't exist in the real world. In the real world, low/minimum value stamps are almost never sold one at a time, and it is a great shame that Scott has abandoned the policy it formerly had (and last shown in their 1999 volume) of attempting to create realistic set pricing in parallel with a fictional 15c per stamp minimum price. It is not uncommon to see set pricing in 1999 that suggests a "real" cost of 5c or thereabouts per stamp, but today in 2001, that same set will be valued for a sum four times higher!!! Surely it would be more useful for both buyers and sellers if Scott priced all stamps based on realworld "set" pricing and simply included the comment "note that if stamps are sold individually, we would expect them to sell for at least a minimum of xx cents a piece"?
Okay - so I shouldn't complain. According to Scott, all those boxes of CTO stamps that I have are now worth considerably more than they were prior to this catalog being published. Now all I have to do is find someone to buy them at Scott's suggested pricing!!! :)
The new 20c minimum also creates an interesting anomaly. Previously it was not uncommon to see low value stamps listing for 20c MNH and 15c for used. When Scott increased the minimum price it did not adjust any relative prices, and so now many more stamps are apparently worth exactly the same whether they are still crisp, fresh and new, or used. How can a trader now establish whether the 20c value reflects a true value or merely a minimum that should be discounted in a set???
What else is new in the 2001 catalog? Well, they now list stamps issued through 9 September 1999 (Scott 6533), which, interestingly, is only eight months further forward than the most recent stamp in the 2000 catalog (issued on 13 January 1999). This is, of course, disappointing.
Little profound change is seen in valuations, with no apparent "across the board" revision in pricing at all. Mint copies of numbers 2 and 4 both increase ($1500 up to $1750 and $4000 up to $4500) and the set 5-10 increases from $1210/310 up to $1300/317.50. Some slight firming in used copies of the sets 12-18, 19-25, and 26-30 is also evident. Of course, there are "swings and roundabouts" with some mystifying minor revisions downwards (eg used copies of 361 and 365 each of which go down from $1.15 to $1.10, although the other stamps in the set of higher value remain unchanged). The "never hinged" values of sets prior to 1946 (when all stamps become valued as NH) are showing quite a degree of strength, which underlines the maxim that quality stamps show better quality returns.
More recent issues (eg subsequent to 1960) show almost no upward price movements at all, and based on an initial viewing, it would seem that there are substantially more downwards price movements subsequent to perhaps 1970 than upwards price movements, although this can be confusing with the conflicting forces of downwardly revising some (real) prices but upwardly increasing minimums. An example of this is the set 4554-9 which in 2000 was valued at $3.85/$0.90 and in 2001 is valued at $3.00/$1.20 - the mint prices dropped almost 30% but the used prices rose by 30% at the same time! Another ridiculous seeming set of price movements is the set 4828-33 where the lower value used stamps in the set increase from 15c to 20c but the higher value used stamps decrease from 25c and 55c down to 20c and 40c.
Overall, it appears that there are very many more changes in pricing between the 2001 and 2000 catalogs than there were between the 2000 and 1999 catalogs (which saw almost no price revisions at all), but in total the overall appreciation in your collection's value as suggested by Scott pricing (ignoring the switch in minimum pricing policies) as between 1999 and 2001 is so small (or even a negative appreciation - a reduction in values - if you have a lot of relatively modern MNH material) as to make you glad that you collect stamps for a hobby, not as an investment!
There is one other very noticeable difference in this year's Scott catalog. They have used a new typeface - a "sans serif" face that is clearer to read than the former weighted serif font they had used in past editions.
The catalog features stamps all the way through #6533, issued on 9 Sept 1999.
Overall, due to the substantial revisions in pricing, both upwards and downwards, this is probably a catalog you'll want to purchase a copy of so as to keep your pricing information reasonably current.
Other Review comments relating to the 2000 issue and to Scott in general
Scott publish a set of world catalogs each year, typically in about the middle of the year and bearing the next year's date - for example, the 2001 catalogs come out in the middle of 2000. And therein lies the first problem. If you're sitting at the end of, eg, 2000 and looking at your 2000 catalog for information, the chances are you are looking at information that is as much as two years out of date.
This isn't necessarily a huge problem when stamp prices are moving slowly rather than quickly, and the biggest inconvenience is more likely to be the lack of information on recent issues. For example, in the 2000 catalog, the most recent Russian issue listed is their number 6489, that went on sale on 13 January 1999.
For collectors interested primarily in Russia, it is only necessary to buy the volume that includes Russia. For 2000, this is the volume 5, that covers countries from the letter "P" through to the letter "Si". It has a list price of $36.00, but can readily be found discounted below this.
There is little need to buy the 2000 catalog if you already have a copy of the 1999 catalog. As they say themselves in their preface, "there are relatively few value changes for a country with more than 7000 listings". The biggest change is in Scott 1, which increases to $4500 unused, $550 postmarked, and $275 with a pen mark (up from $3500/450/225). The next biggest increase is in the 1935 Spartacist Games set, 559-568, which increases nearly 20% from $85 up to $100 unused.
There is one major change in how they value stamps, however. In the 2000 catalog year they stopped discounting set prices so that all stamp sets are now exactly equal in value to the sum of the individual stamp values - a move criticised as being unrealistic and pushing apparent set price values too high. This was a reversal of a move they proudly initiated in 1992, when they advised that "as a result of consulting with supporting dealers" they had decided to allow set pricing to reflect real world prices rather than minimum prices. A shame that they have gone back on this decision, because now it is very hard to know what a set of, eg, five stamps, all showing a minimum 15c each value is actually worth as a set. For this reason, it is highly recommended that you keep a copy of your 1999 (or earlier) catalog.
The minimum value that Scott uses for any stamp is 15c.
Conventional wisdom amongst Russian collectors is that Scott consistently undervalues Russian stamps. It is certainly true that the values Scott list are well below the values shown in Michel or SG. However, this argument becomes something like "if a tree falls in a forest with no-one present, does it make a noise", because if Scott says that a stamp is worth whatever, there are very few ordinary collectors in the US that will feel comfortable paying way over the catalog price for a regular example of that stamp, and in this respect, whatever Scott says is the price sort of automatically becomes the benchmark price, whether you agree with it or not (at least within the US).
Scott gives good information on each stamp and its major variants, but ignores a lot of the lesser variants completely. Not all stamps are depicted, with most sets having a lead stamp shown and then varying amounts of description to identify the remaining stamps in the set (not always very helpful if you can't interpret between the Russian on the stamps and the English in Scott!).
Its back of the book section is particularly unhelpful for the confusing mix of stamps that were issued around the time of the 1917 Revolution, and it (correctly) separately the Newly Independent States into their own listings in their own parts of the six volume set - so, for example, if you are wanting to also check on some Ukrainian stamps, you'll need to buy another volume, and then another volume again for Armenia, and so on and so forth.
It also doesn't give printing quantities or details on who the designers were. It is not intended as a specialist Russian catalog, but rather as a general world catalog with sufficient information for most generalists, and as such, it does a good job. Furthermore, it is the definitive cataloging system for people in North America (and also the definitive valuation guide, too). It is very difficult to trade on eBay, for example, without having a Scott catalog from which to reference stamps.
I buy a new Scott every year, and you probably should, too, not because it is the "best" catalog, but because, in the US, it is the most accepted universal catalog that is most strongly influential in terms of suggesting values, and which provides the "lingua franca" of catalog numbers that all other collectors in this country use.
Stanley Gibbons (SG) publish both an annual "simplified catalog" and more specialised catalogs but on a less frequent basis.
Their annual simplified catalog includes Russia as part of the second of the two volumes of "stamps of the world" (with the Commonwealth being given its own separate volume) and the 2000 edition is priced at £28.50.
A distinguishing point about the Scott catalog is that it separates out airmail stamps and semi-postal stamps, listing them separately at the end of the main listing. Is this a convenience or a nuisance? I'm open minded about this, but increasingly feel that I prefer the ability to see these types of stamps in the context of the other stamps of the period, in sequence, rather than in a separate section and removed from the main part of the stamp history.
The simplified catalog suffers from one massive omission (and several less massive). It fails to give any perforation information. It will distinguish between perforated and imperforated stamps, but doesn't give details of the perforations actually used. As most readers will realise, perforation information can not only be critical in distinguishing one stamp from another, but also can be a key factor in determining if a stamp is common/ordinary/low value, or if it is a rare and very high value stamp.
This is a major weakness of this catalog, and renders it useless for much identification of some of the confusing (but potentially valuable!) early issues.
Another omission is date of issue of stamps. Yes, it tells you the year, but not the day/month.
Another more bothersome omission is their decision not to include mini-sheets in the catalog.
As would be expected, not all stamps are illustrated.
It is helpful to use this catalog in conjunction with their specialised guide (see below) so as to get regular updates on their catalog values during the varying number of years between updates to their specialised catalog, and it may be helpful to have a copy on file if you need to be able to refer to their catalog numbering system and do not have a copy of their specialised guide, but this is not a catalog that you could use as a prime reference piece.
At last! The oh so long-awaited fifth edition of their specialised Russia catalog finally was released early in 2000 after rolling delays for many years (it was always due in "twelve weeks" or so but, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, never appeared). The previous (fourth edition) came out in September 1991, so it was a very long wait indeed!
This is a very comprehensive - but not completely so - listing of Russian stamps. It also has sections for some of the other CIS countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Karelia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, as well as Tuva and Mongolia.
Their "back of the book" material, particularly covering the Civil War period is reasonably helpful, as is the section on Russian overseas post offices.
Perhaps the saddest omission from this otherwise good catalog is that they do not have a comprehensive set of stamp images. Similar to Scott, they show at least one stamp for each set, but then you are more or less on your own with some of the sets - this is not so much a problem when each stamp has a unique value, but when you have a set of five or ten or even fifteen stamps, all with the same identical value, being able to distinguish the stamp that carries, eg, a Tajikistan crest on it from a similar stamp with a Turkmenistan crest - easy if you can read Russian, but if you can't - well, heck, forget it! Michel remains the best catalog in terms of having a picture of every stamp, with no exceptions. However, on the positive side, the Stanley Gibbons pictures are of a very much higher quality (and generally of a larger size, too) than the Michel images, which are printed using a much coarser screen and not nearly as clear.
However, as a collector, one thing I absolutely love are some of their values - as much as thirty times higher than the 2000 edition of Scott (and that is after only comparing a hundred or so early stamps). Their value for stamp number 1 is about $6500, Scott's new value for 2000 for the same stamp is $4500, which is about as close as you could ever hope for, but some of the lesser value stamps have huge discrepancies (which is not to say that either catalog is either right or wrong; I'm merely observing what I see). Although SG usually prices higher than Scott, I have also found a few situations where they price lower. There truly is no logic to catalog pricing at all.
The minimum value that SG uses for any stamp is 10p (about 16c) but they qualify that with the comment that the minimum price that they would ever sell a stamp for (SG, unlike Scott, is primarily a stamp dealer) is 30p (nearly 50c).
Similar to Michel, and unlike Scott, it does not separate out what in the US has become known as "back of the book" (so called because Scott lists them separately at the end) types of stamp such as airmail stamps and semi-postal stamps, but runs them in sequence with all other issues in approximate date order.
Another nice touch in this catalog is that it provides information on who designed each stamp. In addition, it provides some useful commentary on some of the background to, eg, tax issues, and some of the social events of the time which helps to put the stamps into the context of why they were issued, what for, etc.
I like the fact that at the top of each page it gives, in bold letters, the year period that is covered on the page. This makes it helpful if you're trying to find a stamp that you know (eg from another catalog) was issued at a certain time.
The catalog runs in sequence from Imperial Russia, through RSFSR, USSR and on to Russia today, then puts all the various civil war issues and other stuff at the back after this main sequence. I find this easier to work through than the sequence in Michel.
The catalog also sometimes gives exact stamp measurements as well (measured from tip of perforation to tip of perforation, in case you wondered), but it is not so careful with perforation gauging. Generally it rounds up to the nearest half unit of measure, so for example a stamp that is actually perforated at 12 1/4 would be shown as 12 1/2 in the catalog. This is regrettable.
It carries a £24.95 price tag (about $40), but this is money well spent in order to get a second major English language reference work and an excellent supplement and massive extension to the information contained in Scott. It also gives a sometimes startling "second opinion" on the value of your stamps - while in the US Scott pricing will probably continue to predominate, it can at least give you a feeling for how close to full Scott price you should go when buying or selling.
Generally, I increasingly find that this is my favorite reference work - while not quite as excellent as Michel, the simple fact of being in English compensates in most cases.
This page last modified on May 15, 2010