The first Scott Stamp Catalog was published only 28 years after the first postage stamp was issued in 1840 by Great Britain. The original 21-page pamphlet, Descriptive Catalogue of American and Foreign Postage Stamps, Issued from 1840 to Date, Splendidly Illustrated with Colored Engravings and Containing the Current Value of each Variety, has grown with the hobby into the definitive reference for stamp descriptions and values.
Scott catalogs are published in English and directed primarily at the United States stamp collectors. Michel Catalogs in Germany and Stanley Gibbons Catalogs in Great Britain are important references in Europe and there are many specialized catalogs for popular countries, such as the Balefor Israel Stamps.
The publisher, John Walter Scott, was an early stamp dealer in New York City, and purported to list all the stamps of the world, with prices for each. A true business innovator, Scott conducted the first stamp auction and is recognized as America’s first major stamp dealer. Today the Scott Publishing Company, owned by Amos Press, continues with the catalog but no longer sells stamps.
From these modest beginnings the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog has grown with the hobby to become a six volume listing of the stamps of the world, plus two specialized catalogs.
The ‘Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers’ is the definitive source for information on the stamps of the United States and its Possessions, plus the United Nations.
Another specialized volume is the ‘Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue: Stamps and Covers of the World’ for the stamp issues of the first 100 years; The Golden Era of Philately. Covering the issues of the world from 1840 to 1940 or for the British Commonwealth nations to 1952, with specialized notes not included in the Standard 6-volume set.
The Scott numbering system is the foundation of the Scott Catalog success. Look on eBay or any stamp dealer stock and you find the Scott Numbers in use to identify the stamps. Numbers have been assigned, generally, as stamps are issued. Thus the #1 stamp for a country is the first stamp issued. Sometimes stamps are assigned numbers based on a set they belong to, even if the set took several years to develop. Because numbers are reserved for anticipated additions to a set, gaps develop if the anticipated stamps are not issued. If more stamps than expected appear, Scott will add a capital letter as suffix, or if the change is very recent, it will renumber stamps. Minor variations, such as shades or errors, get a lowercase letter; so the “C3a” indicates a variation (the ‘Inverted Jenny’ error in this case) on the third US airmail stamp.
Capital letter prefixes are assigned for special-purpose stamps. Examples are the Letter “B” for semi-postal, “C” for airmail, “J” for postage dues and “O” for official stamps issued by government offices for official government business . Minor variations, such as color shades, paper types, or errors, get a lowercase letter; so the “C3a” indicates a variation (error in this case) on the third US airmail stamp.
With the prolific rate at which stamps are issued today the addition of a seventh volume cannot be far away. This makes for a substantial investment by collectors and dealers as the catalog has grown not only in size but in quality. Today’s catalogs are printed in color on a quality-grade, slick paper stock.
Available in most libraries, generally in the reference department, access to a set of catalogs is essential to the valuing of a collection. While condition of a stamp is very important to the value of a stamp, the Scott Catalog Value of a stamp continues to be the starting point for valuing stamps. For United States stamps the ‘Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers’ includes a valuing supplement section with a range of 15 values per stamp to illustrate the market pricing for the stamps based on condition (Mint Never Hinged, Mint and Used) and then by centering of the stamp design within the stamp. Even spacing between wide borders on a stamp command a premium and are very rare on some stamps.