Catalog Prices, What Do They Mean?

The prices given in stamp catalogs are intended merely to be guides to values. For stamps in great popularity the "catalog price" is likely to lag far behind the actual market value - the price at which dealers sell stamps. The reason for this is obvious for, since stamp catalogs are published only at annual intervals, they can not keep up with a very active market. On the other hand, for stamps that do not enjoy great popularity at the moment, the catalog price may be considerably higher than that at which you purchase the stamps in question. It is, in fact, impossible for any catalog to give you the exact price you may pay for any stamp. Thus catalog prices are merely guides to value. They inform you that, at the time of their publication and in the opinion of competent judges, the stamps listed are priced at what seemed to be a fair and true estimate of their valuation. Every beginner, upon his first reference to a stamp catalog, will discover that no stamp is valued at less than two cents. Here, again, we have what appears to be a misleading situation. Every beginner knows full well that he can buy a packet of a thousand different stamps for as little as two dollars - perhaps even for less.

According to the catalog price, a thousand different stamps of the very lowest price would be worth twenty dollars! And it most certainly would cost you twenty dollars if you were to submit a list of one thousand stamps to a dealer and ask him to pick them out of stock. It would take an experienced clerk all day to perform such a chore! The catalog price of two cents is a retail quotation for an individual stamp. In fact, all quotations given in any catalog are retail quotations, i.e. the price at which you might expect to purchase any given stamp. No catalog can, or does, attempt to indicate how much you might get for your stamps when, and if, you undertake to sell them. However, by ascertaining the catalog value of your collection, taking into consideration the situation regarding these cheap stamps, and the condition of your more valuable stamps, you may arrive at a general idea of what your collection should be worth in the event you wish to sell it.

Bear in mind that if sold to a dealer you must take into consideration the profit he will have to make in order to handle your collection. Catalog prices also perform another very valuable function for the collector. They furnish a basis on which stamps may be traded. It would be obviously unfair to trade a five-cent first issue of the United States for a recent stamp of, say, France. But we might well consummate a trade of our five-cent U.S. for a quantity of recent stamps of France that would have catalog value equal to our own stamp. We could effect such a trade "catalog for catalog" or demand a greater catalog value for our stamp. Whatever might be agreed upon, the trade becomes possible on a basis of catalog value. Such a trade might be effected between collectors or between collector and dealer residing at opposite ends of the earth. These things are made possible only because of the catalog, a very valuable book indeed to any collector. See that you acquire one early in your collecting activity. It might well be a part of your beginner's outfit.