Essential stamp collecting tools PT 2 – free stamp catalogues

One of the most important tools for any collector is access to decent stamp catalogues. Unfortunately, they can be expensive. Few of us have $600 to put down on the Scott 6 volume series. My favourite, Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth & British Empire Stamp Catalogue 1840-1970 is listed for $156.38 (Cdn) for the latest edition. Luckily, there are alternatives to new purchases.

Used stamp catalogues

One choice is to check your local library, thrift shop or second-hand bookstores for used copies. Older catalogues are excellent resources. I lurk around book sales and grab them whenever they are offered. Some of the 1930s and 40s editions have detailed information lacking in modern volumes. If you are lucky, you can pick them up for less than $5.

Some of my used finds include:

  • Sanabria North American airmail 1944
  • Sanabria World airmail 1970
  • Stanley Gibbons British Commonwealth 2 volume set
  • Scott 6 volume set 2008
  • Scott Standard set worldwide 1959 1 volume
  • Scott USA, British Commonwealth and Latin America 1960
  • Circle Squared cancels – Canada
  • Canadian Revenue Stamp Catalogue 25th Anniversary Edition
  • Stanley Gibbons Specialised – QV, KG, QEII all hard cover editions for $2 a piece
  • British External Airmails Until 1934

I have 2 shelves filled with older volumes and find them as useful today as the original owner did when they were new. It isn’t necessary to have the latest catalogue. If you are interested in current stamp values, the internet fills that gap nicely. Just search philately stores for their latest prices.

If you purchase a used book online, be wary. Check shipping costs carefully. I’ve seen some sellers charge up to $30 for a small, light pamphlet.

Photo of some of my stamp catalogues and albums

My messy desk is under there somewhere

Single country/topic volumes

If you specialise, individual country catalogues are better than larger books covering world stamps. Each of the major catalogue companies offer specialised books focusing on a specific topic or country. The 2021 Unitrade Specialised Catalogue of Canadian Stamps currently sells for $56 (Cdn). I purchase a new one every 5 or 6 years. Little of the information changes over the years and the only reason I update is to get detailed information for newer stamps.

All catalogues are not created equal. I prefer the Unitrade because it lists all the semi-official airmails. Scott and SG list official airmails only, so airmail collectors will find them frustrating. It pays off to do some basic research before committing to a specialised catalogue. Make sure it offers the level of details you need.

Catalogues in eBook format

Not everyone wants to look at the computer screen when playing around with their stamp collection. But for some of us, stamp catalogues in eBook form, are a great option.

PortableNot always easy to set up to access your laptop/tablet
Digital catalogues are in full colourMost digital stamp catalogues are subscription only, so you need to be online to use them
Easy to zoom in and see details
Less expensive than print versions

I bought the Scott Canada online catalogue last year for $14.99. I can access it via my tablet anywhere I have internet access.  I wish I could download a copy, but I understand why they don’t allow it – too easy to pirate the edition.  Stanley Gibbons, Michels and other stamp publishers offer the same options. I especially like the ability to blow up the images full screen size to see all the detail.

Free on-line stamp catalogues

It’s surprising how many free catalogues are online. You don’t need to lay out cash to access excellent information on your stamps. It takes a bit of hunting, but there are hundreds of quality sites out there.

Start with post offices. A number have basic catalogues of their products free to use on-line. India Post is a good example.  The pre-independence issues don’t have any numbers or info, but still useful if you are trying to identify a stamp. The site excels in newer issues. It offers both clear images and downloadable brochures of each stamp. The brochures offer info on topics, designer, and quantities, downloadable in pdf format. It’s ideal for collectors. If you are like me, you’ll download them and keep them on file for future reference.  When I save the pdfs, I rename them like this: India_2020_Sept. If it has an aviation topic, I’ll include a keyword in the file name as well. You can access their catalogue here -> I am currently searching for all such Post Office related catalogues as part of a spreadsheet I’m working on. I’m about 1/2 way through listing all post offices and when completed, will post it.

Another option is Colnet – a massive online stamp database. It’s searchable by topic, year, country, type, format, perforations, colours, year issued and face value. The best part of the Colnet system, is it allows you to focus on specific catalogue numbering systems. If I want to look at Canadian stamps, all the major numbers are listed.

Here’s an example:

A sample from's website information on stamps

Snapshot of type of info offered

Sample of photo of stamps available at Colnet

Canadian Airmail – allegory of flight

Keep in mind, Colnet is a work in progress. Some issues may be missing. This site is powered by the work of stamp collectors who contribute information. It’s free, and easy to use. Sign up for an account and get started

Specialty websites

If you are looking for detailed information not available in a basic catalogue, you can dig deeper into specialised websites. If you are an Indian airmail collector, for example, try It offers info on covers, stamps, airplanes, routes, and airlines.

Canadian cancel hounds should bookmark Postal History Society of Canada’s website for its in-depth explanation of types of cancels found on early Canadian mail.

These are just two samples of online resources put together by collectors for collectors. Google is your friend when it comes to stamps.

Next article in this series will cover how to use image searches to identify stamps. Check out Part one of this series below:

What are your essential stamp collecting tools?

If you are interested in stamp related merchandise, stop by my store and see if there’s something that tweaks your interest. A percentage of all sales go directly to Bitter Grounds Magazine. I’m hoping to spend more time writing, in the new year, and less time on the road fixing computers. Hopefully, the store will help towards that goal. Check out

Screen capture of a notebook for sale at Red Bubble

New items will appear each month.

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