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Great Britain Catalogue Shootout — Match 1

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(Posted May 24, 2007)

Introduction

Stanley Gibbons Concise Catalogue Stoneham Catalogue

In the beginning, when I started to collect British stamps and dinosaurs roamed the earth, the Scott Catalogue was the most readily available reference work here in the United States. It was a satisfactory reference, with the exception of its annoying and misguided inclusion of sideways watermarks but not inverted ones, but I was naturally curious to see what was available in the home country.

On the other side of the pond, Stanley Gibbons reigned supreme. They offered a choice for collectors of British stamps, but not a particularly useful one. There was Collect British Stamps, at that time a thin volume (though nicely in full color) with a very simplified list of stamps. Alternatively, there was the Great Britain Specialised Stamp Catalogue, a five-volume magnum opus that was a bit (actually, a lot) more than I wanted or could afford at the time.

In 1978 an alternative that fit between the two Gibbons books appeared. The Stoneham Great Britain Stamp Catalogue was a single-volume catalogue with more detail than Scott or CBS. In addition to its comprehensive listings, it included several helpful identification guides. For example, there was a full page describing the differences between the versions of the 1955 – 1969 predecimal Castles high values produced by three different printers.

However, no good deed goes unpunished. Gibbons apparently decided that Sarum Publications of Salisbury, publishers of the Stoneham, was on to something. In 1986, Gibbons introduced the similar Great Britain Concise Stamp Catalogue. It was a near-mortal blow to the Stoneham.

Before Gibbons got into the act, the Stoneham had been revised roughly once a year between 1978 and 1985. After the introduction of the Concise, the Stoneham appeared only sporadically, a total of four editions between 1989 and 1998. The Concise, on the other hand, has appeared annually since its inception.

A couple of years ago, the ambitious Machin Collectors Club procured the rights to the Stoneham. In April 2006, they proudly produced the full-color thirteenth edition of the Stoneham. In a further strike at Gibbons, the MCC subsequently produced the Stoneham Simplified Great Britain Catalogue, a direct competitor to Collect British Stamps, which has been produced annually since, well, the age of dinosaurs.

The competition may not be too brutal, however. Gibbons has a two-page ad in the Stoneham and is listed as a contributor. Gibbons advertised in the old Stoneham, too; the 1988 ninth edition, which I have at hand, includes an ad for Gibbons Stamp Monthly magazine.

Since the Stoneham and the Concise beg for comparison, that’s exactly what I intend to do. This is hardly an original idea, but I’ll set this up as a shootout. Each catalogue gets one shot during each round; the best shot in each round gets a point. The catalogue with the most points at the end wins the shootout.

Of course, I have biases. You may well disagree with me regarding the winner of one or several rounds. Second, each round is weighted equally, but you may find one particular aspect that you like, or dislike, about a catalogue that essentially decides for you which one you prefer.

This first round pits the new Stoneham against the Concise. The Simplified Stoneham will face off against Collect British Stamps in the second round.

On to round one. May the best catalogue win.

Round One – Price

This one’s pretty easy and objective. The Stoneham sells for £15.95. The Concise lists for £24.95. It’s a significant difference if you’re on a budget. Round one goes to the Stoneham. Score: Stoneham 1, Concise 0.

Round Two – Size

Though the two catalogues are similar in size, the Stoneham is larger and thicker. The Concise is about 8 1/4" high, 6 1/4" wide and 3/4" thick. The Stoneham is 9" by 6" by 1". The Stoneham is nearly a pound heavier — it weighs 2 lbs 3 oz compared to the Concise at 1 lb 5 oz. Since the relatively compact size of these books is conducive to carrying them to stamp shows, the smaller size and weight favors the Concise.

It’s difficult to get a comparison of the number of pages, since the Stoneham is divided into sections, and each starts with page number 1. For the record, the Concise is 339 pages plus a few more for the introduction and advertisements. The Stoneham’s pages are heavier, and that’s a positive for a book that is used frequently, but I judge the Concise’s pages to be sturdy enough to withstand frequent use.

This round goes to the Concise. Score: Stoneham 1, Concise 1.

Round Three – Catalogue Prices

Everyone knows about Gibbons’ prices. They reflect Gibbons’ actual selling price for those stamps that are in stock and not promotionally priced, and presumably the other prices are what Gibbons expects it would charge if it did have them in stock. Gibbons traditionally prices its inventory at a significant premium over what other dealers charge, so their prices are not reflective of the market as a whole.

The Stoneham prides itself on having realistic prices. A banner on the cover hawks its “MARKET PRICES.” In the foreward, MCC founder and president Melvyn Philpott says that catalogue prices have been determined with the help of “dealers, auction houses and specialist collectors.”

The table below shows a sample of prices from the Concise and the Stoneham. Scott Catalogue prices are shown for comparison. I’ve converted the Scott prices to pounds at the approximate current exchange rate of $2 to £1 (ouch!). You can see that there are some striking differences between the catalogues.

  Gibbons Concise 2006 Stoneham 2006 Scott 2007
Description Catalog Number Never Hinged
(Unmounted)
Unused
(Mounted)
Used Catalog Number Never Hinged
(Unmounted)
Unused
(Mounted)
Used Catalog Number Never Hinged
(Unmounted)
Unused
(Mounted)
Used
Queen Victoria
Penny Black with inverted watermark (1840)
2wi   £15,000 £1,400 V1a – V12a   £4,000 – £5,500 £200 – £3,000 Not listed      
2 shilling brown (1880) 121   £15,000 £2,800 V282   £6,000 £1,400 56   $16,000
(£8,000)
$2,900
(£1,450)
£5 orange (1882) 137   £9,000 £4,000 V294   £5,500 £3,000 93   $9,000
(£4,500)
$4,250
(£2,125)
1 shilling dull green (1884)
(green and lilac series)
196   £950 £200 V385   £160 £90 107   $950
(£450)
$225
(£112.50)
King George V
“PENCF” error
chestnut shade (1912)
Note 2
362a £140 £100 £80 G16g £100 £80 £75 161b   $210
(£105)
$175
(£87.50)
£1 Seahorse (1913) 403 £4,500 £2,200 £1,200 G66 £3,000 £1,800 £800 176   $2,100
(£1,050)
$1,150
(£575)
1 1/2d Wembley Exhbition (1925) 433 £60 £40 £70 G79 £38 £20 £27 204   $45
(£22.50)
$80
(£40)
£1 Postal Union Congress (PUC) (1929) 438 £1,000 £750 £550 G84 £700 £400 £400 209 $1,400
(£700)
$850
(£425)
$625
(£312.50)
King George VI
10 shilling dark blue (1939)
478 £225   £20 B31 £150 £65 £14 251 $300
(£150)
$125
(£62.50)
$24
(£12)
£1 brown pictorial high value (1951) 512 £48   £18 B37 £19 £11.75 £8.50 289 $55
(£27.50)
  $22.50
(£11.25)
Queen Elizabeth II
Castles high values – first De La Rue printing (1958)
536a – 539a £575   £90 H5 – H8 £299 £180 £48 Not listed      
3d Post Office Tower – olive-yellow (Tower) missing (1965) 679a £2,000   £750 C123a £2,250   £750 Not listed      
10p Machin orange brown Type II (from Christian Heritage booklet) (1984)
Note 3
X866b £22   £22 M209 £10   £5 MH70D $35
(£17.50)
  $20
(£10)
31p Scotland Regional Machin Type II (litho, perf 14) (1985) S51Ea £120   £80 S70a £77   £45 SMH56a $100
(£50)
  $90
(£45)
Princess Diana set – Welsh presentation pack (1998)
Note 4
1338 – 1442 £150     C1292 – 1296 £57     Not listed      
Submarine booklet (two submarine commemorative stamps plus four Machins) (2001)
Note 5
PM2 £80     SAB12 £60     1971a $125
(£67.50)
   


Note 1: Scott Catalogue prices in italics indicate that there have been only a few transactions and the price is an estimate.

Note 2: A printing flaw makes the word “PENCE” at the bottom of the stamp look like “PENCF”.

Note 3: This 10p is scarce because it only appeared in the prestige booklet. It is the third one from the left in the linked illustration.

Note 4: A presentation pack is a cardboard folder with text, illustrations, and a plastic pouch for holding the stamps. Since Diana was Princess of Wales, the demand for the limited quantity of Welsh packs was high.

Note 5: This is the first in a series of booklets that contain two commemorative and four Machin stamps. It apparently was overlooked when first issued, and subsequent demand has boosted its price substantially.

I’m not in a position to judge how close the Stoneham’s prices really are to the market. The Stoneham’s prices are nearly always lower than the Concise’s, and to me, at least, they seem much more realistic. This round goes to the Stoneham. Score: Stoneham 2, Concise 1.

Round Four – Illustrations

Both catalogues are in full color, which is pretty much a requirement these days. Both picture all the gaudy commemoratives that Royal Mail has issued in recent years. Not surprisingly, the Stoneham pictures all of the different Machins in their respective colors with relatively good accuracy. The Concise pictures only a few to show the design.

The two catalogues treat the older definitive series the same way — the Stoneham pictures all the stamps, the Concise only shows one of each design. I think the Stoneham’s approach is more considerate of the collector, because I think it’s nice to find an exact illustrated match to a stamp.

Stoneham Machin illustrations without perforations
Stoneham Machin illustrations with perforations
At the top are Stoneham’s illustrations of older Machins that do not include the perforations. Below are illustrations of newer Machins that include the perforations, presumably to show the ellipses.

The Stoneham’s Machins have one jarring feature, though. The older Machins are pictured without the frame and perforations, just like all the other images. Newer Machins, since 1993, are shown as the complete stamp, with frame and perforations, on a black background. No doubt this was done to show the elliptical perforations, but the two types of illustrations, especially when shown on the same page, bother this consistency freak.

Image of 1865 9d in Concise
This is an unretouched image of the 1865 9d as it appears in the Stanley Gibbons Concise Catalogue.

The important difference between the two catalogues, though, is in the illustrations of older stamps, especially the Victorians. The Concise’s images are over-saturated, making the details of the designs impossible to see. The 1865 9d straw is not much more than a yellow blur (as you can see to the left), and the 5d indigo of 1881 looks like a solid dark blue square with a few white areas.

The Stoneham’s images are much better. They are slightly larger, and the difference in size matters with these monochrome stamps that have very similar designs. With the Stoneham, you can make out enough of the necessary details to insure you have identified your stamp correctly.

One other thing to note. Gibbons (like Scott) uses image numbers. Each illustration has a number, and every stamp has the image number as well as the catalogue number next to it. Since the Stoneham illustrates every stamp, image numbers are not needed. I don’t consider that either a plus or a minus.

This round is not so much won by the Stoneham as it is lost by the Concise because of the poor images of older stamps. Score: Stoneham 3, Concise 1.

Continue to Part 2

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