Evaluation of Selected Catalogues of the Stamps of France

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jim-fairfield
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Evaluation of Selected Catalogues of the Stamps of France

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Post by jim-fairfield »

I believe that for any collector the value of a stamp catalogue depends completely on how that collector wants to approach the stamps being collected. Here I am considering the stamps of France, and regarding these, for most Americans, Scott is the best for at least a couple of reasons: first, it is in English and the stamp prices are in U.S. dollars, and second, a very popular and long-running series, the Sower series, is quite easy to work with—no difficult types to identify and an overall arrangement that is simple and straightforward. And this principle holds true not just for the Sower series, but for many of the other older issues as well.

On the other side of complexity and difficulty are the two main French-language catalogues, Yvert et Tellier and Maury. Regarding these, there is for most speakers of English the language barrier—but also with these catalogues, the differences among the types of many of the older stamps are quite subtle and, at times, difficult to discern. So another downside with these is the amount of time it takes to identify many of the older stamps, with all of their subtle type differences. So some may not want to devote all the time it takes to use these French-language catalogues, but for me it is quite rewarding.

Now among the French-language catalogues, I am familiar with four: the 2009 edition of Yvert et Tellier, two editions of Maury, 2009 and 2013/2014, and a new incarnation of Maury, the 2020-2021 Spink | Maury edition (the auction house Spink assumed ownership of Maury in 2015). Since this last one is the latest of the French-language catalogues I have, I will be reviewing it in more detail in the second half of this article.

But some of the reasons the French-language catalogues are not so good for many collectors are the very same reasons they are actually good for others. In my case, the French-language catalogues are good because I want to go to a greater level of specificity with the types. I enjoy knowing more about whatever stamps I collect, and the larger number of types and catalogue numbers gives me a more elaborate structure on which to hang the philatelic knowledge—it is like having more hangers in my closet on which to hang clothes, the hangers being the catalogue numbers and the clothes being the knowledge.

The Stanley Gibbons catalogue of the stamps of France is also quite good. Of course, we have the advantage of it being in English, and when it comes to the number of types and catalogue numbers, it is somewhere in between Scott and the French-language catalogues, though closer to the latter. So if you want more specificity but you want a catalogue in English, you may want to consider this one. But the problem I have with this catalogue is that the explanations and illustrations offered for many of the types are rather difficult to understand, at least for me. I have actually found it easier to understand many of the same types as they are described and illustrated in the French-language catalogues, in spite of the need to translate.

Overall, for my purposes, the 2009 edition of Maury is the best of all the catalogues for France that I have, though the 2013/2014 edition has one catalogue number change that is good: from No. 257B to No. 257A. But in general, here are my reasons for considering the 2009 edition of Maury the best. To begin, Maury raises most of the types for the stamps with types to the level of major catalogue number from minor. Yvert et Tellier keeps most of these at the minor level. This is just a personal preference. Then among the editions of Maury, including the 2020-2021 edition of Spink | Maury, I like the 2009 best because it has by far the greatest amount of philatelic information, and what information is there appears to me to be the most accurate (for details, see my evaluation of the positives and negatives of the 2020-2021 edition of Spink | Maury, which comes next).

So now, for the rest of this article, my focus will be on the 2020-2021 edition of the Spink | Maury catalogue. I’m breaking down the evaluation into a listing of the positives for it first and then a listing of the negatives.

Positives for the 2020-2021 Edition of the Spink | Maury Catalogue. I am giving the 2020-2021 edition of the Spink | Maury catalogue two out of five stars because it still does have some value, though as you might guess by now, I would give the 2009 edition of Maury five out of five stars. The following are the positives I’ve found for the 2020-2021 edition. All page numbers refer to the 2020-2021 edition of the catalogue.

First: For Nos. 13 I, 13 II, 14 I, and 14 II on pages 41-42, there are now better verbal explanations of the types.

Second: Nos. 112 and 116 on page 214 now have better explanations to go with the illustrations of the types.

Third: For many of the stamps of the period 1900 to 1939, there are added photo illustrations for some of the minor catalogue numbers.

Fourth: For Nos. 235 IIIB and 235 IIIC on page 324, the photo illustrations have been enlarged a little, which is a help.

Fifth: For stamps issued during the period 1900 through 1929, this edition provides more data on the process of printing, specifically whether by flat plate or rotary press.

Sixth: In some places, the editors of the 2020-2021 catalogue are giving what appears to me to be a more accurate spelling of the name of the retouch engraver for some of the Sower stamps. On pages 286-287, for example, that person's full name is spelled Jean Baptiste L'Homme. The 2009 edition spells this person's last name as "Lhomme," which I think is a less likely French spelling—although of course, I am not absolutely certain what the correct spelling is, since personal names can be spelled in any way the owner of the name wishes.

Seventh: From the 2009 edition of the Maury catalogue to the 2013/2014 edition, a great deal of extremely valuable philatelic information about the period from 1849 to 1900 was removed; this was from around page 210 to page 526 of the 2009 edition. This is not Spink’s fault, since it happened before they assumed ownership. The Spink | Maury staff have been adding back issue-date and withdrawal-date information. But I am making this my last positive because I am not sure that the way in which Spink | Maury is doing this is a positive. Some of this information is different from that in the 2009 edition. At first, I figured that Spink | Maury was just turning up lots of newly researched information on these dates to justify the changes, but because of the lack of regard for historical accuracy I have found relating to many issues in the 1900 to 1939 period, I cannot trust these latest changes to the stamp issue dates in the 1849 to 1900 period.

Negatives for the 2020-2021 Edition of the Spink | Maury Catalogue. Since I do base my French collection on the Maury numbering, when I began looking at this 2020-2021 edition, I was not pre-disposed to find negatives. It’s just that the negatives have been a bit too overwhelming to ignore. After some research, I am noticing a pattern of a declining lack of regard for historical accuracy and completeness on the part of the catalogue’s current editors. So that’s the summary in a sentence. Here are the details. Again, all page numbers refer to the 2020-2021 edition of the catalogue.

First: In the 2020-2021 edition of the catalogue, Spink | Maury has changed the issue date of No. 188A (page 282) from June 1926 to Dec. 4, 1900 and of No. 188B from March 1927 to Dec. 4, 1900. They also changed the withdrawal dates for the two stamps from Dec. 1926 and Dec. 1927, respectively, to the end of 1919 for both stamps. It is very unlikely that these changes are correct. For one thing, these are Cameo Sower stamps. The earliest Cameo Sower stamp came out in 1906, and the first Sower stamp of any design came out in 1903. So 1900 is not even possible as an issue date for this stamp. Another sign that these dates are wrong is on the photo illustration of a postcard on page 282 of the Spink | Maury catalogue with a copy of No. 188A on the postcard. The original writer of the postcard dated it “28-7-26,” which in day-month-year format translates into July 28, 1926. So this use of the stamp would be several years after Spink | Maury’s new withdrawal date for the stamp (end of 1919). However, the date on the postcard fits very nicely inside the correct range of issue date and withdrawal date given in the Maury 2009 catalogue. My opinion is that Spink | Maury is totally wrong in making these changes.

Second: Spink | Maury in the 2020-2021 catalogue has dropped from its listings No. 257A, the 1929 Le Havre Philatelic Exposition issue. The proper place for this issue in the catalogue would be following page 344. Outside of a total mistake, the only reason I can think of for eliminating a stamp from listings is that the Spink staff uncovered information showing that the stamp is no longer valid as a French postage stamp. However, the Spink auction house itself, when it auctioned the Hermione collection in November 2018, sold a block of four of this very stamp for €1300. Also, I have found two different sellers on Ebay offering this stamp for fairly large prices right now. Both of these sellers are quite reputable and each have been doing business on Ebay for nearly 20 years. I would think that if this stamp were no longer valid they would know and would not be offering it—or if they were offering it anyway, at least they would provide a note about the stamp no longer being valid. There is no such note. In my opinion, this is a rather important mistake on the part of Spink | Maury.

Third: Spink | Maury in the 2020-2021 catalogue has removed identification information from No. 160 on page 260 that helped to distinguish it from similar stamps issued 15 years later, in 1937. In my opinion, not considerate of Spink | Maury.

Fourth: For Nos. 13 I, 13 II, 14 I, and 14 II on pages 41-42 of Spink | Maury, there are now drawings to replace the photo illustrations that are in the Maury 2009 catalogue. The drawings for Type II are fine, but the drawings of the lock of hair for Type I are wrong and do not illustrate the main point of difference between the types. The only reason I know that the problem is with Spink | Maury and not with me is not only that I have a copy of the Maury 2009 catalogue with the photo illustrations, but also, I have copies of a few of these stamps themselves. This mistake is more than not considerate of Spink | Maury. These old types for the French stamps are difficult enough to identify even with a great catalogue with beautiful photo illustrations. But in places, a collector can go temporarily nuts trying to use the Spink | Maury 2020-2021 catalogue.

Fifth: For the caption that goes with the illustration for one of the types of No. 129 on page 232 and the same for one of the types of No. 192 on page 286, in both cases, a type number is given incorrectly. Again, this kind of thing can drive a collector trying to use this catalogue temporarily nuts.

Sixth: For Nos. 202 I, 202 II, 257 I, 257 II, 260 I, 260 II, 261 I, 261 II, 261 III, 262 I, 262 IIA, and 262 IIB, all of the photo enlargements and the captioned explanations that go with them have been removed. So how can a collector possibly identify these types? Again, as I just said above, these older types for the French stamps are difficult enough to identify even with a great catalogue that has beautiful photo illustrations and clear captions to go with them.

Seventh: Regarding issue dates and withdrawal dates for many of the stamps of the 1900 to 1939 period that have multiple types: instead of giving a separate set of issue dates and withdrawal dates for each type, which the 2009 edition of the catalogue does, now Spink | Maury is conflating all of these dates for the whole set of types for a stamp into a single issue date and a single withdrawal date, with the issue date they retain being the earliest date of all the types and the withdrawal date they retain being the latest withdrawal date of all the types. From an historical viewpoint, this is a very inaccurate presentation.

Eighth: Spink | Maury in the 2020-2021 catalogue has reduced considerably the amount of background information on the commemorated subjects of commemoratives in the 1930s.

Ninth: The editors have combined Nos. 12A, 12B, and 12C of the 2009 and 2013/2014 editions into No. 12 of the 2020-2021 edition (see page 40). This change is not an improvement. When Spink | Maury combined these major numbers into a single one, they deleted a great deal of philatelic information relating to the original three stamps.

Tenth: For the two stamps shown on page 321 of the 2020-2021 catalogue, the pictures are correct, but they have the wrong catalogue numbers. The numbers shown are 154 and 155, but they should be Nos. 231 and 232. Nos. 154 and 155 are already shown correctly on page 253.
Jim Shead - Fairfield, Iowa

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spain_1850
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#2

Post by spain_1850 »

Jim- Good read. Thanks for posting all this great info.

Some of my own thoughts:
I, like you, believe Scott is a decent catalog for these, but for some other reasons as well. Here in the US most show dealers use the Scott catalog for identification and pricing. This can be used to the collectors advantage since most show dealers, who deal in general worldwide at least, won't be looking for the esoteric types and varieties listed in such catalogs as Maury. Finds can be made, by having that little bit of extra knowledge.

My own collecting "style" seems to mirror yours to a point. At a basic level I collect to Scott, for reasons mentioned above. But I also like to scratch the surface of specialization without having to dive too deep into any subject. Catalogs like Maury are perfect for me. I just wish every country had a "Maury-type" catalog. I would be set.

I bought a 2018 Spink/Maury, but I have never owned any others so I don't have anything else to compare it too. Going down your list of negatives for the 2020/21 catalog, it appears that some of the items you mention were intact, as you mentioned from your older version, but some were like the 2020/21 cat as well. Tells me that all the changes you mention didn't happen overnight, but were/are an ongoing effort. Luckily, I don't really plan on doing much with most of the modern issues so I probably won't have a need to keep upgrading.

One thing I really liked about the Spink/Maury I got was the relative affordability for such a detailed catalog.
Richard
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Post by jim-fairfield »

Hi Richard - Thank you for your post, and I'm glad you liked mine here. I could have gone on a little longer about how I use the catalogues to identify the stamps, but I cut it a little shorter since there may not be all that many people in our Forum who use the French-language catalogues.

But there is something more I want to tell you using a private message, so please check there also.
Jim Shead - Fairfield, Iowa

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#4

Post by jim-fairfield »

Hi Richard,

Some other thoughts on the latest Maury catalogue. In giving the 2020-2021 Spink | Maury only 2 out of 5 stars, to be quite honest, I should add that I was grading that catalogue against the 2009 edition of itself, and that edition is a very high standard. If I were grading it only against catalogues in print, I would give it 3 stars, perhaps more. The latest edition still has a great deal of information on the older stamps of France that is not easy to find.

Also, a philatelic writer that I have been in contact with has the 2016 and 2017 editions of the Spink | Maury catalogue, and he considers them to be quite authoritative and reliable. So certainly, there are other opinions than mine. Or also, there may be something to the gradualness of the decline -- his versions are 3 to 4 years old.
Jim Shead - Fairfield, Iowa

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