Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2002 / 8 Teves 5763

PC meets philately: one hit, one miss

By Mark Kellner | The marriage of personal computers with the hobby of stamp collecting has been interesting. For years, collectors have had various database programs, spreadsheet templates and other systems to build "want lists" of needed items, figure out how much their collections are worth, and even design and print album pages for their holdings. Using a PC can add even more fun to a hobby whose fans have included Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gerald R. Ford.

At philately's apex, in the U.S. at least, is Scott Publishing Co. of Sidney, Ohio, ( whose "Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue" has tracked every valid postage stamp issued globally for 135 years. The catalogue now spans six general volumes covering the U.S., Canada and the world, as well as a "specialized" U.S. volume that truly goes in depth to examine the various characteristics of the 155-year American tradition of issuing adhesive postage. (There's also now a "classic specialized" volume for stamps of the world from 1840 to 1940, but unlike its peers, it is released in a print version only.)

Most of the Scott catalogues are available on CD-ROM, and represent, I believe, an excellent value and a great reference tool. The CD sets (four CD discs are required for most of the volumes) are $44.99 each, the same price as the print catalogue, but here the differences end. The printed catalogue's illustrations are black-and-white. But the CD version features color illustrations for almost every stamp - the firm has been assiduously scanning images of real stamps to upgrade its print and electronic products - and you can view each catalogue volume's countries individually and directly: if you're a fan of stamps from the British Isles, the second CD in the Scott Volume 3 set is all you need.

Using Adobe's Acrobat Reader software, you can zip through the text and illustrations quickly and easily; the discs work on both Windows and Macintosh systems. I can only imagine what fun it would be taking a relevant catalogue file on a Tablet PC to an auction or stamp show and do some quick searching while shopping.

Less successful, but commendable nonetheless, is Scott's $69.99 "Album Wizard" program. This combines a binder, stamp mounts, pages you can pass through an ink-jet or laser printer, and software built on version 5.5 of FileMaker Pro, along with a printed, simplified U.S. stamp catalogue. Combined with a separate "image CD" of U.S. stamps, you can use AlbumWizard to create specialized layouts of album pages.

While the finished layout is certainly acceptable in many cases, there seems to be a lack of the extreme flexibility found in AlbumGen, a program from the creator of the EzStamp database ( AlbumGen functions far more like a desktop publishing program that has been fine-tuned for philatelic pursuits; Scott's Album Wizard is a good first effort. Also, the AlbumGen program draws from EzStamps' extensive collection of databases and stamp illustrations; for now, Scott Publishing only offers an "image CD" for United States stamps.

One positive about the Scott Album Wizard deserves mention: because it is built on FileMaker Pro, Album Wizard runs on both Windows and Macintosh OS 9 systems. AlbumGen is limited to Windows, which puts Mac-wielding philatelists at a disadvantage.

If stamps are your "thing," grab the Scott Catalogue CDs you need to make your collecting easier. These discs would also make any collector's Christmas a happier one.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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