One of the great frustrations I have as a worldwide collector with a penchant for specialized varieties is the lack of cross-references between different catalogue identification systems. Between the general global catalogues (Scott, Michel, Gibbons and Yvert et Tellier) and the more specialized catalogues that tend to be country-specific, the amount of information is of course staggering.
One of the great benefits of the internet revolution for philately has the been rise of a truly global marketplace for philatelic material. Sites such as Delcampe, Zillionsofstamps and, until recently, Bidstart, as well as general marketplace ebay and the multitude of indiviual stamp dealer web sites provide the collector of the twenty-first century with a cornucopia of options in terms of being able to find the stamps desired at the best price.
There is a major limit to this global marketplace, however. Dealers still depend on their national-based catalogue identification systems to offer their material to customers. For collectors in other nations, this can be a major inconvenience if, for example, a dealer has an excellent stock identified according to the Michel system, but the collector uses Scott or Gibbons or a specialized catalogue. Unless one has ready access to a Michel, or is willing to try and figure out what the Michel IDs equate to in their own catalogue system, many collectors will often simply avoid dealing with dealers who do not use "the same catalogue" that they do.
Unfortunately, there does not appear to be much chance of creating a truly universal stamp identification system. The Universal Postal Union, through its World Association for the Development of Philately, has attempted to create such a system, and has catalogued all submissions from postal authorities since 2002 with their system. It's a bit of a clunky system to be honest, and only covers the period from 2002 forward, and depends on national postal administrations submitting material to be catalogued.
For philatelic material created before 2002, there is not even this attempt to create a global system. There are a few online websites that have tried to fill the gap, such as colnect or stampworld but their system is not accepted by most dealers, and their attempts at valuation of material seems to be based on the phases of the moon as much as real world prices. Any new system of stamp identification would of course want to be able to create valuations, which is probably why most of the national-based stamp catalogue producers have been less than welcoming of any rivals.
While stamp market valuation is something that most currently-published catalogues regard as something to protect, the actual identification systems used are very much used in reference works to provide a common point of reference for the author and the reader regarding the philatelic items under discussion. And so long as no attempt to market to retail any research that utilizes specific catalogue identification systems, their use is deemed to be fair use.
One of the greatest developments of the internet revolution has been the rise of Wikipedia, which has become -the- refence site for information for the internet generation. Unfortunately, while there has been a couple attempts to create a Wikibook World Stamp Catalogue, it has generally withered on the vine due to the size of the project and some of the copyright limitations (especially regarding the use of images to illustrate stamps) that Wikipedia maintains.
Having said that, a Wikibook World Stamp Catalogue that included cross-reference information for the various stamp identification listings in the various national catalogues, even without valuation, would be an informational resource that, I think, many collectors around the world, would find highly useful.
And so, I have decided to launch on a very ambitious philatelic project - to revive the Wikibook World Stamp Catalogue so that it includes catalogue numbers (BUT NOT VALUATIONS) of the various national cataloguing systems, so that all the relevant information is available in a convenient format. Either I am dedicated, crazy or a masochist to try and accomplish this, but I think that the benefits to the philatelic community if the project can be completed will be immense.
One good thing about this project is that much of the nuts and bolts groundwork has already been done by previous editors. A standardized template for stamp listings exists, so that all that needs to be done is enter the relevant data. For me this includes both general catalogue IDs and the relevant specialized catalogue IDs. For French colonies, this would be to add Maury numbers in addition to Scott, Michel, Gibbons and Yvert.
For the moment, I am limiting myself to simple database entry with fairly detailed descriptions. The sticky world of image copyrights and Wikipedia's often very narrow interpretation of national copyright laws means that adding images is a task better left for later. In general, most nations no longer claim copyright on stamps 70 years after release, though some nations are less (the US Postal Service only claims copyright for stamps issued since 1 Jan 1978, for example) while others are even longer (Mexico for example claims copyright on all items since the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1917!)
In the end this means that for most nations, the classic period stamps can be uploaded, but you need to include all sorts of information with each image submitted. A project for later, as I think more useful for collectors at this point will be the cross reference Catalogue ID listings.
One of the nice benefits of Wikipedia is its flexibility. It is very easy to edit, and its hyperlinking functions means that one can link articles on the subject matter of a stamp to the listing with little hassle.
So I am off on a new philatelic adventure. It might be something akin to Don Quixote and the windmills, but nothing is ever gained without making the effort to try and achieve the goal.
And I have finished my first postal administration. The French Post Office In Morocco issues from 1891 to 1912, before the proclamation of the French Protectorate. Please feel free to check out the link to get a visual idea of what I am planning to do.
And of course if there are others interested in volunteering on this crusade of a project I am undertaking, please drop me a note here and we can talk.