Ridiculous to sublime
BOOK REVIEW: Stanley Gibbons GB Specialist Catalogue. Volume 1 Part 1.

I have been reading a book about stamps which is hilariously funny.

It is not supposed to be but is full of such nonsense you cannot help but laugh.

The writing ‘style’ of The Philatelist’s Companion is a cross between 1950s school textbook and what I describe as Philatelic Pretentious, you know, patronising guff pouring from every pore.It would be unfair

to mention the author, so wild horses will not drag the name Bill Gunston from my lips.

Reading his book it is easy to conclude that Gunston is obsessed with money and stamps as investments.


However, if he took his own advice, he would scarcely be able to afford a used stamp hinge.  Writing in 1975, on page 226 he advises his reader not to invest in property or land – they are bound to crash.


His stamp knowledge is no better, pointing out

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that expert collectors do not need perforation gauges, or any ‘scientific devices’ as they should be able to tell the perf and everything else about a stamp just by looking.  As Gunston says: ”. . . we can recognise a friend from among the city crowds without going up and measuring his face.”


 Hard to think he was sober when coming up with that.

Then there is his advice about older issues which can be summed up to be ‘do not bother looking for anything new, it has all been seen already’. As he puts it: “It is not worth your time spending many hours

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going through an unfamiliar catalogue” expecting you have something new because everything is already known.  Fortunately, all those who made contributions to the latest edition of the Stanley Gibbons’ GB Queen Victoria Specialist Catalogue ignored that Gunston gem. Now split into two parts, this first one covers Line Engraved and Embossed issues.

The 1d Black and its red successor are the most studied stamps of all time, so it is not surprising that most of the book is taken up with them; the reds responsible for over a third of the book. 

The research is impressive, some of it done by our own Graham Stockdale, but it is scholarship with a human face.

Gradually going is the school-masterly tone of writing, being replaced with something more readable.

The Historical Introduction used to start with:

“The origins of the Royal Mail can be traced back the medieval period

when messengers from the, often peripatetic, Royal Court carried the

sovereign’s commands to his representatives throughout the realm.”

Now it says:

“Although it was only in 1635 that King Charles I officially opened

his royal posts to the public, there were earlier systems in

existence to carry the mails.”

You can almost taste the chalk dust when reading the first piece, possibly written by someone who had mislaid his monocle. The second is a story being told by a friendly expert with a clear vision for clarity, in this case Douglas Muir.

The legibility is not only with the text but extends to new pictures, tables, and charts. The illustrations – now in colour – of plate repairs and the corner letters involved mean that plating is much more straightforward.

If you only lean slightly towards Gunston’s view that stamps are only for profit, there are plenty of ‘ordinary’ cheap 1d red imperfs out there, waiting to be discovered for the

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 diamonds they really are. Get this catalogue and you may  well find some. A good place to start is with the 1857-64 rose reds. You can buy a handful for a few pounds, but some are catalogued in the hundreds, if from one of the rarer plates.

Despite all the enhancements in this new edition do not think there is nothing else to find. There are sections in this Catalogue that have been transformed and completely re-written, and if this can be done after all this time, it is clear that the pursuit of knowledge never ends; already we can see where future editions are going to be heading. The latest work carries on detailed analysis of 1d Red plates from 45 to 91, this will, presumably, be extended further. Similarly, the work on embossed envelopes.


Even if you do not collect GB Queen Vic this is a handy volume to have to hand. Non-collectors must see hundreds of 1d red imperfs a year in the club books. How about taking a minute to see if they come from one of the rare plates? If I can do it, you can.


And if you do really get into it there is a chance your name will be on the list of contributors in the next edition.

Chris Forwood


Great Britain Specialist Stamp Catalogue, Volume 1 Part 1 is published by Stanley Gibbons. Price £54.95. You can order your copy by clicking here:

Specialised Stamp Catalogue Queen Victoria 1st Edition Part 1: Stanley Gibbons