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Stamp catalogues are listings of all the stamps issued around the world since the very first stamp in 1840.

Catalogues are produced with a wide range of collectors in mind. Some provide an extremely useful basic listing of the stamps, well illustrated, often in colour. Others go into far more detail, and are really only helpful to those who have been collecting for some time.

While many stamp catalogues list the stamps under the name of the country of issue, some are produced for thematic collectors.

Stamp catalogues show you what stamps have been issued, and provide much information about the stamps.

A stamp catalogue can give you lots of information, some of which you may not need.

First, it will describe the designs of stamps. This is very useful if you are looking for stamps for your own theme. It also helps you write a short description on your album pages.

Do note that not all the stamp designs are illustrated, so you need to check through the written descriptions.

The reason the stamps were issued will be given, and the date on which they were first released.

It will tell you who designed the stamps, and who printed them and the method of printing.

You will find about the watermark and perforations.
And also the face value of the stamp, (that is how much is cost to buy at the time) plus any variations that might have appeared.

There will also be a price for both unused and used stamps. However, do note that these are the prices charged if you buy the stamps from the dealer who produced the catalogue. You can often buy them cheaper: they are certainly not what you would get if you sold your stamps.

When a stamp is as bought over a post office counter, and has never been on a letter, it is known as unused (if it has all its gum, it is called mint).

Once a stamp has been on an envelope, and a postmark applied, then the stamp is said to be used.

The tiny holes around the edge of a stamp, intended to help tear stamps apart, are called the perforations. You may be surprised to learn that different sized holes are used, and stamp collectors measure the size by counting the number of holes in a length of 2cm.

There are gauges available which help you to measure the size of the perforations. Often two stamps can look identical, but can differ in the size of their perforations.

Very often in the past stamps were printed on paper which contained a design which could only be seen when the paper was held up to the light. If you take a banknote, and hold it up, you will see a watermark. Today far fewer stamps have watermarks.

Many different processes are used, but most stamps these days are printed by a process called lithography.

However, many stamps from the British Post Office are printed in photogravure.

The stamp on the left is printed lithographically, the one on the right by photogravure - notice how much crisper lithography which is why old stamps look so good, despite being printed perhaps 150 years ago.