In the late 1970s a fascinating series of articles written by Mr. K. Kouwenberg about the history of Stamp Collecting, appeared in the Dutch magazine Philatelie. This series has been the source of inspiration for PostBeeld owner Rob Smit to rewrite the history of stamp collecting in instalments. This is Part 3 – The First Catalogue
Englishman and zoologist John Edward Gray (1800-1875) could possibly be described as the first stamp collector as, on May 6, 1840, the official issue date of the Penny Black stamp, he purchased several to preserve them as a collective item.
More about John Edward Gray later in this series because he still plays a major role in early philatelic history.
Around 1860, there were quite a few collectors and the need for a list or catalogue of issued stamps was great. That was no easy task. There was no collated information on the subject to compare collections and scanty data regarding postal administrations.
The first catalogue is attributed to Oscar Berger-Levrault (1826-1903). He was a publisher and bookseller and owned a print shop in Strasbourg, a family business established in 1676. He was an avid stamp collector. According to the German stamp magazine Illustriertes Briefmarken Journal from 1891, Levrault’s collection in 1860 contained around 350 different stamps. He then began working with fellow collectors to draw up a list of all known stamps. On September 17, 1861 the list was printed in his printing works and distributed among his fellow collectors. This was the first philatelic printed matter, and can be described as the first catalogue. The list contained no less than 973 different stamps. There were obviously some flaws in the list that was printed without pictures, but it was a beginning. Fifty copies of this first edition were printed. The British Museum in London has a copy of the September 1861 first edition. And in December of that year the second edition was published . The third edition in June 1862, had expanded to 16 pages. By 1864 ten editions had been printed. But by that time there were many others who were producing illustrated catalogues, most based in part on the pioneering work of Berger-Levrault.
Berger-Levrault continued his philatelic studies and in 1864 published a handbook. This German-language book with 114 pages was entitled; „Beschreibung der bis jetzt bekannten Briefmarken (mehr als 2200 sorten) nebst Notizen über die nachgedruckte Marken und eine Anleitung zur facility von Sammlungen’’, (Description of the hitherto known stamps (more than 2,200 varieties), together with notes on reprinted stamps and guidance for making collections).
In 1867 he published the French-speaking; « Catalogue méthodique descriptif et de tous les timbres-poste connus « . Shown above is a copy that was sold in 2012 by auction house Heinrich Koehler.
Berger-Levrault followed this on May 28 by publishing his first illustrated catalogue.