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The Compleat Philatelist by Herman Herst

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The Bottom Line

Like The Poetics of Aristotle, which is still the basic guide for the creation of theatrical drama, Herst’s The Compleat Philatelist offers timeless advice for the stamp collector. He offers no promise to make you rich overnight through stamps, but if you follow his wide ranging discussions about the hobby, in the long run you can’t help but come out ahead. It’s a certainty you will be ahead in knowledge and enjoyment of the pursuit of stamp collecting. But in all likelihood, you will also be better off financially.


  • Friendly, conversational tone draws reader into Herst's world of stamps.
  • A great starting point for those who want to take their collecting pursuits to the next level.
  • Herst’s presentation makes the step from stamp collector to philatelist a logical one.


  • Some of the book may seem dated to younger, Internet savvy stamp collectors.


  • A book for those who want to go beyond the basics and build a strong foundation to becoming a knowledgeable philatelist.
  • Written by a stamp dealer who truly believed that the real value of the stamp collecting hobby is more than money.
  • Though just a beginning of a stamp collecting education, the book touches on many essential parts of the hobby.

Guide Review - The Compleat Philatelist by Herman Herst

Herman Herst started his stamp dealing way back in the 1930’s when the slogan "the king of hobbies and the hobby of kings" was the buzz-phrase to help get more people to become collectors. What a quaint way, certainly out of date today. Or is it? The current president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy is a stamp collector, as was Franklin Roosevelt, the U.S. president in Herst's day.

There was real action and at times intrigue in the world of stamp collecting in author Herst's day, and although the basic philatelic knowledge and facts he lays down are solid, the picture he paints of the stamp collecting world is loaded with history and nostalgia, as different from today's collecting world as a biplane is to the space shuttle.

So if Herst offers an historical view, more than a current one, we can look at the book from the perspective of history and appreciate what was. Still the knowledge presented here is solid: From cancels, to auctions, to forgeries, to local stamps, to proofs and essays, to buying the right stamps for investment, to covers, to sand dunes ripoffs, to the honest and occasionally-found shady stamp dealer, to the difference between a stamp collector and a philatelist, Herst’s The Compleat Philatelist (The Washington Press, 1979) is a philatelic master’s degree in about 100 pages.

Those collectors who consider buying the latest issues at the post office (not a an activity recommended by Herst) can mend their ways, or go on their merry way and not worry about what is in his book, as far as Herst is concerned. He can be brutally honest in cases like this, asking “Who told you this was stamp collecting?” But it is best considered tough love, offered in the service of imparting knowledge to the serious collector.

I don’t mean to give the impression that Herst's presentation is dry or humorless. His book is salted with quotes like this one from the chapter How To Prepare A Collection For Sale: “Another common failing of the collector who is attempting to sell his stamps is the gosh-awful mess of cheap and worthless debris that surrounds his choice gems. We have been offered collections that came in the most varied assortment imaginable of cigar boxes, pull cases, pliofilm bags from the dry cleaner, corn flakes containers, and once even a thermos bottle.”

I remember some time ago, before the Internet, at an airmail collector’s club meeting there was discussion about how to attract new and younger collectors, “Because if we don’t there will come a time when our little pieces of paper will become worthless because there will be no one to buy them.” Being a relatively new collector at the time, I couldn’t imagine such a thing occurring. But the old timer who spoke at that meeting saw the bigger picture and was ringing the alarm bell. Well, Herst was already ringing that bell back in 1979, when he bemoaned uninformed collectors wasting their money and time buying stamps for “investment” that would ultimately be sold by them at a discount. And sadly, he knew that the very collectors who needed his advice were the least likely to ever expose themselves to it. Do yourself, your collection and your future a favor. Read Herman Herst’s The Complete Philatelist.

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