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Valira Torrent:   Contents | Subject index

Perforation image from Serif Art Gallery. © Serif Inc, 1996

Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 9 p1-2 (March 1979).

Copyright notice

Book Review

Catalogue National Spécialisé

published by Maury S.A., 6 Boulevard Montmartre, Paris.

The publication of any major philatelic work is an occasion of great importance, and when such a book relates to Andorran philately then it has for us an obvious and special attraction. Such an event took place last year when, under the aegis of the "Societe d'Etude Philatélique et Postale de l'Andorre" (PHILANDORRE), the much respected house of Arthur Maury published a splendidly produced and printed "Catalogue National Spécialiseé". ("Philandorre", by the way, is the Paris-based philatelic society which grew out of the "Section Andorre" of the Union Philatelique Libournaise.) For those who have not seen this prestigeous volume we give a few vital statistics:- 239 large pages (11" x 8") of excellent quality paper are contained within a hard and strong cloth-bound cover in dark green, embellished with the Arms of Andorra. There is an abundance of illustrations, mostly very good, many of these being of unique or very rare items; listings covering postal history, postal markings, maximum cards, meter marks, essays and unofficial issues; tables of postal rates, a catalogue number comparability table (excluding Stanley Gibbons!) and a philatelic lexicon; and notes or short articles on just about every aspect of Andorra philately from the pre-philatelic Spanish postal markings of the early 19th century to the French electromic sorting marks of our day. The price to Philandorre members at the time of publication was the approximate equivalent of £15, but the present cost would probably be in the region of £25 on the philatelic-literary market. These details will give the prospective purchaser only a rough idea of what he will receive in exchange for a not inconsiderable sum of money, so let us now consider more closely some of the contents of this book and our general reactions to it.

If we could sum it all up in one short word, that word would have to be -regret. In so many ways it is an entirely admirable book, conceived on a magnificent scale and executed with much taste and skill. It must assist in raising the status of Andorran philately from its former insignificance to a level of serious study which no appraisal of Gibbons, Yvert, Michel or Scott could ever convey, - and yet we feel, after all, a sense of regret that this otherwise fine work is marred by far too many inexcusable errors and inaccuracies. Had only one tenth of all the effort that undoubtedly went into its preparation been devoted to careful checking then our praise would have been full indeed. To list all the errors would be as churlish as it would be tedious, but since our criticism should be justified by examples we cite the following:- Wildly inaccurate figures for the quantities printed of many issues, and the omission of the readily available figures for recent French P.O. commemoratives; the listing of various dubious and bogus items as genuine regularly issued varieties; careless references to "Plate Numbers" in some of the tables when the numbers given refer not to the printing plates but to the type numbers of the illustrations; the reference to the Hotel Tax stamps as "Postal Fiscals", and, in the catalogue listings of some French issues, confusion between printing dates (coins-datés) and the dates of issue. In fact, several of the listings require a thorough revision, which careful checking prior to publication would have obviated, and although supplements will undoubtedly appear in due course to correct the errors and omissions it is indeed a great pity that an opportunity has been lost with this otherwise magnificent work, which should have incorporated all known accurate information which is available on the various aspects of Andorran philately.

Concerning the ever vexed question of prices, we can only say that although many appear at first sight to be overstated, the swift moving market of today is rapidly making them a reality. As far as rare and unusual items are concerned, collectors will be well aware that any stated price for such pieces can be no more than an opinion of the price at which they might sell if they were to come onto the market; in the event, such prices are very often equalled or even exceeded. We do feel a certain unease, however, at the inclusion and high pricing of such items as that illustrated on page 139, a picture postcard with an unissued 1932 airmail stamp affixed to the picture side and cancelled with a CANILLO single-line handstamp. Such items are sheer fantasy and have no meaning or monetary worth whatsoever. Rubbish of this nature seems to be appearing with increasing regularity on the French philatelic market, and we wonder whether the listing and pricing of such meaningless productions at 150 francs increases the amount which the uninformed are willing to pay, this in turn stimulating the appearance of more of these items..... One other comment on pricing in this catalogue, which is not necessarily to be construed as criticism is that no distinction is made between unmounted and mounted mint. It is as though our beloved Andorra has remained untouched by the pervasive insanity of recent years which believes in the sanctity of gum. Perhaps any future edition will reveal a change of attitude on this point by the publishers?

In conclusion, we feel an obligation to answer the question which will probably be in the mind of the prospective purchaser of the catalogue - Should I buy it? Our answer is that if French poses no problems for you, and if you are happy to spend over £20 on such a book and bear in mind that you do get a superb and very comprehensive volume for the money - and if you are able to take account of the many unfortunate inaccuracies, then this work is certainly a useful addition to your Andorran philatelic library. If, however, your collecting activities do not extend to a high degree of specialisation and you require a sound reliable guide to Andorran philately on a more modest level, then you may well find it more appropriate to buy Alec Jacques' "Andorra/Andorre", published by Robson Lowe, London, in 1974. Although we had felt that the "Catalogue National Spécialisé" might displace "Andorra/Andorre", this has not been the case, and we conclude our review with this comment.

R.A. & O.R.

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