THE STAMP ATLAS by W. Raife Wellsted, Stuart Rossiter and John Fowler (Facts On File: $29.95; 336 pp., color and black-and-white illustrations). It's been said repeatedly that stamp collecting opens an entire world to a collector. The same can be said of this handsomely produced volume, literally a history of every stamp-issuing country in the world, not since the dawn of time but from the introduction of the first postage stamp: the British Penny Black of 1840. By this time, the volume of mail in Britain alone had reached 50 million pieces, delivered by means of a complex and confusing system of determining delivery charges based on distance, weight and number of pieces of paper (an envelope counted as one piece).
The radical and far-sighted idea of charging a predetermined sum based on a national standard was soon adopted by other European countries and the United States and was followed--in 1869--by the Austrian post office's introduction of post cards, an innovation that was in turn snapped up by other countries.
Lavishly illustrated with maps and full-size color photographs of typical stamps of a given time or country, "The Stamp Atlas" provides collectors with a concise, yet comprehensive, history of the world through its stamps, tracing briefly the political, geographic, economic and social changes that took place in each country. Richly informative, easily readable, visually enticing, this is certainly not the usual dull book on stamps. Nor is it a catalogue, and doesn't pretend to be. This is an overdue and welcome general reference work, an adjunct to and enhancement of stamp collecting, compiled and written by two Fellows of the Royal Philatelic Society and a cartographer with more than 200 books to his credit.