Insulators and Computers

Cataloging and Labeling Your Insulators

Written by Bill MeierView Icon Profile

Collectors of all types find it helpful to catalog what is in their collection. Insulator collectors are no exception! Their are many ways to catalog and keep track of what is in your collection. For example, some people use 3x5 filing cards, others put small marks in the Price Guide. The methods I discuss here are all computer based. Most anyone with a computer should be able to take advantage of one of these methods.

What to Catalog?

Before using any of the tools I discuss below, you have to decide what information you want to keep track of on your computer. A few minutes of planning here can save you a lot of work later on. The most basic information you probably want to track is like the entries in the Price Guide; CD, primary embossing, embossing, base and color. You may want to include additional information such as book value, your cost, and the condition of the insulator. Still other information you may want to include is where, when, and whom you bought it from, special notes about this insulator, etc. And, a critical piece of information is a method that will tie this insulator listing to the actual insulator; some sort of "inventory number." I'll discuss that later in this column.

Word Processors

Practically everyone who owns a computer has some sort of word processor application. All computers running Microsoft Windows come with a basic one, and many people will buy a more powerful version. For the task of cataloging your collection, even a simple word processor or text editor will do.

Using this method is pretty straight forward; you type in the contents of your collection just as though you were using a typewriter. The power of the computer of course allows you to insert new entries wherever you want, and move entries around. However, you are just dealing with lines of characters, and the computer can not understand what part of the line is the price, and what part of the text is the CD number. Why is that important? Well, you might want to generate different lists, sorted by different characteristics. With this method you can't really do this.


Many people probably think these are only for managers to fill in numbers and keep track of budgets! However, most spreadsheets are really quite general, and allow you to enter text and numeric data in the cells. Here is our first improvement over using a word processor. Each piece of information we want to catalog is a "field", and you designate what column in the spreadsheet should hold what information. Each row represents all the information for a specific insulator. Now, the computer does know what a CD number is; it is whatever is in column 1! Because of this knowledge, you can have the computer sort your data in various ways. You may want to sort it by CD number, and then by primary embossing. Or, you can sort by price paid, either in ascending or descending order. You can sort it one way, print it out, then sort it a different way to create another print out!

In addition to being able to sort your data, most spreadsheet programs will allow you to filter or query your data. This allows you to just view or print a specific CD or most any other combination that you can think of! All this requires only very basic knowledge about your spreadsheet program.

Your spreadsheet program will also probably allow you to format the data easily. You can choose the font and size of the characters in each column and be able to control the width of the column so you can get a pleasing print out.

Don't under estimate the power of a spreadsheet. Elton GishView Icon Profile produced his entire Value Guide for Porcelain Insulators using a spreadsheet!


This is the most powerful of the applications available to catalog your collection. Databases are the most flexible way of handling your information. However, it probably takes a little more "computer knowledge" to be able to design and implement a database for your insulator collection. There are many database applications available, and the ease of use of each varies.

With a database, the underlying design is like a spreadsheet; a table of information. The database fields are represented in the columns of the table, and one entry, called a record, corresponds to a row. You can work with data in this table format if you like. A few of the advantages of a database is that you can designate which fields you want to sort on, such as CD, and the table will dynamically sort itself as you add new entries! Also you can add validation checks to the data. You may want to ensure that the CD is numeric, or that the embossing field must be filled in before you can enter the record in the database.

Most database programs also allow you to work with a form; a form is generally a view of just one record in the database, but it allows you to label the fields and "fill in the boxes", removing the need for typing data into the bare table.

With a database, you can also generate complex queries to "ask questions" about your insulators. "Show me all my CD 106's embossed 'Hemingray' that I bought over two years ago that are worth more than twice what I paid for them." While you may not have a need for that exact query, it does show you some of the power that is available.

All database programs also come with reporting packages to produce a printed report of your insulators. If you used a spreadsheet, and you had 25 CD 106's and you were going to make a print out, 106 would probably appear on every line. With the reporting capabilities of a database, you can tell it to create "record breaks" when a specific field changes. Thus, CD 106 would only be printed out once, and all your CD 106 insulators would be listed under that heading.

With a properly designed database, you can even compare your insulator collection with that of another collector, if you used the same database program!

Labeling your Insulators

With any system, computer based or otherwise, you will probably need to label your insulators such that you can relate a specific insulator with your catalog of your collection. Again, there are many ways to label your insulators, and a few moments of thought before you attack your insulators does pay off!

Some of the basic questions are "What should I put on the label?", "Where should I put the label?", and "What should the label be made of?" I have found that the simple method of an incrementing number works well. With the proper cataloging system, it should be easy to locate a piece by this ID number. Some people put the CD number and other information on the label. That can work too, as long as what you end up with is unique!

I find that the label should be as small as possible, and as unobtrusive as possible. You may think putting the label on the back is a good idea, until you want to display the insulator with the back facing the front! Also, some considerations are how easy it is to read the label as well as how secure the label is. My choice used to be to put the label on the outer skirt, on the right hand side just behind the mold line, until I found that having the label on the exterior made it prown to getting scrapped off after repeated boxing and unboxing, or when dusting the insulator. Now, I have switched to putting the label on the inner most skirt on the right hand side.

The final consideration is what to use to label the insulator with. Some considerations are how easy is it to make the label, how durable is the label, is it waterproof or water resistant (for those times when you don't dust your insulators and want to wipe them off quickly with a glass cleaner to get them sparkling again for that exhibit you are planning for the National!). I have found it easy on the computer to print a whole sheet of labels on a laser printer. No label is small enough, so you have to cut several smaller labels from a larger label. I don't find that to be a big problem.


I presented a number of ways which you can use your computer to track the insulators in your collection. In addition, I discussed ways of labeling your insulators. I do have one final word of advice: Don't wait until you have 500 insulators before you start cataloging them! The process is much easier to do incrementally, as you add new insulators. So, even if you only own a dozen insulators, I'd start some form of catalog of your collection! And also remember that an accurate catalog of your collection can be useful for insurance purposes.

If you have any specific or general questions, feel free to call, write or email them to me! I'll be glad to help you out, and develop a system that works for you!

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Last updated Saturday, May 25, 1996