These items go hand in hand, as the quality or condition of a stamp is an important element in establishing its value. Stamps that meet high standards command much higher prices!
How to judge the condition of a stamp: Many stamp collectors put stamps into categories according to their condition. If you are given a choice of two stamps of the same design, it is usually not hard to determine which one you would prefer. In most cases you would pick the stamp in the best condition. What are the factors that you may consider in determining which stamp is in the better condition? Let’s begin by examining the front of the stamp and then we will move on to key factors to look at for mint and used stamps.
Begin judging condition by looking at the following factors:
* Color – Is the color bright and fresh or does the stamp appear faded from sitting in the sunlight?
* Centering – Is the design on the stamp centered properly? On perfectly centered stamps, the design is exactly in the middle.
* Perforations – Are the perforations intact? It’s a good idea to check the perforation teeth to make sure none are missing or shorter than they should be.
* In General – Are there any stains, creases, tears or even pinholes in the stamp?
* Back of Stamp – Take a look at the back of the stamp. There could be a thin spot caused by careless removal from a hinge.
Mint stamps are in the same condition as originally issued from the postal service. This means it should have its full gum. Use the factors above to judge the condition but be sure to carefully inspect the gum on the back to make sure it has not been disturbed. If the gum has been disturbed it is no longer considered in mint condition and is called unused.
Used stamps are stamps that have served their purpose of paying for the delivery of a letter, normally as evidenced by a postmark or cancellation. Thus the cancellation is the greatest factor to consider when judging the condition of a used stamp. You would probably much rather own a stamp with a clear or a light cancel that does not obstruct the design on the stamp, rather than a stamp with a big black blotch that makes it impossible to determine what the stamp shows.
How to tell what a stamp is worth: Most collectors use a catalog to determine a stamp’s value, but you may be able to get an idea even without a catalog. There are three major factors in determining a stamp’s worth: condition, scarcity and demand. Condition was discussed above and can make a huge difference in value. A stamp valued at $5 in the catalog might sell for no more than 10¢ if it has a tear. However, if the stamp is in absolutely perfect condition it is possible that it will sell for even more than $5.
Scarcity and demand also effect stamp values.
Scarcity: A scarce stamp is one which is hard to find or exists in insufficient quantities to meet demand. As a beginner it is difficult for you to have an idea of how many of any one stamp may exist. However, there are some clues. The denomination of a stamp and the type of a stamp can play a role in scarcity.
Denomination – Most stamps are used to pay first-lass rates and fewer stamps are used to pay for services like Express or Priority Mail. Thus, typically the higher the denomination of a stamp the fewer printed and the fewer used. For example, the U.S. Columbian Series issued in 1893 had stamps in denominations ranging from one cent to $5. Two cents paid the first-class rate at the time so 1,464,588,750 of these were printed while only 27,350 were printed of the $5 value. Today you can find the 2-cent stamp in a dealers nickel box while a used copy of the $5 stamp will cost you about $2,000. This also helps disprove the popular misconception that the older the stamp, the more valuable it is. Both of these stamps were issued at the same time!
Stamp Type – Remember commemoratives are usually printed in smaller quantities than definitives. Thus a 33-cent commemorative will probably be worth more than a 33-cent definitive.
Demand: Demand is determined largely by the number of collectors interested in a stamp. A stamp has little value if there are more than enough copies to meet the needs of the collectors, or if very few collectors want the stamp no matter how rare it is. On the other hand a stamp will have more value if there are lots of collectors that want it but very few of that stamp are available. For example, because there are more collectors in the United States, demand will typically be higher for U.S. stamps than for stamps from Paraguay, meaning that if both countries issue a stamp in the same quantity, the U.S. stamp will be more valuable.
These principles also explain why the 6-cent U.S. stamp honoring Walt Disney is worth a little more than most other U.S. 6-cent commemoratives. In addition to collectors of U.S. stamps you also have collectors of Disney topicals who want that stamp, so demand is up and most likely the value is, too. Similarly, there are fewer collectors of revenue stamps than there are of airmail stamps. So a revenue stamp issued in the same quantity as an airmail stamp will likely be worth much less.
So, keep your stamps in good shape by storing and handling them properly. As the condition of your stamps will determine their value – should you ever decide to sell them. And, don’t worry too much about trying to find a rare or high demand stamp — it’s your collection — the time, effort, and fun you spent on putting your collection together is worth its weight in gold.