The Importance of Condition – A guide to Stanley Gibbons’ definition of ‘fine’ The prices in the Stanley Gibbons Catalogues are for stamps in ‘fine condition’ – but what exactly does ‘fine’ mean, and what effect might a slight defect have upon the price?
News-Antique.com - Dec 15,2010 - We visit Stanley Gibbons Specialist Stamp Department to find out what exactly, ‘fine’ means and how slight defects may affect the price.
To quote in full the relevant paragraph in the introduction to the current Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth and British Empire Stamps Catalogue;
‘The prices quoted in this catalogue are the estimated selling prices of Stanley Gibbons Ltd at the time of publication. They are, unless it is specifically stated otherwise, for examples in fine condition for the issue concerned. Superb examples are worth more, those of a lower quality, considerably less.’
This single paragraph is probably the most significant piece of information in the entire catalogue – but one that is frequently ignored or forgotten. The big question, of course, is just how much more is ‘more’ and how much less is ‘less’? Not surprisingly, the ability to answer that question depends on experience.
A knowledgeable philatelist will be able to assess fairly quickly what the price of a particular stamp should be in relation to that quoted in the catalogue. Many sellers, however, both professional and collector, find it simpler to price items for sale by a standard percentage of ‘catalogue’; probably only marking down those that are actually damaged. This can mean that stamps in better than ‘fine’ condition are underpriced, while poorer ones are too expensive; something which buyers need to bear in mind.
Talking to the experts, it quickly becomes obvious that every single feature of a stamp needs to be considered separately before a judgement on its overall condition can be passed. So this article will look at each of those features individually, before drawing them all together and attempting to assess how much more than catalogue price a superb example might be worth and, conversely, how low a price should be put on one of lower quality.
This would seem to be a relatively easy one – after all it says in the catalogue;
‘The prices for unused stamps of Queen Victoria to King George V are for lightly hinged examples. Unused prices for King Edward VIII to Queen Elizabeth issues are for unmounted mint.’
Well, at least the definition of unmounted is pretty clear, while lightly hinged means, in theory, a single hinge mark, although, apparently, two or three might be acceptable if the hinges have been lightly applied and carefully removed.
The stamps printed by De La Rue for the majority of Colonial postal administrations during the first three decades of the twentieth century have stood up reasonably well to stamp hinges, so finding lightly mounted examples of such stamps should not be too difficult. However, Canadian stamps, for example, which were printed on softer paper and had thicker gum, are more difficult to find in fine mounted condition and should be valued accordingly.
Heavier hinging is acceptable for stamps issued before around 1890 but the majority of the gum should be clear and ‘unblemished’. If the stamp has been mounted on a number of occasions or if there is