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?
on the first issue of St Helena, for example, they would be acceptable, although in practice most such examples have since been cleaned in an attempt to make them appear unused.
Indeed, early GB stamps with manuscript cancels, such as the hand drawn ‘Maltese cross’ of Dunnet, often fetch high prices at auction if their provenance is sound.
With the arrival of the Duplex cancellation, the possibility that a stamp might receive the circular dated portion of the handstamp increases, although this was not supposed to happen.
Here, we should perhaps return to the statement in the front of the Stanley Gibbons catalogue, that:
‘The prices are ... for examples in fine condition for the issue concerned. Superb examples are worth more, those of a lower quality, considerably less’.
Thus, a postally used stamp cancelled by a lightly applied numeral portion of the postmark would generally be considered ‘fine’, while one which showed only the dater portion would be rated as ‘superb’, especially where that datestamp is upright, well-centred and lightly but clearly applied. A stamp in this condition could rate two or three times the price of a fine example, all other factors being equal.
As Duplex postmarks were replaced by new forms of cancellation such as squared circle handstamps and various forms of machine cancellation, new criteria come into play, but essentially the aim is the same, to find stamps which have been attractively cancelled.
Squared circles were designed to combine the date and place of posting (in the central circle) and the obliteration (in the form of the corner bars) in one small and convenient handstamp. Their adoption by many postal administrations around the world would seem to indicate what a good idea they were felt to be at the time.
In the case of squared circles it is necessary to make your own judgement; heavily inked bars obscuring the main feature of a stamp’s design would not be ‘fine’, but a light but legible postmark which allows the design to show through would be. Of course, once again, squared circles are very collectable in their own right, so a clear complete (or almost complete) cancellation would almost certainly outweigh the ‘marking down’ which might normally be applied because the stamp itself was almost obscured.
Just as in the case of wing margins and perfins, discussed above, fashions are changing in relation to cancellations. In the past, the aim was to find stamps on which the cancellation fell across just one corner of the design, leaving the major part of it clear. Today, interest in exactly where and when the stamp was cancelled, not to mention the possibility that such partial cancellations may have been forged, have made clear, centrally applied or ‘socked-on-the-nose’ cancellations much more desirable – although, again, they do need to be lightly applied.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, rubber packet, newspaper and parcel cancellers began to appear. These, inevitably, obliterated more of the stamp’s design than a steel datestamp