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?
India SG 147, the Edward VII 25r., can be supplied at one third of the price quoted in the catalogue (currently £1000), with a telegraphic cancellation. Other values should be similarly discounted.
In light of this, it may seem strange that Great Britain Queen Victoria high values which were almost exclusively used for telegraphic or accounting purposes should be more highly priced than any which were used postally, simply because the quality of cancellation was vastly superior and, here, the prices quoted in the catalogue would be for telegraphically used examples, since this would be the only way of obtaining ‘fine used’.
Probably, the vast majority of fine used middle values, from 4d. to 2s. were also once attached to telegraph forms and many are relatively common in this form; notably the Is. green from plates 5 and 6, which would not be worth a premium over catalogue in this condition, while others, notably the 2½d. rosy mauve or any 9d. value would merit the premiums, sometimes substantial premiums, quoted in the catalogue for ‘well centred, lightly used’.
It has sometimes been remarked upon that some GB surface-printed issues are more highly priced in the main GB listing than they are in some of the ‘used abroad’ sections. An 1873-80 2½d. rosy mauve (SG 141), for example, is priced at £50 in the GB listing, but £27 used in Suez, £24 used in Constantinople, £21 used in Gibraltar and just £17 used in Malta. This is not because there is less interest in GB used abroad, but because the prices are for ‘fine condition for the issue concerned’.
GB stamps used in Malta are generally fairly heavily cancelled by the ‘A25’ obliterator and the price quoted would be for an example in this form, whereas the price in the GB listing would be for a considerably better stamp.
The two conclusions which can be drawn from this are that, firstly, a British stamp with a light Malta c.d.s. should be priced according to the GB listing where that price is higher, and, secondly, that one should expect to pay very considerably less than the price in the GB section of the catalogue for a stamp with an ‘average’ numeral cancellation, which would only rate between 10 and 20 percent of catalogue, depending on the scarcity of the stamp and the extent to which it is obliterated by the postmark.
The problem of forged cancellations has gained much greater prominence in the last few years. This is at least partly due to the increased demand for fine quality insofar as mint stamps are concerned.
Heavily mounted or toned stamps are, as commented earlier in this series, worth only a small fraction of catalogue price, so there is clearly an opportunity for the unscrupulous to turn them into ‘fine used’, in order to enhance their value.
Fiscally used stamps may also have had their cancellations removed and any remains of them covered up by forged postmarks, while a great many