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?
stamps simply command a higher price used than they do mint, having been little used at the time they were current.
The upshot is that we all need to be aware of stamps which, at first sight, appear to be used, but bear cancellations which cannot be identified.
A nice clean ring across the corner of a stamp, an apparently smeared c.d.s. on which neither the place of posting nor the date can be seen, or a general black smudge, reminiscent of many modern British Post Office operational postmarks, should all be avoided, unless they are known to be typical of the place and period concerned.
Such stamps are really of ‘spacefiller’ status only and would usually not merit a price of more than one tenth of catalogue, if that. More sophisticated forged cancellations also exist, of course and it is fair to say that the extent of this problem has only recently been recognised. Some of them are becoming collectable in their own right. However, these have now become of such interest that a stamp catalogued at less than about £10 is often of greater value with a clear Madame Joseph cancellation than it would be genuinely used.
Higher value stamps would be discounted, though, but would still rate around one third of the price of a genuine example, taking the cheaper of the used or unused prices. Thus, a 1933 Falkland Islands Centenary £1 with the famous Port Stanley, ‘6 JA 33’ forged postmark sells for about £650.
Other forged cancellations are of less interest, especially more modern ones and those which have been drawn in by hand!
While on the subject of ‘drawn in by hand’, collectors in the past – including some very eminent ones – were in the habit of ‘enhancing’ slightly unclear postal markings by drawing over them in Indian ink. Less expensive stamps are seriously devalued in this condition, especially if the postmark is a heavy or disfiguring one. Major rarities would be less devalued in percentage terms, however, and could still rate up to about one third the price of an ‘unenhanced’ stamp with the same cancellation.
Many businesses in Asian countries, especially forwarding agents, were in the habit of cancelling their stamps with ‘chops’, while individuals frequently wrote across them in manuscript in order to discourage theft.
Catalogue prices are for stamps without such endorsements, with a neat handstamped ‘chop’ reducing the price by at least one third and a handwritten one by around two thirds.
Cancelled to order
Prices in the catalogue are, generally, for fine postally used, but for many modern issues they relate to cancelled to order examples.
This does not refer to the selling of cancelled stamps for less than face value for the making up of stamp packets, as was the practice in many Eastern European countries between the 1950s and 1990s, and in North Borneo up to 1912 or Ghana in the 1950s. These latter examples are noted in the catalogue, with separate prices for