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?
the North Borneo stamps, while it is noted that catalogue prices for Ghana refer to cancelled to order, properly postally used stamps being worth a little more.
As the volume of worldwide stamp issues has escalated in the last 30 years and the cost of having postally used stamps removed from envelopes, soaked, dried and sorted has risen, it is no longer practicable for the stamp trade to supply fine postally used examples of most modern issues. They are therefore supplied cancelled by the postal administration concerned at the same price as mint examples, although as new issues they may be slightly more expensive, owing to the extra handling costs involved. Catalogue price is therefore for stamps ‘cancelled to order’, although fine postally used examples would merit the same price.
Unfortunately, as collectors in Britain and the USA are aware, ‘fine’ and ‘postally used’ are two expressions which are rarely used together when discussing modern issues, since our respective postal administrations have deliberately returned to the philosophy of their Victorian predecessors and ‘obliterated’, rather than ‘cancelled’, any stamp being used to prepay postage. In the circumstances, therefore, catalogue price for used twentieth century GB refers to stamps cancelled by a light circular or oval datestamp.
Rubber packet or parcel handstamps, slogan postmarks or wavy lines are worthy only of a small proportion of catalogue, the size of that proportion depending, once again, on the appearance of the stamp and its relative scarcity.
That, indeed, encapsulates the relationship between condition and price. In this article we have reviewed the various aspects of ‘condition’ and how they can vary from country to country and from issue to issue. The catalogue price is for ‘fine for the issue concerned’, meaning fine in every respect, although a better than fine cancellation might outweigh a slight deficiency in centring, to allow a stamp to still be classified as ‘fine’. The end result is that, when buying, it is vitally important to carefully consider the condition of the item as well as its price and whether or not you want it and, when satisfied on all three counts, make your purchase – before anyone else gets in first!
This is an updated version of a series of articles published in Gibbons Stamp Monthly in 2003 under the title of “Defining ‘Fine’” which also appears in the introductory section of Stanley Gibbons’ 2011 Commonwealth and British Empire Stamps 1840-1970 catalogue.