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?
per cent of catalogue in mounted condition, on the other hand, the 1938 set of Perak (103/21) would be more like two thirds, while for some of the Indian Convention States high values the proportion would be even higher.
For the first issues of the present reign the proportion drops to around a third, but after about 1965 there is really very little demand for mounted examples of anything other than the more expensive sets, even in fine lightly hinged condition.
Whether or not a hinge has been attached to it is not the only gum feature that can affect the value of a stamp. Discoloration or toning can also be significant. Stamps which have spent time in the tropics frequently suffer from gum browning and, in extreme cases, cracking and ‘crazing’, sometimes affecting the face of the stamp as well as the back. The value of such specimens should be marked down accordingly.
For stamps of King George VI one would normally aim for no gum toning at all, but the first 10s. definitive of Grenada only exists toned, so that would be considered ‘fine for the issue concerned’; later stamps in the series should have cream or white gum, depending on the original issue.
Again, the vast majority of the first Hong Kong definitives have at least some gum toning, so here the discount for lightly toned examples would be smaller than usual.
The demand for unmounted mint, as well as very real concerns that the gum applied to nineteenth century issues was, in itself, potentially damaging, has inevitably led to a certain amount of regumming.
Stanley Gibbons’ policy is not to sell stamps which have been regummed, especially since the new layer of gum may disguise damage or attempts at repair. It is important, therefore, that the edges of early mint stamps be checked very carefully to make sure that there are no suspicious signs of gum on the surface. (There is one set of stamps, China SG 457/9, which was gummed after printing and perforating, while stamps printed on top of the gum are clearly not a problem – but these are very much the exceptions.)
Another feature which has long been a part of the ‘Stamp Improver’s’ repertoire has been the adding of margins to stamps which have been deficient in them. Once again, this ‘service’ has developed because of the premium placed by collectors on ‘fine four-margin’ examples of stamps like the Penny Black.
For some years now the British Commonwealth and Empire 1840-1970 (Part 1) and GB Concise catalogues have provided guidance on this matter; illustrating ‘good’, ‘fine’, ‘very fine’ and ‘superb’ examples of the first postage stamp.
As stated, the standard adopted in the catalogue is for stamps described as ‘fine’, which, in terms of margins, means that the area outside the printed design should be ‘approximately one half of the distance between two adjoining unsevered stamps’ – on all four sides, of course! Anything more than this will take the