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?
stamp into the ‘very fine’ or ‘superb’ categories, with the stamp’s price rising accordingly.
Ultimately, one arrives at a point where the stamp has ‘stolen’ the margins from all of its neighbours, in which case exaggerated expressions such as ‘gargantuan’ or jumbo’ margins are frequently resorted to. Such examples are, indeed, rare and would expect to be valued accordingly; at least double catalogue price and probably more, if other aspects of its condition are ‘up to scratch’.
One factor which needs to be borne in mind is that the distance between two adjoining unsevered stamps varied quite a lot in the early days. So what would be considered only ‘fair’, or even ‘narrow’, for the Indian lithographs or the first issue of Norway would be ‘enormous’ on the early issues of several British colonies whose stamp printing plates were laid down by Perkins Bacon.
Ceylon, Queensland and Tasmania are typical examples of countries whose stamps, suffer from this problem – and where narrow margins do not necessarily prevent a stamp being described as ‘fine’. Mention of the Indian lithographs raises the issue of octagonal stamps which have been cut to shape – often to fit into the spaces provided for them by the manufacturers of early stamp albums!
Again, the catalogue provides helpful guidance with a note explaining that ‘catalogue prices for Four Annas stamps are for cut-square specimens with clear margins and in good condition. Cut-to-shape copies are worth from 3% to 20% of these prices according to condition.’
For more conventionally-shaped imperforate issues, a stamp which has lost one of its margins might be priced as high as half catalogue if it is fine in all other respects, but the price declines rapidly if more than one side is affected. Of course, there are exceptions; the Penny Black, because of its unique desirability, can merit a higher proportion of catalogue price, even with no margins at all, than just about any other stamp – certainly more than its much scarcer partner, the Two Pence Blue!
When we look at the influence which perforations have on value, the situation is no less complicated. Here there are two factors to consider, the condition of the perforations themselves and centring of the stamp image within them.
Centring is easy to understand; in a perfect stamp the space between the edge of the design and the perforations should be equal on all sides. For most modern stamps, perforated on comb machines, good centring is normal and perfect centring would not merit a premium.
Even 100 years ago the quality controls at De La Rue, where most British and colonial stamps were produced, were such that poorly centred stamps, particularly the keyplate types, are seldom encountered, so once again, it is hardly an issue.
The attractive engraved pictorials, popular with post offices in the mid-twentieth century and popular with collectors to this day, were more variable – irrespective of which firm printed and perforated them.