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 description ‘fine’, but if it is visibly off-centre in more than one direction or the design touches the perforations, then a discount from catalogue price could be expected – the clearer the displacement, the bigger the discount. If, of course, the perforations pass right through the middle of the stamp, it becomes an error – and that’s a completely different story!
The moral is that it certainly makes sense to try and seek out stamps that are perfectly centred, although in the case of the above issues it would be unlikely that you would be charged extra for them.
When discussing the problem of finding imperf stamps with good margins, it was noted that the designs were some times placed so close together on the plate that it required considerable care on the part of the post office clerk to separate stamps from the sheet without cutting into them. This became even more of a problem when stamps printed from those same plates were required to be perforated.
It is not surprising that, in view of the materials they had to work with and the experimental nature of perforating machinery at the time, early stamps are seldom found perfectly centred. For this reason it would be unrealistic to suggest that a slightly off centre perforated Penny Red was less than ‘fine’, although to command full catalogue price, the perforations should not touch the design.
Centring is also an important issue among more modern line-perforated stamps, notably those of the USA and Canada – right up to quite recent times. Here, poorly centred stamps were the norm and even a slightly off-centre example could merit the description ‘fine’.
Because of the inaccuracy of the perforating machines, the stamps can also vary in size quite a bit, and oversized, well-centred stamps, because of their relative scarcity, can be the subject of fierce competition when they come up at auction and can fetch prices vastly in excess of catalogue. In the case of cheaper stamps five or ten times catalogue price is not unknown.
Nibbled, Short or Pulled?
Perforations are easily damaged, especially if the gauge is coarse and the paper soft. On a De La Rue keyplate issue, with a standard perforation of 14, one would expect a ‘fine’ stamp to have all its perforation ‘teeth’ intact. One ‘nibbled’ or ‘nibbed’ perf tooth (slightly short) would call for a slight discount, but the more teeth affected or the shorter the tooth the greater the reduction in price.
Incidentally, a ‘short perf’ would still show a vestigial ‘tooth’, a ‘missing perf’ shows no tooth at all and a ‘pulled perf’ signifies that there is a ‘hole’ in the stamp where the perforation tooth was pulled away).
Even worse than a short perf on one of the sides is a short corner: Here again, the more of the corner missing the lower the price – but if the damage has resulted in part of the stamp design being torn away then the stamp