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?
would be unlikely to be worth more than a tenth of catalogue and possibly much less.
Whereas on a perf 14 stamp a damaged perforation tooth would be considered a defect which would force a reduction in the price, on a perf 8 stamp, such as some of the Canadian coil stamps of the 1920s and 30s, stamps with full perfs are far from common. Here, one or two shortish perfs would probably be acceptable, providing they were not too short. Such a stamp with all its perforations could command a premium over full catalogue price, especially if it was also well centred.
As the gauge increases, however, the impact of short perfs increases, so that a King George V ‘Seahorse’ with one or two short perfs would probably carry a 20 per cent discount, any more than that and the price would drop to half catalogue.
Damaged perforations are not only caused by careless separation. Until very recently, most stamp booklets were made up from reels of stamps, bound into covers by stapling, stitching or gluing and then guillotined to produce the finished books. Inevitably, this cutting was seldom totally accurate, resulting in the majority of booklet panes being trimmed on at least one side.
Prices for stamp booklets in the Stanley Gibbons catalogues are for examples with ‘average’ perforations – that is, slightly trimmed; the prices for booklet panes are for examples with full perforations. If a pane of six has good perforations at the top and side, but is trimmed along the foot, then its value should be based on the three stamps in the top row, the three stamps at the bottom being virtually discounted.
A single stamp which only occurs in booklet panes, such as most of the definitive watermark varieties of Queen Elizabeth Great Britain, should also have full perforations. Trimmed perfs bring the price down significantly and if they are missing completely than even a scarce variety would only merit a tenth of catalogue.
Another perforation issue is ‘wing margins’. When De La Rue began producing the surface-printed stamps of Great Britain, their printing plates were made up of separate sections which printed as ‘panes’. In the case of the 1861 3d., for example, the printed sheet of 240 stamps was made up of 12 panes of 20 stamps. Between each pane there was a ‘gutter’ and where the panes were side-by-side the gutter was perforated down the centre, giving the stamps at the side of the pane a wide (5mm) margin – the ‘wing margin’.
Wing margins were frowned upon by early collectors, who liked their stamps to fit exactly into the stamp-size rectangles printed for them by album manufacturers. As a result, stamps with wing margins generally commanded a lower price than stamps from the centre of the pane which had ‘normal’ perforations and many stamps had their wing margins cut off or had fake perforations added to provide collectors with stamps of the required shape.