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?
always reduce the price of a stamp, the size of the reduction depending upon the degree of the damage and the scarcity of the stamp itself.
Stamps bearing perforated initials were at one time treated as little better than rubbish and many were destroyed. The fact that there is now a specialist society devoted to perfins should indicate that the situation has changed; but it is fair to say that the majority of collectors avoid them like the plague.
Many official perfins are now listed in the catalogue and some of them carry a price higher than they would as normals. Some, indeed, are very desirable, notably the China ‘Large Dragons’ perforated ‘NCH’ by the North China Herald.
Demand from specialist perfin collectors has pushed up the price for ‘proving covers’ that is, covers which show which organisation used a particular set of initials, while some commercial perfins are sought after and command a premium over the price of an unperfined stamp. Nevertheless, a set of perforated initials would still usually result in an otherwise fine stamp being worth only about one tenth of catalogue.
One of the reasons why the firm of De La Rue held such an important position in stamp production in the British Empire at the turn of the last century was the security offered by their fugitive inks. The green ink they used, in particular, dissolved into a pale yellow-green upon immersion in
water. A footnote in the catalogue under the 1883 definitives of Great Britain comments;
‘The above prices are for stamps in the true dull green colour. Stamps which have been soaked, causing the colour to run, are virtually worthless.’
This seems rather harsh, particularly in the case of the difficult 9d., but fairly reflects the current market position.
The comment is just as relevant to many other stamps, both from Britain and the colonies. The same inks were used in the production of many colonial middle and high values, such as the Federated Malay States ‘elephants’. Such stamps, when water affected, would be worth from one fifth to one tenth of catalogue, depending on the degree of discolouration.
Water damage is not only a problem for the typographed issues of De La Rue. Although it is generally recognised that recess-printing inks are more stable, there are examples of such stamps which are susceptible to ‘washing’ – some of the Rhodesian ‘double heads’, for example, can be devalued in this way.
Colour change is not, of course, brought about only through immersion in water; sunlight can sometimes have a very significant effect and seriously faded stamps should be viewed in the same way as ‘washed’ ones – more common items being ‘virtually worthless’, rarer ones rating up to one fifth of catalogue, providing that the fading is not too serious.
Tone spots – the brownish spots encountered on many stamps which have been stored in damp conditions – especially in the tropics – will also reduce the value of a stamp