Stamp collecting has been a hobby for many since the inception of the first public postal service and the stamps distributed in 1840. Since the first issues featured Queen Victoria, all subsequent stamps have a picture of the ruling monarch, whether a portrait or silhouette. Queen Victoria's six decade reign was plenty of time to have several variations of the original stamp, including a Jubilee edition. Other rulers, such as Edward VIII, abdicated the Crown after a year, and only four types of stamps were produced then.
While some collectors select stamps based on a certain theme or era, others are interested in rare, expensive stamps. Novice and expert philatelists can follow the same rules when determining a stamp or collection's value. The overall condition of the stamps can play a huge role in the estimating the value of a stamp collection; blemishes and marking from handling the stamps devalue them. As long as the stamp is in good condition, printing mistakes and other rarities often increase the price.
Before collectors even get into the era or edition of stamps, they must first determine the value of the stamp or collection. The first priority is to check the condition the stamps are in. Mint and well-kept collections are worth more than the same collection in average or poor condition. Next, the stamps should be inventoried and catalogued. Total collections from an era or series can bolster the price if the stamps are sold as a unit. Finally, have the stamps appraised either by a specialist or consult the most current guide to estimate the price. The sections below detail how to go about assessing the value of stamps.
Evaluate the Condition
The general condition of the stamp or stamp collection can make a huge difference in terms of overall value. Stamps should be kept in albums or catalogues with some sort of protective covering. Creases, tears, and aftermarket markings can significantly reduce the value of a stamp.
Moreover, there is often a difference in price for mint and used condition. Mint condition is typically worth more since the stamps theoretically should be in better condition. Used stamps are often tattered and in subpar shape, and the postmark can obscure some of the markings. However, before disregarding used stamps with postmarks, philatelists should investigate which postmarks increase the value of the stamp.
Inventory and Catalogue
A single stamp can be a gold mine itself, but often times stamp values can increase if collectors have an entire series or collection. Many philatelists organise their stamps by a certain theme or era that appeal to dealers and other collectors. When cataloguing the stamp collection, it is wise to generate a detailed list of the contents to help keep track of everything. In addition to organising the stamps, the letters and bills of sale should be kept in a safe place. Should the owner want to sell valuable stamps from his collection, interested parties almost always ask for a certificate of authentication.
Have Stamps Appraised
Whether or not philatelists are interested in selling their collection, they should have their stamps appraised by a trustworthy expert. Some experts charge a fee for their time, while others may evaluate the collection for free, especially for those interested in selling. Like stamps, philatelists should research appraisers before asking for an estimated value. For those who want to hold onto their collection, there is no need to hire an appraiser. An expert collector and some research should be enough to give you a rough estimate.
Valuable Stamps By Era
Stamp collectors often arrange their collection by era, and since the inception of the postal service in 1840, all six monarchs thereafter have been featured on the stamps during their reign. The Queen Victoria penny black is the original stamp, but the sheer volume of these stamps makes it far from rare. During the rule of Edward VII, several printing companies were solicited at various times, and collectors typically favour some over the others. The many designs and variation available during George V's rule marks a distinct and favourite era for many philatelists.
Edward VIII may have only held the Crown for a year, but his stamps are easy to come by. George VI, like George V, has many variations, including several commemorative series, and many collectors prize them. Queen Elizabeth II has had the Crown since the 1950s, so it is no surprise there have been hundreds of commemorative series available. Although this is nowhere near a complete list, below is a sample of valuable stamps arranged by era.
Queen Victoria stamps are the first issued stamps for the public postal service. The penny black stamp, first issued in 1840, was replaced a year later with the penny reds; the originals can easily be reused, but the reddish brown ink cannot. One particular stamp issued in 1881, the penny lilac has two different versions. Sixteen dots around the corners are fairly common, and the 14-dot version is considered rare, especially if in mint condition.
The year 1887 produced two similar stamps, the 5d value, but like the penny lilac, one is more valuable than the other. The edition with the small, vertical stripes can fetch a small sum, but the version with small square dots can be several times more valuable.
King Edward VII may have had the crown a little more than a decade, but philatelists value several stamps produced during this era. The first Edward VII stamps mimicked the style of Queen Victoria's Jubilee edition stamps; however, three different printing companies, each with their own techniques and materials. De La Rue had a monopoly on stamp printing until 1909. After 1909, Somerset House and Harrison and Sons debuted their stamps. Many experts believe that De La Rue stamps are superior in quality, and therefore, more valuable.
George V has a myriad of stamps to choose from, and these stamps have low-value sets for the new collectors, and high-value sets for more experienced collectors. The 1925 Empire Exhibition is considered more valuable than the 1924 series. A 1913 high values set is often referred to as "Seahorses" since these sets have Britannia and a team of horses plunging into the sea.
Edward VII only reigned for 11 months; consequently, there are only four variations of his stamp available. Each stamp has a large silhouette of the king with a small crown in the upper right corner. One may assume that such a short stint would make Edward VII stamps quite rare, but in actuality, they are not in short supply.
Novice collectors often begin with George VI's era because his sets and commemorative issues are less complex than any other era. The variations of colours and styles also give experienced collectors the opportunity to put together some high-valued sets. There is a six-set of stamps released in 1939 that contains a dark blue stamp. This stamp alone is prized by collectors, and entire set raises the value on it even further. There is a set of stamps from 1951 with similar circumstances. Both sets were designed by E. Dulac and Hon George R. Bellow.
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II has had hundreds of commemorative stamps issued under her reign, but since she is still the ruling monarch, these stamps have yet to gain any real value. During the 1960s and 1970s, there were many stamps issued with mistakes and other oddities, such as a missing crown or omitting parts of picturesque settings. These stamps are not so much valuable as they are peculiar, but perhaps one day in the future they may be worth more. First days covers, without handwriting or addresses, are some of the more valuable stamp paraphernalia for the era.
Finding Valuable Stamps on eBay
When looking for valuable stamps on eBay, it is best to have done your research and generated a list of stamps prior to searching. For example the "1881 penny lilac" is only worth more if there are 14 dots along the edges as 16 dots are inexpensive. Know the colour, issue date, and other noteworthy characteristics before you start looking on eBay. Then you can start with keyword searches for "stamps".
Not all philatelists collect valuable stamps, but the ones do must have a protocol in place for evaluating the value and condition of the stamps. Mint condition stamps are typically worth more than used ones, but limited edition or exotic postmarks can increase the stamp's value. Often, the colour or a small detail can significantly change the price of a stamp; therefore, it is important to thoroughly inspect all stamps before buying.
Potentially high valued stamps should be appraised by a professional before collectors buy or sell them. Philatelist literature and certificates can help verify the authenticity of the stamp. Experts agree that many stamps are often worth more in sets than individuals. From Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II, valuable stamps can be purchased from private collectors, stamp conventions, and online marketplaces, such as eBay. Those interested in finding valuable stamps can benefit from eBay's collection and useful search tools.