While numerous cultures claim to have created the first stamps, documentation proves that Sir Rowland Hill introduced the first stamp in the United Kingdom during the early part of the 1840s. Hill's stamp changed the way people paid for postmarked correspondence. Instead of the recipient paying for delivery of correspondence, the postage stamp placed the financial onus on the sender of the correspondence. The introduction of postage stamps in the UK caused a rapid rise in the number of letters sent via mail. Before the 1840s, 76 million letters per year were sent in the UK, and by 1850, that number dramatically increased to 350 million letters annually. Eventually, the popularity of stamps created a market for buying and selling stamps. Today, stamps can be purchased from local post offices, various shops, and on the online auction site, eBay.
What was once considered a hobby, stamp collection became an investment tactic premised on the same principles for owning stock. However, stamp markets are typically much more informal than stock markets, and the rule governing stamp transactions much more slack. While a much smaller market, the stamp market requires collectors to have a thorough understanding of how to determine stamp values. Moreover, the growing stamp market means that it is imperative that collectors are prepared before they seek out stamp sellers, which means stamp collectors should learn about the types of stamps, the factors that determine stamp value, especially centring, and the ways to value British stamps.
Types of Stamps
Most Brits associate stamp collecting with definitive postage stamps. While it is true that some of the highest valued stamps come from rare, theme-related definitive postage stamp issues, there are other types of stamps to consider for a stamp collection. Remember that the same valuation principles that apply to definitive postage stamps also apply to specialty stamps.
Airmail stamps pay for the cost of airmail service. Printers typically print the term "airmail", or an equivalent term, prominently on the stamp surface. Airmail stamps invariably display airplane or pilot-related images.
From time to time, the British government issues stamps to memorialise the life of a famous Brit or acknowledge the significance of a historical event. Commemorative stamps run for a limited time, and when the government takes the stamps out of circulation, the value of the stamps immediately begins to increase.
This is the most common form of stamp and it is produced to meet current postal rates. Definitive stamps have less appealing designs than specialty stamps, and thus, their value after being pulled from circulation does not rise as fast. The same design and colour pattern is used of an extended period.
Local Postal Stamps
As stamps issued by a post office that operates within a limited geographical range, local postage stamps can be issued by governments or for-profit companies.
Most stamps possess perforations around their edges. Stamps labelled "perforated" also possess perforations across the middle of the stamp that can consist of lettering or monogramme patterns. Corporations purchase perforated stamps to prevent employee theft.
Water-activated stamps have been around longer than any other type of stamp. Referred to as "lick and stick" stamps, water-activated stamps require some type of moisture to allow the stamps to adhere to a surface.
Factors That Determine Stamp Value
Determining stamp value hinges on a number of factors, the importance of which can vary between investors and sellers. However, most stamp buyers and sellers place supply and condition above other stamp valuation factors.
Stamp collectors and sellers go by the rule that the older the stamp and the more difficult the stamp is to find, the more the stamp is worth. On the other hand, older stamps can lose value because of degradation of the stamp's condition.
Uncirculated stamps possess more value than stamps that have been in circulation. The longer a stamp has been in circulation, the less value the stamp possesses. Circulation also influences another stamp value factor: rarity.
In addition to circulation, age and the number of stamps issued also influence a stamp's rarity factor. Rarity is often an effect of the time-tested economics rule of supply and demand. Royalty stamps possess high values because the stamps are considered rare.
A stamp's condition plays a major role in determining stamp value. Age, storage vessel, climates, and collector handling influence stamp condition.
Watermarks are images or patterns that appear when specialised transmitted light shines upon a stamp. Watermark thickness, density, and design all influence a stamp's value. The general rule is that the harder it is to detect a stamp watermark, the more value the stamp possesses. Stamp producers utilise watermarks to deter stamp counterfeiting.
While catalogue value is a good place to start for determining the value of a stamp, an overlooked, but important secondary factor is how well the stamp design centres within the outer perforations or the edge of the stamp.
The Importance of Centring
While centring plays a significant role in determining the value of a British stamp, collectors and dealers often have a difficult time agreeing on centring grades because grading the centring value is a subjective process. Nonetheless, the following chart provides stamp collectors with the centre grading categories.
Stamp design perfectly centred between the perforations
Extremely Fine (XF)
Nearly perfect, but design just off centre in one of four directions
Very Fine (VF)
While still far from the edge, the stamp design is noticeably off-centre
Stamp design close to edges, but is not cut by perforations
Stamp design noticeably runs into perforations
Stamp collectors should note that when sellers claim their stamps for sale are "XF for the issue" or "VF for the era", they are most likely trying to overprice their stamps. Moreover, pay attention to centring grades for specific issues. Stamp centring should always be applied uniformly to stamps within each issue.
Valuing British Stamps
Many Brits enjoy collecting stamps due to historical reasons, such as collecting stamps from a specific British era. Collectors also hone in on stamps because of their theme, such as sports or nature, colour, or production date. The wide number of British stamps makes it difficult to determine accurate valuations; however, there are several ways to come close to ascertaining British stamp value.
Stamp Valuation Factors
The first step in determining stamp value is to understand the numerous factors that play a role in determining valuation. For example, the stamp grade tells collectors how well a stamp design centres within the perforations or edges. Collectors must understand how stamps are valued by colour, design, and most important, condition. Examine the stamp for the condition of the perforation around it, the amount of glue used on the back of the stamp, and the cancellation degree.
Conduct an initial valuation, or what is often called a "fast and dirty" estimation of stamp value. This valuation figure narrows the valuation range, which makes it easier to ensure stamp valuation accuracy. The initial valuation only applies to stamps that possess at least a Very Fine centring and near mint condition. Fast and dirty valuations err on the lower side of the valuation spectrum.
British Stamp Resources
There are online resources that allow visitors to input stamp characteristics, and then compute an estimated value. Collectors can also consult with stamp dealers or antique experts who can assess and appraise stamps to ascertain market value.
How to Buy British Stamps on eBay
Stamp collectors should always inspect stamps to determine their value, which can include physically holding a stamp or viewing a photograph of a stamp. Since centring is an important factor in determining stamp value, visual examinations are an essential step of the stamp valuation process. Some collectors believe that the requirement of visual examination precludes buying stamps from online sources. However, on the leading auction site, eBay, stamp collectors can view large, coloured photographs of stamps that depict the most minute stamp features. The question for stamp collectors is how to find the right stamp seller.
eBay offers stamp collectors a powerful search engine to narrow the list of sellers who offer stamps on eBay. The key to maximising the power of eBay's search engine is to input the most specific keywords as possible to narrow the stamp seller choices and reduce the time you spend on a stamp search. You can find sellers who offer British stamps by era or by condition. For instance, type "George VI stamps" or "mint condition British stamps" to find the right stamp seller. Once you find the right stamp seller, click on the seller's product photograph to view an enlarged photo of the stamp for sale. You may find that eBay's visual detail provides stamp collectors with a great view of stamps.
Once considered a practical investment for sending correspondence, stamps are now a sound investment for avid collectors. British stamp collectors perhaps have the widest selection of high-value stamps from which to choose, as the first documented stamps were introduced in the UK during the 1840s. Brits can find high-value stamps from a number of sources that include private collectors and antique shops. The key is to know what to look for when determining stamp value.
Valuing a British stamp may seem like an arduous task, but it can be accomplished by knowing about the factors that influence stamp value. Age, rarity, and circulation exposure are some of the factors to consider, with condition and centring comprising the most important stamp valuation characteristics. Centring is especially important, since it provides collectors with insight into the skill level of the stamp designer. Brits can also refer to numerous resources for stamp valuation. As snail mail becomes obsolete due to the popularity of electronic mail, expect stamps to become obsolete as well, which means stamps may become rarer, and hence, more valuable.