Which stamps are worth money?

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One of the most common questions non-collectors Google about stamps is a very simple question “which stamps are worth money”. With this I’ll try answer the question in manner that is hopefully helpful to non-collectors.

FACT: There is no simple answer to this question.
Till date postal administrations worldwide have issued well over 700,000 face different postage stamps. And these can be split into millions of (more or less identical looking) subtypes / variations that stamp collectors like me are interested. You could browse Google search results till end of time, and always see different set of stamp images.

Take for example this stamp:

Italy - syracuse coin stamp

A similar looking stamp can be found easily on most stamp collections, very likely one or two are in your hands too. However, whereas they are likely worth less than one cent, the stamp above is worth $100. If you are interested about what makes this stamp so special, then check this entry about Italia Turrita / syracuse coin stamps.

FACT: A majority of postage stamps are worth absolutely nothing or very little.
This is very easy to explain… Most postage stamps have been printed in millions of copies. Some exist even in BILLIONS of specimens. They were common as mud the day they were issued, and they are common still.

US Bureau precancel

Roughly 80 years old, but common as mud... Worth the 1c face value it has.

FACT: Value of stamps comes down to three factors: condition, demand and supply.

The value of any collectible is to large degree determined by balance between demand and supply. If there’s more demand than supply for a stamp item, then the value goes up. If there’s more supply than demand for the stamp, then the value goes down. As simple as that.

With common stamps (printed in millions) there’s always going to be more supply than demand. That’s why their monetary value is more or less non-existing. You can buy them by pound/kg for peanuts.

With rare stamps the situation is divided. For some stamps there’s plenty of demand, and their prices are high. But rarity does not necessarily go hand in hand with value. For example many stamps of Albania have been printed in very low numbers, but yet their retail price is somewhat non-existing as there’s little demand for them.

We stamp collectors also aim for perfection. We are not happy to just own any specimen of a stamp – we want the best specimen possible. And thus condition (/grade) of stamp enters into above equation. Any kind of faults decrease the attractiveness and value of stamp, whereas any kind of superior features make it more desirable and increase the value of stamp.

2003 Finland - Moomin stamps with a SOTN cancel. A clear, dated cancellation as this increases the value of these stamps several times.

2003 Finland - Moomin stamps with a SOTN cancel. A clear, dated cancellation as this increases the value of these stamps several times.

FACT: Stamps that are worth (at least some) money, are the ones in excellent condition, with healthy demand and limited supply

Such as this…

1995 Argentina.  A 10p bird (Zonotrichia capensis) definitive with a catalogue value of 30€.

1995 Argentina. A 10p bird (Zonotrichia capensis) definitive with a catalogue value of 30€.

This stamp is so called ‘high value’. It cost 10 Pesos (roughly 10US$ at the time) to buy one stamp as this from post office, and attach it on top of parcel. Due to high price, it was printed in very limited numbers, and it was used in even smaller numbers. So it’s definitely an item you don’t come up often.

Then there’s the demand… The stamp appeals not just to collectors of Argentina, but also to those collecting stamps with theme of birds. So there’s a healthy demand for it.

And the condition… It has multiple postmarks that decrease the value slightly. But other than that it’s a solid specimen without any kind of flaws.

But how do I learn to identify the items as above?
The best advice I can give is get yourself acquainted with some stamp catalogue: spend at least few hours reading and browsing through the pages. You don’t necessarily need to buy one, as most public libraries have copies available.

Browsing the web can help too, but it can misguide very easily as well. It’s very easy to ask $100 for stamp, but it’s totally different ballpark to sell it for $100. Online auctions are notoriously famous for having ‘dreamers’ who think their childhood collection is going to pay off their mortgage, and ‘bunnies’ that take the bait.

With stamps it all comes do to knowledge. The more you know, the better decisions you make.

Closing words

As usual, feel free to share your comments, questions and opinions on topic. Till next time, happy collecting.

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