One of the most common questions non-collectors Google about stamps is a very simple question “which stamps are worth money”. With this article I’ll try answer the question in manner that is hopefully helpful to non-collectors, so please read on.
FACT: There is no easy answer to this question.
To date postal administrations worldwide have issued well over 700,000 face different postage stamps, and the number is increasing daily. Collectors (like yours truly) classify these into millions of more or less identical looking subtypes and variations; of which some are more valuable than others. Often times the difference between the (cheap) regular stamp and the (valuable) variety is non-existing to bare eye.
Take for example this 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 your specimens are likely worth less than one cent, the above stamp is worth $100. The reason? The above specimen is from experimental release that can be identified only by specific watermark position (see illustration next to stamp). From the top this stamp however looks precisely the same as the regular, zero-value stamp. If you are interested, you can read more about the above stamps in article 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 of the 700,000 face different 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 1930 George Washington 1c green. Roughly 80 years old, but common as mud… Worth more or less the 1 cent face value it has.
FACT: Value of stamps comes down to three factors: demand, supply and condition
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, then the price/value goes up. If there’s more supply than demand, then the price/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 less common, even rare stamps the situation is divided. For some rare stamps there’s plenty of demand, and their prices and values 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 low as there’s very limited 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 of stamp, often times referred as grade, enters into above equation. Any kind of faults, no matter how tiny, decrease the attractiveness and value of stamp effectively towards zero. On the other hand, superior features make any stamp more desirable and increase it’s value.
As an example, the worlds first stamp, Penny Black was issued in 1840 with print of 68 million copies. Despite being the oldest postage stamp, it’s still a somewhat common piece. But as every stamp collector wants to own one, it has got huge demand as well. However, the value of it is mostly about condition, condition, condition… A low grade (space filler) copy of Penny Black can be had any day for 15-20 pounds, an average copy sells for 100-200 pounds, and superior specimens are worth much more.
2003 Finland – Moomin stamps with a SOTN cancel. A clear, in-period date cancellation as this increases the value of these stamps several times for some collectors.
FACT: Stamps that are worth at least some money, are often times the ones with high face values, and with limited supply, and of topic/country with that appeals, and in good condition
Such as this…
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 this from post office and attach it on top of parcel. Due to its high face value and acquisition cost, there was limited postal need for this stamp, and as such it was printed and used in very low numbers.Though it’s not rare, it’s at least in the ‘hard to obtain’ category.
But please do understand, not all high values are necessarily valuable or hard to obtain. For example in the late 1970s United Kingdom issued several stamps with high face values (to be used with parcels and other high expense postal items). These stamps were in active use for decades (and some people use them even today), so their collecting value is somewhat non-existing.
Then there’s the demand… High value that are from popular countries (such as Germany, UK, USA) or of popular topics (such as fauna or flora) are much more likely to be of some value than say a stamp of equal face value with portrait of politician in Romania.
And then there’s the condition… The above stamp has got 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?
To be quite honest, it really requires a stamp collector (like me) or a professional stamp dealer with long term interest to know this kind of tidbits.
That said, stamp collecting is not rocket science. Anybody can learn the same facts as I have. All it takes is some time and interest to dig in deeper with the subject, and then repeat (which I have been doing for over 30 years). The initial step is to visit a local public library and ask for some books about stamp collecting. And then spend at least few hours actually reading what’s in those books, understanding the basic terminology and concepts of this great hobby.
Browsing the web and reading pages like this can help too, but it can misguide very easily as well. It’s very easy to ask $100 for any stamp, but it’s totally different ballpark to actually sell it for $100. But like they say, there’s a sucker born every minute. Online auctions such as eBay 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.
Alternatively, you can always ask for collector opinion (see the ad below if you want my opinion on the stamps You have).
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