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FAQ's : What are my stamps worth?
Having been in the trade since 1972 and being exposed to philately from childhood, it is become clear to us that a pattern exists with the value of stamp collections, that is almost universal and the rule has very few exceptions. Here are the general rules that apply to stamp collections.

There are 2 fallacies that exist with stamp collections. The first is that age equates to value and the older a stamp is or gets, the more it will be worth. The fact of the matter is that cheap stamps remain cheap forever, only scarce stamps appreciate with time.

The second is that the 1840 Penny Black of England is the world's rarest and most valuable stamp. It is not really scarce as over 68 million were printed during its life. The main reason for its tremendous appeal is because it is the world's first stamp. A good quality copy in mint condition is worth from R10,000 upwards, a good used copy from R500 upwards. A used copy in less than perfect condition can be purchased for around R100. There are very many stamps worth more than the Penny Black.

In the property game, they say that the 3 things that affect value the most are "position, position & position". In stamps, it's "condition, condition & condition." Condition is of prime importance and any damage reduces value dramatically and often renders the item valueless, except in the case of better items, where it can be used as an inexpensive "space filler". The worlds’ rarest stamp, the British Guiana 1856 1c black (on magenta paper) is however, not in good condition, but as it is the only example known, it is still extremely valuable.

There is no one country that has only expensive stamps, nor one country that only has cheap stamps. Every country has many cheap stamps and some better/expensive items in the range. These mostly tend to be the items with higher face values. If one looks at a stamp catalogue, it becomes quite clear that the top values in the set carry the majority of the value of the set. In fact, in most catalogues, the individual prices of the top 3 or 4 values are equal to, or even more than, the total set price. Whether you buy the complete set, or just the top few values, the price would be the same, which really means that the lower values are not actually worth anything substantial and are in fact "thrown in" when buying the set. Often the catalogue value for the low values is more a ”handling charge" and is certainly not a basis for valuing cheap stamps. Most schoolboy collections contain odd values from a wide variety of countries, common modern colourful sets made “to order” for the market, or sets of lower values, which stop short of those higher values which carry significant catalogue and resale value.

Children usually have limited financial resources and tend to collect anything they can lay their hands on for free, usually from incoming mail, or receive stamps as gifts from parents & family. Unless they have an excellent source of supply, like a mail-order house that receives not only standard envelopes carrying the regular postal rates, but either overseas mail, or parcels that have higher values affixed, they tend to get large duplication of lower values that are generally available in huge quantities. It's a case of supply and demand and commonly used values are cheap, the higher values being usually where the real money lies.

When children do buy stamps, they almost always go for quantity, rather than quality. Even when we tell the child that they can buy one or two good/valuable stamps for their money, which will appreciate in value with time, they would rather have the 100 mixed world which they can sort out, or a cheap, colourful and attractive group of stamps that appeals to them on looks alone. One could fill a room to capacity with stamps and still not have a good, or a valuable collection. Collecting “the world” is impossible even for the wealthiest person, but is not to be discouraged however, as the educational value of collecting worldwide stamps, has benefits well beyond their monetary value.

Wealthy collectors tend to specialise in a country, or group of countries (or a period, like Queen Victoria or King George VI), and will happily pay good money for items that enhance their collection or complete a set. One can quickly see the difference between a good and an average collection by the completeness of the sets/range and the quality of the material collected. How a collector spends his money is usually obvious from the very first few pages of the collection.

If you have a collection in your possession, look firstly for complete sets or top values, not the 1d's (1c) to 5/- (50c) face values, but the 10/- (R1) and £1 (R2) and higher values. Secondly look for quality. Either very fine mint with full gum, nice perforations, no bent corners, creases, stains and the like, or if used, with nice, neat, clean, readable circular cancellations, with good perfs & no faults. My dad used to say, "if one wants to buy good, fresh, clean oats, there is a price one must pay. However, if one is prepared to buy oats that have already passed through the horse, they come at a much lower price!"

One exception to the rule is what is commonly called "Postal History". This term means the stamp (or in some cases, the lack of a stamp in the case official or military mail etc), still on its original postal item (envelope, postcard, etc), with any/all the postal markings, addresses, labels, etc, still affixed and intact. A cheap stamp on an envelope can become valuable by way of a scarce cancellation or cancellations, unusual labels or instructional markings, the person to whom the item is addressed or from whom it was sent, the content of the message, the route that it took, method of transportation etc. All these factors can add substantially to the value and in fact, the stamp may well be the least important aspect of all. In the case of picture postcards, the view can add further value to an otherwise inexpensive item. Views of places (cities, towns & villages) that have changed tremendously are often of interest, as are those that record events of special or historical interest. Postmarks of closed or defunct post offices are also very sought after.

Often we are asked whether it is better to keep a stamp on the original envelope, or to cut and/or wash it off. One rule applies here. You can cut and/or wash it off but you cannot put it back on. When in doubt, leave it on the envelope.

If after reading this article, you still believe that you have something that may be above average, please send us a scan, or fax, or photocopy, with your return address, and we will advise you whether you have something of significant value.

We trust that this article will answer some of the questions that we are commonly asked. If you have any further queries, please send them to us and we will be happy to give you an answer.

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