People have been collecting stamps ever since they first appeared in 1840. While the methods of prepaying postage have diversified considerably since the very first mailing of a letter bearing a Penny Black, most countries continue to appreciate the revenue to be gained from the sale of adhesive stamps and first day covers to collectors. The result is that the number of new issues generated each year now exceeds 10,000.
There are many different reasons why people take up stamp collecting. It may be as simple as seeing a particularly eye-catching stamp on an item in your own mail, perhaps from an interesting place you once visited, or depicting a subject that fascinates you, or that is related in some way to your profession or to a school project. The desire to keep it might just be enough to trigger off the notion of forming a stamp collection with a related theme.
Every stamp tells us something about its country of origin, but occasionally the postmark reveals a bigger story.
Grade and condition
Before you start trading it is worth understanding the principles behind grade and condition if you want to be able to calculate the approximate value of a stmap. The “grade” of a stamp is determined by the actual position of the printed design on the paper, in relation to the perforated edges. Stamps with larger margins (the area of unprinted paper surrounding the printed design) tend to attract collectors more than examples where the design is tight against the edges. Stanley Gibbons has standardised the descriptive methods of grading and we use terms such as “fair”, “good”, “fine”, “very fine” and so on.
Condition is based on a number of factors: the effects of production, whether the stamp is hinged, the nature of the cancellation on a used stamp, or any evidence of damage.
Finding the right dealer
Stamp dealers usually offer material at a discount off the catalogue price, although if the stamps are elusive you should be prepared to pay over the odds sometimes. Catalogue prices are usually a fair indication of relative value.
The stamp auction is where the best stamps and postal history material come up for sale, and this is where you are most likely to find entire collections and specialized studies that can form the basis for further expansion, as well as the more choice single items that fill that long-felt want and wait.