A guide to stamp condition and value: damage and perfins (part 4)

stamp condition and value: damage and perfins

What’s the damage? 

We have looked at some aspects of damage in this series, notably in relation to perforations, so let us conclude by reviewing other aspects of damage.  All young collectors are advised from the outset to avoid torn stamps, and the advice obviously holds good throughout one’s philatelic life. However, that is not to say that all torn stamps are worthless, because even a torn example of a desirable stamp is still collectable and can therefore command a price.

In a GB context, a fine used £5 orange or 2s. brown with a 3mm tear, but otherwise superb, would probably rate about one third of catalogue price; A more common stamp, such as a 2s.6d. or 5s. value, would be worth much less and, naturally, the larger or more obvious the tear, the greater its impact on the price.  A ‘bend’ will generally not be evident on the face of a stamp, only on the back, and will result in a 10 or 15 per cent reduction in price; a gum crease is the natural result of gum ageing and its effect on value will depend upon the damage caused to the face of the stamp.

A crease is clearly evident on the surface of the stamp and will result in a more common stamp being worth between one fifth and one tenth of catalogue, depending on the harshness of the crease and where it is – a crease across a corner will be less significant than one right across the middle, for example.

A ‘wrinkle’ gives the appearance of a series of light creases, whose effect on value will depend on its extent and clarity. Once again, a crease or wrinkle on a valuable stamp will be less significant in percentage terms than one on a more common one – all other factors being equal.

The impact a thin will have will similarly depend upon its extent and the effect it may have on the surface of the stamp; a surface abrasion having a greater impact than a hinge thin. Some of the chalksurfaced key types of the early twentieth century are particularly prone to ‘rubbing’ and, again, this will always reduce the price of a stamp, the size of the reduction depending upon the degree of the damage and the scarcity of the stamp itself.

Australia stamp - crease in margin
Stamp condition and value


Stamps bearing perforated initials were at one time treated as little better than rubbish and many were destroyed. The fact that there is now a specialist society devoted to perfins should indicate that the situation has changed; but it is fair to say that the majority of collectors avoid them like the plague.

Many official perfins are now listed in the catalogue and some of them carry a price higher than they would as normals. Some, indeed, are very desirable, notably the China ‘Large Dragons’ perforated ‘NCH’ by the North China Herald.  Demand from specialist perfin collectors has pushed up the price for ‘proving covers’ that is, covers which show which organisation used a particular set of initials, while some commercial perfins are sought after and command a premium over the price of an unperfined stamp.

Nevertheless, a set of perforated initials would still usually result in an otherwise fine stamp being worth only about one tenth of catalogue.


One of the reasons why the firm of De La Rue held such an important position in stamp production in the British Empire at the turn of the last century was the security offered by their fugitive inks. The green ink they used, in particular, dissolved into a pale yellow-green upon immersion in water. A footnote in the catalogue under the 1883 definitives of Great Britain comments;

‘The above prices are for stamps in the true dull green colour. Stamps which have been soaked, causing the colour to run, are virtually worthless.’

This seems rather harsh, particularly in the case of the difficult 9d., but fairly reflects the current market position.  The comment is just as relevant to many other stamps, both from Britain and the colonies. The same inks were used in the production of many colonial middle and high values, such as the Federated Malay States ‘elephants’. Such stamps, when water affected, would be worth from one fifth to one tenth of catalogue, depending on the degree of discolouration.

Water damage is not only a problem for the typographed issues of De La Rue. Although it is generally recognised that recess-printing inks are more stable, there are examples of such stamps which are susceptible to ‘washing’ – some of the Rhodesian ‘double heads’, for example, can be devalued in this way.

Colour change is not, of course, brought about only through immersion in water; sunlight can sometimes have a very significant effect and seriously faded stamps should be viewed in the same way as ‘washed’ ones – more common items being ‘virtually worthless’, rarer ones rating up to one fifth of catalogue, providing that the fading is not too serious.

Tone spots – the brownish spots encountered on many stamps which have been stored in damp conditions – especially in the tropics – will also reduce the value of a stamp or cover; the degree of reduction once again depending upon the extent of the toning and the value of the stamp in fine condition.

A few toned perforation tips should, say the experts, be viewed in the same way as if they were ‘short’. A small brown spot in the centre of a stamp, providing it cannot be seen on the front, would reduce an otherwise fine King George VI stamp to around half catalogue, or quarter catalogue if it were mounted as well.  Earlier stamps would require similar discounting but toned examples of more modern issues should be considered almost valueless. Similarly, any stamp with extensive or more disfiguring brown marks should be avoided, especially as the fault can ‘migrate’ to other stamps.

Stamp Condition and value

This guide is part of a series of 5 guides: “A guide to stamp condition and value”. The entire series can be found here:

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