Uncovering the history and value of stamps
Stamp collection values reflect the rarity, antiquity, and quality of the individual stamps collected. Today, stamp collecting and philately (the study of stamps) are among the world’s most enduring, popular hobbies.
The spirit of innovation that shaped Victorian Britain led to the introduction of prepaid, adhesive postage stamps in 1840. The world’s first stamp, the Penny Black, featured a black-and-white illustration of Queen Victoria. As its name suggests, this kind of stamp originally cost a penny (the price of posting a letter at the time) – but its value has increased dramatically. Now, pristine Penny Blacks are often worth thousands of pounds. As soon as they were issued, Penny Blacks and the other stamps that followed became collectables. The British Museum’s Zoology expert, John Edward Gray, was the first stamp collector; he bought Penny Blacks and saved them for posterity.
There are many reasons why millions of collectors find stamps appealing. Stamps are tangible links with the past and a variety of countries. They’re miniature works of art with a practical purpose. What’s more, over half a million different kinds of stamp have been issued, and so there’s always scope to enlarge a collection.
Most exciting is the fact that stamps can be valuable; rare, unusual examples often achieve high prices at auction.
5 signs your stamps may be valuable
The following factors have considerable influence on your stamp collection values.
Collectors look for the best examples of particular stamps. As paper is fragile, stamps with creases, folds and tears are common. An imperfection or repair could easily reduce a stamp’s value by as much as 90%.
Unused stamps are more highly prized than those that have travelled through the postal system. That’s why the sheet of 38 Victorian Two Pence Blue stamps, which George V acquired during the Twenties, is particularly special.
It’s tempting to assume that all antique stamps must be valuable simply because they’re old, but that’s not the case. Take the blue, one-cent stamp from 1861 that features Benjamin Franklin, for example. It’s too common to be worth more than a couple of pounds.
The harder a stamp is to find, the more valuable it’s likely to be.
The larger and more even a stamp’s borders, the more attractive it is to collectors.
If the design is perfectly centred and surrounded by clear borders, the stamp can be regarded as a fine example.
When different versions of a particular stamp are produced, they’re known as variations. For example, if stamps that are normally blue are printed in gold to celebrate a special occasion, they’re variations.
Variations are often more obscure – and more valuable – than the originals.
‘Error’ stamps result from mistakes in the production process, such as ink smears, missing perforations, inverted images, etc.
They’re particularly valuable, thanks to collectors’ love of quirks.
A selection of the most valuable stamps
- Baden 9 Kreuzer Green (1851): This German stamp, with ‘9’ in the centre, was mistakenly printed in green ink instead of pink. Four copies survive; the only unused one was auctioned in 2008 for just over €1.3m (around £1.2m).
- Treskilling Yellow (1855): This Swedish stamp, featuring a crest, is also the product of a printing error (bluish ink should’ve been used, not yellow). As the only one of its kind in existence, it’s valued at $2.3m (around £1.9m).
- British Guiana One Cent Magenta (1856): Only one example of this record-breaking stamp, which features a ship, survives. It was commissioned for an emergency stamp issue after a stamp delivery from Britain failed to arrive. It was recently sold for just under $9.5m (around £7.7m), making it the world’s most valuable stamp.
Stamp collection values: how much are my stamps worth?
Examining stamps and referring to price guides will give you clues about your collection’s value. But for an accurate, up-to-date valuation, it’s always advisable to consult an expert.
Our Collectables department, led by experienced valuer Henry Cooke, has the expertise to help you uncover the true worth of your stamp collection.
Moreover, we offer a free valuation service for anyone who’s interested in selling their items at one of our sales.
Selling your stamps
We frequently hold Collectors Sales, which have a broad appeal. It’s the ideal event at which to sell your stamps and other collectables (such as militaria, automobilia and toys).