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Top Tips for the Stamp Collector

Aug 17, 2007
Stamps. You put them on a letter you want to mail, or a bill you need to pay. Once in a while, if it is a birthday or Valentine`s Day card, you will request a special picture on the stamp, a cake or a heart, perhaps. However, to some, stamps are more than just mere postage.

If you are looking to add to your stamp collection or start one, make sure you are getting what you are paying for, here a few tips to help.

Make sure you examine the postmark date on the envelope, or what is visible on the postmark on the stamp. This often plays a role in determining a stamp`s value. What is the stamps face value? Some denominations are rarer than others and of course, the more rare, the more valuable. Check the frame between the central design of the stamp and the surrounding perforations, the holes that separate one stamp from another on a sheet. Is the design centered? If it was printed off center, you may have a more valuable stamp.

Study the perforation teeth, the stamp`s jagged edges. Use a perforation gauge, which measures the number of holes for each 2 centimeters of surface area; the perforation number is one factor that determines the stamp`s value. Study the margin, or unprinted area, around a stamp; again, is the design centered? Examine the vignette, or central design, of the stamp. Check for color alterations and fading. Use a magnifying glass to examine the stamp closely. Check for creases, tears, uneven perforation teeth, vivid colors, frail paper, and the quality of gum on the backing and signs of repair on the surface. All of these contribute to the collectablity of the stamp.

The grading scale for stamps is similar to that of other collectibles: Mint condition stamps have never been used, are perfectly centered, and have vivid colors, the original adhesive gum on the back, and no creases or tears. The succeeding grades are Extremely Fine, Very Fine, Fine, Very Good, and Good. Labels often accompany stored stamps. These include Never Hinged, NH, Original Gum, OG, Lightly Hinged, LH, and Hinge Remnants, HR. Always check stamp price guides for more information on grading scales and handling stamps; many guides use more elaborate grading scales. Common price guides include the Scott Catalogue, and the Black book Price Guide published by the House of Collectibles.

One more quick tip, use Stamp Museum to determine how the stamp is being produced. In general, engraved stamps are very labor intensive compared to other types such as lithography. Also check out who produced the stamps, example, who is the painter, who is the engraver, etc.
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