How to Value Stamps

Thursday 21st February 2019 - Della Bentham


How to Value Stamps

We take a look at how to value stamps.


Stamp collecting has been a popular hobby for many years now, philatelists, as they are referred to, can pay hefty price tags for the right stamps


Postage stamps were first created here in the UK back in 1840 as part of a postal reform, promoted by Sir Rowland Hill. Prior to this people had to pay to receive their post. The penny black was the first stamp created and is probably the most famous stamp, although it’s not the rarest.


The penny black was actually withdrawn a year after it was first created and replaced with the penny red. A perfectly preserved specimen of the first postage stamp can still fetch thousands of pounds in immaculate condition.  


Not a bad sum for something so small eh, but how does one establish the value of postage stamps? You need to begin by identifying it. Which country did it originate from, how old is it and so on. The internet can be your best friend here. We take a look at how to go about identifying a stamp below.


  • Look for any information printed on the stamp. Some may display a price in a currency that can help to identify the country of origin, some may say where they have come from, others may have inscriptions or letters on them instead.
  • Look for watermarks. Some older stamps pre-WWII have a watermark created in the printing process. You can use some watermark fluid to see this. Place the stamp face down onto a tray with a couple of drops of the fluid and wait for it to dry. You can then review the design, numbers, letters and so on that make up the watermark to help you in your quest for identification.
  • Now that you have all the identifying marks you can take to the internet and get some answers.


Once you know what you have, you will be able to begin looking for a valuation. The condition is one of a few determining factors in pricing stamps. We take a look below.


Before you can assess the graded condition of a stamp you need to look at the following.




The design of the stamp should be as centred as possible to obtain its maximum value. The margins should be equal and the design balanced.


Stamps that are not perfectly centred may have unequal margins, meaning the image may be more to the left or right or more to the top or bottom of the stamp. Some stamps image may cross over into the perforated edges if the centring is very off. The more centred a stamp is, the better its grade and value will be.




This is the glue on the reverse of the stamp. A stamp is more valuable if it still has the original gum on it. In order to value a stamp, a philatelist would grade the gum in the following way.


  • Original Gum: This is found on mint stamps, it is as it was when it left the post office and hasn’t been tampered with or mounted.
  • Regummed: A professional stamp dealer may regum stamps to improve their condition.
  • Unhinged: A regummed stamp that has not been attached to a hinge or stamp mount.
  • Ungummed: The stamp either had no gum when it was created, or the gum has been removed.
  • Hinged gum: These are stamps that saved traces of the hinge mount.
  • Thinned stamps: These are stamps that have had the gum removed and in the process, a little of the paper has come away.
  • Never Hinged: These are stamps that have the original gum and have never been used or glued.




The perforations are the little teeth around the edges of a stamp. The better condition they are in, the more your stamp is worth. When determining value, the following is taken into consideration.


  • Imperforations: These are stamps that never had any perforations. This means they had to be cut from the sheet of stamps with scissors.
  • Straight Edges: These are stamps produced with straight edges.
  • Reperforation: These stamps would have originally had straight edges, but were perforated at a later date.
  • Blunt perforations: This means the stamp has shorter than average perforations.
  • Pulled perforations: This occurs when a portion of the stamps design Is not centred and can be seen on the perforation teeth.
  • Blind perforations: This means the perforations are not fully punched. Some paper has been left where holes should be.


Condition Grading


The condition of a stamp is one of the most important factors in determining its value. Collector’s look for imperfections, missing perforations, faded colours and paper flacks. Philatelists grade stamps on a scale between superb and poor.


Superb (S) are the best stamps available. The gum is perfect, the centring is near perfect and the colours are brilliant. These are harder to find and are, therefore, usually the most valuable.


Extremely Fine (XF) stamps are almost perfect. The design should be well centred with well-balanced margins. Mint stamps will still have their original gum.


Very fine (VF) stamps are well centred, the margins are balanced, they may have light cancellations that don’t distort the depicted imagery. The perforations should be intact and faultless.


Fine to very fine (F-VF) stamps may have a slightly off centred image, but should be clear from the perforations.


Fine (F) stamps have a design which barely misses the perforation but still remain within them so it is not cut off. The margins of the stamp will be disproportionate.


Average (A) stamps have a few flaws. They may be off centre, slightly cut, have a cancellation mark that’s a little too thick etc. There should, however, be no vivid tears or serious flaws.


Poor (P) stamps have numerous imperfections. They will be off centre, the perforations may cut too far into the design, the cancellations may obscure the stamp’s image and so on. These are usually the least valuable.




Finally, as with most collectable items, the rarer something is, the more money it is worth. This is something that will be difficult for a novice to gauge. Philatelists usually have years or even decades of experience collecting stamps. Therefore, while some knowledge may be garnered on the internet, if you think you have an extremely rare stamp on your hands you should get some expert advice from a collector or auctioneer.


Stamps that have errors and those that were produced in limited numbers are likely to be harder to find.


Auctions can be a great place to start if you’re thinking of getting into philately. You can peruse catalogues, watch the prices they sell for and even start making your own purchases. Pop over to our website to take a look.  


Why not have a look at this upciming auction and test your new knowledge on the subject:

Martello Philatelic Auctions
Stamps Coins and Postal History
22nd Feb 2019 from 1pm GMT