Chapter 03
Centering & Condition

If you are new to stamps, you may wish to skim through this chapter quickly and return to it later if you need to. This chapter is a continuation of chapter 2. Centering and condition have terms all their own. It’s better to group them together all in one place.


3.1 Overall condition of your stamp collection

One of the nice things about philately is that the collector can decide what to collect. He/she can decide how much money to spend, how to display the material, how to store the material, etc. A collector can soak stamps off of incoming mail in which case the stamps are low-value. The collector may choose to purchase individual stamps for thousands of dollars. Simply, a collector may collect anything. Remember that philately is primarily a hobby and its primary purpose is entertainment. Since you have inherited a collection, and may not know what kinds of things the collector has, here are some guidelines about condition and value.

The overall condition of your stamp collection is important in how much you will get if you decide to sell it. For example:

Stamps neatly mounted in an album have more value than a messy album.

Mint stamps mounted in stamp mounts are more valuable than stamps mounted with hinges.

Stamps mounted in an album are more valuable than a shoe box of unorganized, loose stamps.

Stamps that are neatly organized in glassines or stock books can be as valuable as those mounted in an album. In fact, they can sometimes be more valuable as they may not contain hinges.

Stamps that have been damaged/stained by water or humidity are less valuable than stamps in first-class condition, often by as much as 90%.


3.2 Condition of individual stamps

If you are selling individual stamps, the most important details in the condition of a stamp are:

1. Is it damaged? A stamp that is torn, ripped, thinned, creased, bent, has missing perfs, etc. has much less value than one in good shape. If the stamp is a highly valuable stamp, however, it will still have some value, even if it is damaged. The value will be proportional to the amount of damage. For example, a high-face-value Zepp with a couple of perfs missing may still command over $100.

2. Is the stamp mint or used? Generally (but not always) a mint stamp is more valuable than a used one.

3. If the stamp is mint, what is the condition of the back of the stamp? If it’s a MNH, it is the best. A MH is next best. A stamp with damaged gum or no gum is the least valuable.

4. If the stamp is used, the cancellation on the front is the next most important thing. How much canceling ink did the stamp get?

5. The final important factor is how well the stamp is centered. This is discussed in section 3.3 next.


3.3 Centering

If you are looking in a stamp newspaper or looking around on the stamp site on the Internet, you will frequently run into statements like, “I only collect MNH F-VF stamps.” By now, you know what the MNH means. The other term (F-VF) deals with centering. Most stamps have a design surrounded by a blank margin. That margin is surrounded by the perforations, usually. How well the design is centered in the stamp can affect the value. The following is a list of stamp-centering terms sorted in order from best to worst.

Superb - The design is dead center, perfectly centered in the middle. All of the margins around the stamp are exactly the same width.

XF (Extra fine) - Not quite superb, but darn well centered.

VF (Very fine) - Almost as good as XF, but not quite.

F-VF (Fine -Very Fine) - Well centered. The design does not touch the perfs.

F (Fine) - Well centered. The design does not touch the perfs.

VG (Very good) - Decent centering. The stamp usually has other minor faults.

G (Good) - Poor centering. The stamp may also have major faults. This stamp may also be described as poor or average.

As you may have noticed, the terms are subjective. The collector who wants F-VF probably means he/she wants a stamp that has all of the design on it and looks reasonably good. The design should not be cut into by the perfs. A collector who asks for a F-VF stamp will always be happy if you sell him/her a superb stamp.