Collecting Articles

Articles about Stamp Collecting published in APF News

Stamp Collecting – the Basics   (APF News, August 2005)

If you have never collected stamps before, or have come into possession of a collection that you know nothing about, it is very easy to do yourself and your collection a disservice by not following some of the generally accepted basics:


Sorting by country:

Working out what you have and organising it can be very difficult, especially if you don’t know much about what you have.  Organising material by country is usually the first and best step. If you don’t have a lot to sort through, grouping countries into categories such as British Commonwealth, Europe (non British Commonwealth) and then other countries is also a good idea.

Chronological sorting:

If you are able, sorting your material into chronological order – at least approximately – is also advisable, especially if you are thinking of getting your collection appraised by a dealer.  A collection that is well organised is much easier for someone to assess quickly than one that is disorganised and has better items scattered where the dealer is not expecting to find them.

A dealer will generally know what to look for in a collection when assessing its value and often there are key items or sets that make the difference between a common collection and one that may be worth considerably more.  At least if things are sorted by country and time, you can quickly ascertain what you need and know what you already have.

Catalogue Numbers and References:

Referencing catalogue numbers is not essential in most cases and most collectors do not go to this length when storing their stamps.  For larger collections however, making notes as to completeness can be very useful.

Varieties and Special Items:

To an experienced collector or dealer, spotting the importance of some items can be relatively easy.  However in many cases, stamps are produced in various forms over a period of time.  For example, Australia’s two earliest Commonwealth series of stamps the ‘map and kangaroo’ and George V heads, were issued over a some twenty years period.  Over that time, various types of watermarked papers were used, as well as different perforation gauges (the number of holes used to separate stamps that make up a sheet).

Let’s looks at a few examples form the first Commonwealth of Australia kangaroo and map stamps.  The prized piece is any Australian collection is the £2 value.  These were printed over a long period between 1913 and 1950.  Those from the first printings in 1913 (on first watermark paper) are considerably rarer and more expensive than those printed after 1934 (on Crown C of A watermark paper).

Some values in the kangaroo series were printed on only one type of paper. For example, the five pence value was only printed during 1913 to 1915 on first watermark paper.  That makes it quite a collectible item as everyone who wants a set of all the kangaroo values needs to have this value in their collection.

In addition to these varieties, early printing techniques were far from perfect with printing plates often requiring constant repairs or even complete replacement. This means that what might appear to be two identical stamps may not be at all.  A trained eye, and often a magnifying glass, may be needed depending on the complexity of the particular stamps concerned.

Building and Improving a Collection:

Having said that there are no rules and that what you collect is entirely up to you, following some basics is always advisable if you ultimately want to make some sense of it all.  Adhering to some basic rules is especially important if you expect to sell your collection some day and only want to build it in order to achieve a return.


The importance of condition remains one of the least appreciated aspects of collecting amongst novice collectors.  Many smaller collections or accumulations are let down by their relatively poor condition.  This is particularly sad when the few otherwise better items in the collection are amongst those in poorest condition in a collection.

Ensuring you keep your stamps and other items in their best possible condition is not that difficult. Some of key things to remember are:

Store them appropriately – appropriate storage is essential to minimising the likelihood of damage. Keeping your stamps flat, dry and protected will help ensure you achieve this.  Various of types of albums and accessories are available and a stamp dealer can advise you on what is best for your particular needs.
Do not handle your stamps with your hands – especially mint (unused) stamps where finger marks or other blemishes will show on the gum.  User tweezers to handle stamps. Use of a second pair to gently lift up the strips on an album page is also a useful technique as the perforations on a stamp are
most commonly damaged from poor attempts to fit them into albums.
Avoid torn, bent or damaged stamps – stamps should also be clean and free of defects such as tears, bends or missing perforations.  With used stamps, heavy cancellations or cancellations that cover the majority of the stamp should generally be avoided.  Circular cancellations that do not cover more than one-quarter of the stamp are still preferred.
Do not hinge unused stamps – mint or unused stamps should never be hinged as this will disturb the gum and leave a mark if removed. Whilst hinging was common place many years ago, it is not advisable.  Hinging is generally safe for used stamps, provided good quality hinges are used.  Poor quality hinges that are prone to coming lose are a recipe for stamps disappearing mysteriously from your collection!

Many typical childhood collections lack inclusion of complete sets and are overpopulated by more common values.  This is where use of catalogues can be particularly useful – to identify missing better items. Obviously the more complete a collection is, the less work a potential new owner needs to undertake, and hence the more appeal it has if being offered for sale.


Repetition of more common stamps, particularly if they are of mixed or generally poorer condition should be avoided – if for no other reason than they take up room in your albums at the expense of potentially new and better items.  A regular clean out of unwanted spares is inevitably always worth the effort.

Rarer Items:

If and when you ever have your collection assessed for its value, the inclusion (or absence of) better and rare items is usually the first thing that will be noticed.  Having multiples of more common stamps is never a good substitute for not having complete sets and better items.

Common Misconceptions

“Old is valuable”

Value is determined by many factors of which age is but one.  Even then, it does not always follow that old stamps are more valuable stamps.  Many older stamps were in fact produced in quite large quantities and are not rare at all.  Condition, scarcity and collectivity (demand) are greater determinants of value. Take the example illustrated, a stamp issued by Australia in 1951 and 1952.  Although it is now over fifty years old, over 420 million were printed. An unused copy would probably cost you less than $1 to buy.

“Used is less valuable”

This may generally be true but is by no means true in all cases. Many older stamps, particularly high face value stamps which were not produced in large quantities, are certainly very collectible. Many older higher face value stamps were produced for overseas postage.  Not only were not many often produced, but because they traveled large distances, rarely arrived in good condition.

“Stamps should be removed from envelopes”

Philately is concerned with much more than the simple stamp alone. Postal historians and other specialists interested in things like mail carried by air, mail sent or delivered to the world’s polar regions, and topical and thematic collectors look for much more.  A complete envelope with stamp, cancel and often other instructional markings or postally applied cachet is often more important than the stamp alone.  This is especially the case with envelopes that have been autographed, for example the pilot’s signature on an envelope has been carried on an inaugural air mail service.

Getting Advice

Philately is an incredibly diverse field of endeavor. The number of stamp issuing countries is growing all the time and the number of countries now growing in popularity to collectors is greater than ever before. In countries like Australia we are seeing demand for stamps and other philatelic material from countries such as China on a scale never seen before.  The rapid growth of the internet and e-mail has also meant that collectors can now access dealers, auction houses and postal administrations in ways they never could before.  What all this means is that the dynamics of stamp collecting are diverse and complex and keeping up with the latest trends is more than a full-time occupation. When seeking advice from other collectors, dealers or auction house, this must be remembered so always seek as many opinions are you can.

[ Source:  APF News, August 2005 ]

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