|Introduction to Stamp Collecting|
Describing Stamp Condition
By Jim Watson
Although centering and gum (for unused stamps) are two of the major factors in the condition of a stamp, other factors which must be considered are impression, color, and cancelation (for used stamps). Often both centering and overall quality of the stamp are mentioned as in "Very Fine Mint Lightly Hinged." A complete condition evaluation must consider all the condition factors. The stamp must be free of defects or any defects must be noted. Any deficiencies in impression, color, and cancelation must also be noted. A scan should not be relied on to reliably portray impression, color and cancelation. For example, a perfectly centered stamp with a hole should not be classified as extra fine or superb. While there are no absolute rules for defining these characteristics, the following are general guidelines.
The centering of stamps is generally rated S, XF, VF, F-VF, F and Ave. The letters stand for Superb, Extra Fine, Very Fine, Fine to Very Fine, Fine, and Average. Often, collectors, dealers, and catalogs use these terms only to describe a stamp's centering. This practice should be supplemented by recognition of the other factors affecting condition.
Gum condition is generally divided into six major classifications. Of course, it is only a question when dealing with Mint/Unused stamps.
Original Gum (OG)
However, regummers have become more expert now. In fact, regumming is now so difficult to detect that many collectors no longer will pay extreme prices for a so-called original-gum stamp. Even most stamp experts will not judge gum to be original or not. For these reasons, the beginner and even the experienced collector may want to avoid limitiing his collection to original-gum stamps.
No Gum (NG)
Never Hinged (NH)
Lightly Hinged (LH)
Heavily Hinged (HH)
Hinge Remnant (HR)
Other Characteristics of Condition
The discussion of the other factors affecting condition which follows draws heavily on the excellent discussions of Richard McP. Cabeen in his Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting copyright 1965 and published by Thomas Y. Crowell.
When plates are not cleaned adequately, some of the lines become filled with dried ink and disappear. Also, during the process, the plates may not be wiped properly. If they are not cleaned well between impressions (sly-wiped), the stamp will be toned from the excess ink. If they are wiped too strongly, ink will be removed from the recessed lines and the printed image will be weakened.
Plates wear as the combination of ink and paper is an abrasive which causes the finely traced lines to dull. Such problems are not so important with lithographed and typographed stamps as the plates can be relatively inexpensively replaced.
Cabeen used these descriptive terms for impression from the very best to the least attractive: "Early, very light; Fine; Good; Ordinary; Underinked or dry or dirty plate; Heavily overinked."
An additional factor is the effect of time on the color itself. Many colors used in inks tend to change with time and exposure to light and chemicals. Faded stamps are not desirable. Choice stamps should match the original color hue and brightness. There are some stamps in which distinct color changes have been made deliberately with chemicals. These color changelings should be avoided. None have any philatelic merit.
Cabeen used these descriptive terms for color from the very best to the least attractive: "Fresh, full; Fine; Good; Dull or slight fade; Faded; Badly faded."
Clear town marks which do not obscure the eyes of the subject of the focus of interest in the vignette are generally perferred. Stamps which have special cancellations such as "Paid," "Way," "Steamboat," are due a place because of the cancel but the condition of the stamp is not changed by such a cancel.
Cabeen used these descriptive terms for cancelation from the very best to the least attractive: "Sharp, legible; Same but obscures features; Faint, slightly heavy or machine; Heavy or slight smudge; Worse than last or pen cancelation; Heavy smudge."
Final Word on Condition
The condition of the stamp is made up of all the factors. The attractiveness of a stamp depends on favorable conjunction of each of the factors. A stamp which has superb centering may be valued much less due to a smudgy cancellation.
Poor stamps are used as space fillers until a better copy may be obtained. Sellers should always recognize such condition in their offerings. The perforations are well into the design, and the centering is awful. The stamp may be dirty and smudged. There are likely to be serious defects such as thins, straight edges, tears, short perfs, fading, or a combination of such factors. For a few rare and valuable stamps, such as the 1 cent magenta of British Guiana, only poor copies exist. Only then are stamps in poor condition acceptable as other than space fillers. You should consider space fillers as only a temporary solution until you can find a better copy.