Acceptable Level Of Condition
By John M. Hotchner
Stamp collectors are rightly concerned about
condition. We each have our personal preferences based upon many
considerations, which I would like to use this column to explore.
Looking at the front of the stamp, condition is a mix of many factors.
To one collector, centering may be the most important element. To
someone else, the lightness of a cancel on a used stamp may mean more.
Another may favor the brightness and freshness of the color(s) of the
And then there is the design itself — is the subject pleasing, well
rendered, attractive in how it pleases the eye of the beholder (keeping
in mind that different beholders will have different expectations for
what constitutes beauty)?
The absence of obvious flaws — scuffs,, tears, pinholes, alterations in
color or variable ink application, short or missing perforations, and
more — will affect how we perceive the desirability of any given stamp.
Each of these things is taken into account, if only subconsciously, as
we consider the possible purchase of stamps.
With regard to the back of the stamp, some of the flaws noted above may
be more obvious; others not seen at all. But there is another set of
considerations. If mint stamps are what you collect, then the presence
or absence of the gum, the pristine-ness of the gum, the presence or
absence of hinges or hinge remnants, can all be criteria by which we
A major category of considerations remains: the possible doctoring of a
stamp to make it appear to be generally more desirable: repairs,
lightening of cancels, regumming, reperfing, pressing out creases, etc.
Although stamps that have been doctored should always be identified as
such, the more perfectly it is done, the less likely the stamp is to be
identified as doctored. Still, you the buyer have the alternative of
educating yourself to identify such stamps, and can then accept them
for your collection or not, as you choose.
A major point to make here is that each of the conditions noted
contributes to the overall condition, and the standards that you set
for including a stamp in your collection needs to take them into
account. Part of this process is an assessment of what you find
appealing (and forgivable), considered against what you are prepared to
We are seeing in the marketplace these days an ever stronger movement
toward very high, some would say outlandishly high, prices for the
highest levels of perfection — seldom seen levels of quality for even
common stamps. If you must have perfection, then you can expect to pay
a significant premium for it. It is not only the investor who is
attracted at that level, by the way. We collectors can develop that
sort of discriminating eye as well, and it is the collector to whom
this little essay is addressed.
Each of us as collectors decides upon our standards. I will tell you a
little about mine to illustrate the considerations. First it is
important that I tell you I am of moderate means; a government worker
with no inherited wealth in the bank. I am a collector, but am not
unconcerned about the long-term value of my collection. While I have no
plans to sell it, the time might come; and surely there will come a
time when my heirs and assigns will, and it pleases me to think that
they might get out of it more than I paid in assembling it. I suspect I
am not unlike most of you who are reading this.
Regarding the front of the stamp, I am least concerned about fresh
color, and most concerned about centering, but not unconcerned about a
nice, light cancellation. Flaws or doctoring become an important
concern as the basic catalogue value of the item in question increases.
I will buy such stamps if they are properly described, priced
appropriately, and they fill a hole that I am unlikely to be able to
fill with a perfect stamp, because such is clearly beyond my means.
My opinions about the back of the stamp begin with the recognition that
the only time I will see it is when I put it into my album. Some buy
their stamps as if they were going to show the gum side rather than the
design. That is not for me. I have standards, though. If hinged, I
prefer a light hinge, with the gum intact, and no thins or pieces of
old album attached.
However, for a high-value stamp that I am unlikely to ever own in
pristine condition, I am willing to bend those standards — even to
buying unused/no gum — at the right price, in order to fill an album
space. Stamp collectors are nothing if not hopeful, and I always hope
that one day I may hit the lottery, and be able to upgrade. If not, it
still gives me more pleasure to see a gap filled, than to see a hole on
the page of stamps that are graded "superb."
And that is the most important of my standards. I am a stamp collector,
not a collector of perfect stamps. I collect for enjoyment, not for
resale. Yet I recognize that buying for my collection is something of a
balancing act: keeping condition and price on an even keel, so that I
am getting the best value for my expenditure.
My method works for me. Others can and do feel differently, and I honor
that. Each of us should do what pleases us in this hobby. My advice,
therefore, is that you not do what others tell you that you "should."
Rather you have the task of thinking about what makes you happiest, and
then to pursue those standards with gusto!
Should you wish to comment on this editorial,
or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future
column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125,
Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or e-mail, putting "VSC" in the subject
line, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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