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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 design.

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 assess desirability.

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 spend. 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 jmhstamp@verizon.net

What are your criteria for acceptable conditions? Join us in the message board and tell us about it.

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