Is your postage stamp collection worth more than face value? This is a common question heard by coin and stamp auction specialists every week. So, let’s break down the market for stamps to help you understand what your stamps are worth.

For those not familiar with it, philately is the study of postage stamps, stamped envelopes, postmarks, postcards, and other materials relating to postal delivery. Stamp collectors are philatelists. Individuals have been collecting stamps since the world first started making them. However, the market for stamps has changed quite a lot since its heyday in the 1980s.

The stamp market

The stamp market is a collapsing market—meaning that the number of buyers is shrinking as they are aging out of the market. However, the volume of material available and the number of sellers is not decreasing at the same rate. Due to this fact, it is a buyer’s market. Buyers are looking for high-quality, minimal-issue stamps, because they have a lot more material to be picky about. Yeah, market dynamics.

What is a high-quality stamp?

So what is a high-quality, minimal issue stamp? Well, that is a stamp with near-perfect centering, brilliant color, perfect gum, no bent edges, older and of a high denomination. Plus, as with any collecting—rare pieces. This is what is sought after. Perforations that are missing, faded colors, paper flecks, hinge marks, off-centered images, and other imperfections greatly diminish stamp value.

Storage is key

In addition, as stamps are paper-based items, long-term storage requires specific conditions to keep the stamps preserved. Damp environments, humid environments, and those that swing radically from cold to hot over a year are not good for paper with glue on them.

What are cut corners?

Many stamp collections are an accumulation of cut corners. This means that an individual has cut off the corners of envelopes with canceled stamps and may or may not have soaked the stamps off of the paper in bowls of warm water. These stamps tend to be common issue stamps in lower denominations. Although some stamps can be quite old, the lower the denomination of the stamp, the more common they are considered. This is because they printed more of them and they were used more often.

Determining value

An easy way to think of this would be, if you were making $40/week in the 1860s, what and to whom are you mailing something using a $1 or higher stamp? There were a lot fewer used and made—as it was just not common for people to use them. So, stamps of one or two cents—or other low denominations—were issued in great quantities even way back when. Thus today, they have low collector value.

Stamps are still valuable

One good thing to note for all stamps is that they can still be used today. You can use them for mailing, holiday cards, or give them to local nonprofits for their mailings. You will have to lick or wet them, but they are still acceptable by the US Postal Service.

Alile Byers, CAI, AMM, BAS contributed to this article.

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