Valuation of postage stamps

Updated November 21, 2016

Postage stamps have provided a simple and practical way to pay the fees for carrying mail ever since the first ones were issued in Britain in 1840. They proved instantly popular, and the postage stamp idea spread worldwide in short order, with the first U.S. postage stamps issued in 1847. People began collecting stamps from the very beginning, but the first stamp albums didn’t appear until 1862. According to the collectors at, the collector value of a postage stamp depends on its identity, rarity, condition, age, centring, cancellation type and history.

Identity Matters

You need to identify your stamp in order to find out if it is a rare issue. This requires a stamp catalogue such as the Scott Specialized or Scott Worldwide. Most stamps state the country that issued them and their postage value in the country’s currency, and have a design featuring motifs such as national rulers, national heroes, important national or cultural events or national landmarks. You can use these design elements to locate your stamp in the catalogue. All United States stamps and many foreign stamps have been assigned a Scott catalogue number, which is used to identify stamps being offered for sale. Catalogue entries identify the rare issues.

Rarity Counts

The rarity of any stamp is determined by the number originally printed and the number known to have survived to the present day. According to the stamp collectors at, the rarest stamp in the world is the British Guiana (now Guyana) one-cent magenta of 1852, of which only one specimen is known to exist. The rarest U.S. stamp is the 1867 blue one-cent Ben Franklin stamp with a Z grill (Scott 85A), of which only two specimens exist.

Status, Condition and Grade

A stamp’s status, condition and grade are major factors in determining stamp value. Status refers to whether a stamp is unused or used. Stamps that have not been used for postage and which have intact original gum (the adhesive) generally are worth more than those that have been postally used. Condition refers to the overall appearance of the stamp, such as whether perforation teeth are missing or the stamp has stains, tears, creases, folds or faded areas. Grade refers to how well the stamp’s design is centred on the paper. Most stamps are slightly off-centre in one or more directions. A perfectly centred stamp is worth more than an off-centre specimen.

Used Stamps

The fact that a stamp has been used for postage doesn’t mean it’s worthless, say the folks at 2-Clicks-Stamps. Some of the rarest postage stamps are only known through used specimens. When a stamp is used for postage, the postal system applies black postmarks in indelible ink to indicate this stamp has been postally used. These postmarks are known as cancellations. Stamps can be lightly cancelled, where the design elements are mostly visible, or heavily cancelled where the design can barely be made out. Lightly cancelled stamps generally are worth more than heavily cancelled specimens. U.S. postmasters in the 19th century sometimes made up their own fancy postmarks from rubber or cork, and the postage stamps they cancelled with these fancy markings are collected as a speciality.

Postal History

Stamps whose history can be traced are particularly fascinating to some collectors. Stamps that are still on their original addressed envelopes may offer insight into where the stamp has been. Another type of postal history envelope is called a first day cover. These bear a stamp that was cancelled on the first day of issue in a city having special significance to the subject of the stamp, such as the birthplace of a national hero being honoured on the stamp. Other postal history envelopes were carried on historic voyages or were otherwise linked to historic events.

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About the Author

Herb Kirchhoff has more than three decades of hands-on experience as an avid garden hobbyist and home handyman. Since retiring from the news business in 2008, Kirchhoff takes care of a 12-acre rural Michigan lakefront property and applies his experience to his vegetable and flower gardens and home repair and renovation projects.