Since the introduction of the original "Penny Black" in 1840, the British Royal Mail has issued hundreds of postage stamps. Because Great Britain was the first nation to issue postage stamps, in all likelihood the hobby of philately (stamp collecting) began there as well. If you are in possession of a quantity of older Royal Mail stamps, you have several choices regarding their use or disposition. But before you decide what you will do with them, you should first attempt to determine their condition and value, as some older Royal Mail stamps are highly sought after by collectors.
Examine the stamps, taking care not to touch them with your fingers. Using the stamp tongs (tweezers), separate the stamps into two groups: cancelled and unused. Place the used stamps in one or more of the glassine envelopes and put them aside for now.
Examine the unused stamps, paying particular attention to gum on the back. Stamps with full gum should be separated from those with traces of gum missing. Missing gum usually indicates that the stamp was previously hinged and placed in a collector's stamp album. Place the stamps in one or more glassine envelopes for continued examination.
Examine the used stamps. Those with heavy or smudged cancels, torn corners or missing perforations should be separated into additional glassine envelopes. Again, even though the stamps are damaged, do not touch them with your fingers; use your stamp tongs. As you continue separating the stamps, label the glassine envelopes with a description of their contents.
Return to the unused stamps. Using your stamp catalogue, determine the year of issue and the current catalogue value. The value of unused Royal Mail stamps will be a product of their age, quantity issued, face value, and condition. Unhinged examples will be worth more than hinged copies, and complete booklet panes will be worth more than panes missing one or more stamps. As you determine the potential value of the stamps, place them in individual glassines, labelling each with the catalogue number.
Continue examining the unused stamps. For those with a catalogue value close to their face value, using them as postage might be a good option. The Royal Mail website has information concerning current postal rates. If you have higher-value unused stamps and are not a collector, you may want to contact a stamp dealer and offer to sell the copies to them. Many dealers have listings in the telephone directory, Internet sites, or periodic ads in newspapers.
Re-examine the used stamps. You may want to sell those with a higher catalogue value to a dealer else to mount them in your own collection. Some used stamps, such as the 1929 £1 PUC (Postal Union Congress) George V stamp, may be worth almost as much in used condition as new. This is because used copies are somewhat rare and are sometimes highly prized by collectors of postal history.
Re-examine the heavily cancelled or damaged stamps. If they are difficult to catalogue because of the heavy cancellation or badly damaged, you may be forced to discard them. However, if you are a collector and they are stamps you don't currently own, you could keep them as "space fillers" until you acquire better copies.
Continue examining the used stamps. If some are duplicates of stamps you already own, you might contact fellow stamp collectors and try to trade for some that they have and you need.
If your stamps are of high value, visit several dealers for competitive bids before selling them. Your ultimate choices for using your older Royal Mail stamps come down to selling them, trading them, keeping them, using them for postage, or discarding them.
Never handle potentially collectable postage stamps with your fingers; always use stamp tongs, which are designed specifically for this purpose. Even if your fingers are clean, they may transfer skin oil onto the stamp and decrease its value.