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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Much Ado About Catalogue Values - Clearing Up Common Misconceptions

There are probably few topics in philately that are of greater consequence and that involve more misunderstanding among collections and dealers alike than catalogue values. It has been my experience over the past 37 years that most collectors have a wholly unrealistic idea of the relationship between catalogue values and market values, and what they should expect to pay for the stamps in their collection. This lack of realism exists on both sides of the spectrum: collectors who think that their stamps are worth way more than they actually are, and those who think that stamps that are actually scarce and expensive should be way cheaper.

One of the most widely held, and in my opinion mistaken beliefs about the relationship between market value and catalogue value is that market value is always a more or less fixed percentage of the catalogue value. You can often hear collectors say:"I never pay more than 1/3 of Gibbons", "Gibbons is way overpriced" or " I never pay more than 75% of Scott". Such collectors may indeed be speaking the truth, but that doesn't mean that those collectors are amassing complete collections of scarce and desirable material. Indeed those collectors could be collecting run-of-the-mill material that they are buying in bulk at auction, in which case they are paying the right price.

So in this post, I want to offer my insights about catalogue and market values that I have gleaned from 37 years of personal experience and 10 years of professional experience spent working in the trade.

The Purpose of Catalogues: To Facilitate Trade

The main purpose of a general stamp catalogue is to facilitate orderly trade between collectors and dealers and between collectors and other collectors by providing a comprehensive listing of the stamps that are commonly seen in the marketplace. In order to be of maximum utility to the largest number of users, it is essential that such a catalogue be user-friendly. What that means in practical terms is:

1. It will not be overly complicated. It will refrain from listing items that require an extensive amount of experience to identify correctly.

2. It will price material in the quality that is good enough to satisfy most collectors and is readily available in the marketplace. It will include prices for above average, but but not perfect material.

3. Where several different varieties of a stamp exist, unless the catalogue is listing the varieties separately, it is pricing the most common variety of that stamp.

3. Because dealers have to make a living and have overheads to cover, it will usually value stamps at a minimum of 20 cents or more per stamp.

Thus a general catalogue is not really geared towards the valuation of highly specialized collections, where the scarcer varieties of a common stamp can be worth many hundreds or thousands of dollars. It is also not geared towards pricing exceptional quality. If any of you have followed the US stamp market during the past 20 years, you will no doubt have witnessed the huge difference that exceptional quality makes to stamp values. There are a lot of collectors and dealers who consider this to be some kind of gimmick or fad. But I would beg to differ. I think that what is happening is that collectors are becoming more informed and sophisticated and are beginning to recognize that truly superb examples of just about any stamp are scarce, and demand is pushing prices up - way up.

Common Misconception  #1: My Stamps Should Be Worth Catalogue or a Large Percentage of It

The first misconception often held by non-collectors who inherit stamp collections, but also sometimes by collectors is that valuing their collections is just a matter of getting a catalogue and adding up the values. Many sellers are often shocked when a dealer offers them just $20-$100 for their grandfather's stamp album and they feel cheated and have a bad taste in their mouths.

But because of point #3 above, the reality is that most catalogue values in the low range, are really just arbitrary prices to enable dealers who sell that material to make a living. Below a certain point, those stamps really have no commercial resale value. What is the cutoff point for those values? There is no hard and fast rule. But I believe I can state a general rule and then illustrate some examples that may make it easier for you to identify the exceptions. My general rule is this:

Run-of-the-mill used material from 1890-1990 that is not present in quantity, is not specialized, and catalogues less than $2 per stamp has little to no commercial value on a per stamp basis. Such collections generally fall into the category above. The reason why they have no commercial value is that the stamps are common and are not salable to a specialist because there isn't any depth of quantity. A world album with 100 stamps from most every country is so labour intensive for a dealer to break down, sort and re-price that it will never be worth more than $20-$100 to them.

To get an idea of where that cutoff point is and what the exceptions are, consider a specialized collection of 1,000 copies of the following common used stamps:

This stamp is #F1, It is the first registered stamp of Canada and has a catalogue value of $3 for fine and $9 for very fine in the Canadian Unitrade catalogue. It is a common stamp, but not nearly as common as the 1c, 2c or 3c Small Queens of the time. If you went to a dealer with a collection of 1,000 used F1's sorted by shade, paper, perforation, cancel etc., you would definitely receive an offer that was a percentage of the catalogue value, although it would still be low unless the stamps were of exceptional quality. If you had 1,000 fine F1's you wouldn't receive anywhere near $3,000, but more like $500-$600. Still way, way more than the fellow with the world album, and that is at the $3 catalogue mark. 

This stamp is Canada #41 and is probably one of the most common stamps of its time. It catalogues $1 for very fine used and $0.30 for fine in the Canadian Unitrade Catalogue. Although is is very common in fine or below fine condition, it is not common in grades higher than very fine as shown above. If you had a collection of 1,000 #41's that looked like the stamp above, it is quite likely that you may receive more than $1,000 at auction. A dealer won't offer you more than $500-$600 as in the example above, but you may net more than full catalogue at auction. Why? Two reasons. First is the scarcity of the condition. Even though the catalogue's top graded price is $1, that is not the true value of a stamp in the Extremely Fine or Superb grades. Such stamps may retail for as much as $5-$10 each because of their scarcity. The second reason is that the catalogue value does not take the scarcity of specialized paper varieties, plate flaws, rare shades and cancellations into account, and a collection of 1,000 examples would probably have some of these. 

However, if the above stamp were fine or below then 1,000 examples would not be worth anywhere close to $300. $20-$40 would be closer to the mark - much the same as the fellow with the world album. 

Other low catalogue material which may be exceptions to my general rule could include:

1. Any specialized holding of better quality classic stamps issued between 1840 and about 1930. 
2. Modern mid to high value used commemoratives with nice circular date cancels issued since 1990, as this material is getting hard to come by. Low value commemoratives, Christmas and definitives are still very common, and don't really have any commercial value.  In-depth cancel collections of commemoratives issued before 1990 would also be an exception, but only if there is enough depth to interest a specialist. 
3. Modern mint, which usually trades at a percentage of face value, which is usually between 60-80%

This stamp is #36, the 2c Small Queen. It is just as common as the 3c stamp above. It catalogues $1 in fine condition and $3 for very fine in the Canadian Unitrade catalogue.

The quality of the above example is average and of no real commercial value. 1,000 of the above stamp would not be worth anywhere close to $1,000 unless there were some rare cancels or some perf. 11.5 x 12's included. The real value of a holding like that would be around $75-100 to a dealer. To a collector, maybe $150-$200, but not much more.

Once you move above the $2-3 catalogue mark, a collection takes on a value that is a function of the total catalogue of its component stamps. The less labour and time that a dealer has to expend to market and sell it, the larger the percentage that he or she can offer for it.

Common Misconception #2 Very Fine Means Perfect

Many catalogue users assume that where there are several priced grades for stamps and covers, that the highest priced grade is essentially perfection. They then demand steep discounts from the catalogue price when the material is not perfect. Such collectors often have a strained relationship with many stamp dealers and are often unsuccessful at auctions when they bid.

All general catalogues include an introduction that defines the basis of their pricing (i.e. what grade they are pricing) and then they go on to define the grades. The Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth and British Empire Stamps 1840-1940 catalogue devotes no fewer than 7 pages to explaining what they consider to be "fine" for each and every possible condition attribute. They clearly state that their prices are for fine and that the grade is an average of the grade of all condition factors. Thus just because a superb stamp has a short perf. does not mean that it is not fine. As far as Gibbons is concerned, if all the condition factors are better than fine, then 1 or 2 small defects will NOT result in the stamp being downgraded from fine. They explain very clearly the circumstances in which they would discount their stamps.

The flip side to all this is that all general catalogues are completely silent when it comes to valuing material in high condition grades. By high I mean grades that are very seldom encountered. The reality is that Very Fine is to use a golf analogy, very much like par: it is well above average, but it is not "a hole in one".

Why is this? Well the main reason is that it is too difficult to determine the market value of this material reliably. Catalogue values for most stamps are an average of what collectors in the market are willing to pay. A catalogue can list a reasonably accurate price when there is enough of the material being traded in the open market for an average to be computed based on a large number of auction results or individual retail transactions. Because high-grade material is so uncommon, any value would be based on a very limited number of trades, and catalogue publishers are just not comfortable listing a value that is based on such limited data. In addition to this, the market values for this type of material are always increasing, so any published price will be out of date almost as soon as it appears.

The moral of this is to read the condition information in the front of the catalogue thoroughly and completely understand the condition grade that is being valued as well as to how to identify it. Don't assume that you should be able to buy a high-grade example of an otherwise common stamp for catalogue price. In most instances, unless we are talking about a modern stamp issued after World War II, you will almost certainly have to pay more, sometimes much more.

Common Misconception  #3 Gibbons Catalogue Values are Highly Inflated

Many older collectors are of the belief that the values in Stanley Gibbons are highly inflated, and expect to pay 25%-40% of Gibbons for their stamps. Indeed there are many dealers that offer Commonwealth material at this standard percentage. If you look closely though, you begin to notice a pattern: either the material being offered does not consistently meet the Gibbons definition of fine, which is really similar to what we would call very fine in North America, or it is not the scarcer material.

It is true that Gibbons does inflate some values. They are regular stamp dealers just like the many thousands in the world. They are not omnipotent and contrary to what a lot of collectors may think, they do not have every stamp listed in their catalogue in stock. I was at their 399 Strand store back in 2010 and I can tell you that they don't have even close to 1/4 to 1/2 of what they list in stock at any given time. The only country that they do consistently have in quantity is Great Britain - specifically used Queen Victoria. They actually make the market in this material. They have massive stocks and they control the release of it, in much the same way that DeBeers controls diamonds. If you look for truly superb used GB, there are only a handful of dealers who can consistently supply it and Gibbons is one. It is scarce, but not nearly as rare as nearly all the material from the Colonies prior to 1960 is. Yet if you look at the catalogue values for used GB in Gibbons they are very high.

I specialize in Nigeria and the other British West African countries and I can tell you that if you actually try to accumulate a stock of quality stamps in depth of any issues prior to about 1935, they are all scarce to very rare in fine condition. Gibbons values for this material are definitely either at the mark, or in most cases are too low, and do not adequately reflect the rarity of the material. This makes sense because there are very few large collections of Nigeria bought and sold and very few large selections offered for sale at auction. This is precisely because the material is so scarce. I suspect that this is the case for all the British Colonies. The reason why Commonwealth stamps do not seem rare is that it is such a vast field, that a collection can have a handful of the most common stamps of each colony and still be a large collection. Thus just looking at the number of Commonwealth collections out there will not give you a true indication of scarcity because you wind up comparing apples to oranges. The only way to really tell for sure is to focus on one colony and see how long it takes you to acquire a complete range with a depth of 10-15 of each stamp or set. Then you will see how truly scarce most Commonwealth stamps actually are.

Common Misconception #4 - I Should be Able to Buy My Stamps From a Dealer For the Same Price I Would Pay at Auction.

I wrote a post some time ago in which I explained what services a good, honest and ethical stamp dealer provides to the hobby and collectors in general. Indeed, it is my belief that it is dealers that provide the underpinning of the philatelic market. Without them, stamp auction firms would be in big trouble, as dealers are usually their most active bidders (at least on their large lots). The main point of this post was to point out that a collector who benefits from the services offered by a retail dealer should be willing to compensate the dealer for them. Those services include making a selection of material available for immediate purchase, taking on the risk associated with mis-identification, standing behind every stamp they sell, even if it means refunding a collector years later, providing liquidity to collectors who need to sell immediately.

Part of this compensation comes in the form of higher prices per stamp. If a you can buy a large collection of British Colonies at auction for 35% of catalogue, does it really make sense to expect a dealer to sell you just one stamp for 50% of catalogue? He or she is saving you the trouble of having to buy the entire lot and dispose of what you do not want. Is a 15% markup really fair given everything the dealer has to do to bring that stamp to a state where you can spot it in a stockbook or online and decide that you want it? Think about it. I'm sure you would agree that it isn't enough of a markup to enable a dealer to make a living.

I am interested to hear you comments and views on this topic, as I expect that there will be a number of different perspectives out there, not just mine.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The 1875-1888 Registered Stamps


In 1875 the post office department decided that it was desirable to have a separate series of stamps for the payment of registration fees. The stamps were not to be valid for postage - only for the payment of registration. Having a separate set of stamps made accounting for the revenue generated by registration services easier to determine. This may have been one of the reasons behind the issuance of these stamps.

There were three separate rates at this time for registration:

2 cents for local letters.
5 cents for US letters
8 cents for letters to the UK.

The 8c rate was very short lived, lasting only until the end of January 1, 1878, when the rate to the UK was decreased to 5 cents. In 1889, the domestic registration fee was increased from 2 cents to 5 cents. The postal regulations were relaxed somewhat, in order to use up stocks of the 2c, so that as long as a letter bore at least one 2c registered stamp, the remaining 3c could be paid with either regular stamps or a combination of registered stamps and postage stamps.

There were thus three stamps designed and printed by the British American Bank Note Company:

29,387,500 issued


Image result for canada 8c registered stamp

125,000 issued in 2 printings. 

I do not know who designed these stamps. But I am fairly sure that they would have been engraved by Henry Earle Sr. as it was he who engraved the Small Queens, which were in use at the same time as these stamps. They were printed in panes of 50, as I have seen full sheets offered for sale in recent years, though they are very rare. Indeed this is the subject of an amusing story involving myself, which I will get to later on.

The points of interest with these stamps are much the same as the Small Queens, as the stamps were printed both in Montreal and Ottawa, and there is a wide variety of papers and shades. The appeal of this set is is ts manageability: the 2c and 5c values are cheap and plentiful in used condition so that a collector can have a lot of fun with them, while they seek out the better varieties. The wealthy collector can spend a very large sum on the rare multiples and postal history, not to mention the imperfs and proof material.

The main points of interest are:

1. The colour shades
2. The papers
3. Perforation varieties
4. Misplaced entries and re-entries
5. Imperforate and partially imperforate varieties.
6. Mis-perforated varieties and other freaks
7. Multiples and sheets
8. Postal history
9. Cancellations
10. Proof material and specimens
11. Gum variations

As always, I will discuss each of these in more detail.

Colour Shades

The 2c and the 5c stamp  give the best variety of shades with the following easily identifiable:

2 cents:

Deep rose-carmine
Dull Vermilion
Dull orange
Bright orange
Deep vermilion

Some examples of the different shades are illustrated below:

Deep rose-carmine

Deep vermilion

Dull vermilion

Orange red

Dull orange



5 cents:

Dark green
Yellow green
Blue green
Bluish green

Some examples of the 5c shades are as follows:

Bluish green

Dark green
8 cents:

Bright blue
Dull blue

Examples of the two shades are thus shown:

Bright blue

Image result for 8c registered stamp of canada

Dull blue

Paper Varieties

The stamps of this issue are found on a very wide variety of papers, perhaps a greater variety than the Small Queens. There are horizontal and vertical wove papers that vary in quality from a medium stout wove paper with clear mesh, to a thin, paper that has little to no discernable mesh. Unlike the Small Queens, the poor quality newsprint-like paper that is often found on the second Ottawa printings is not often found on these stamps. Generally the paper varies in thickness from 0.0025" to 0.0035". On mint stamps, with the gum, it can 

Some examples of the different papers that can be found are shown below:

Thin horizontal wove with barely discernable mesh from the second Ottawa printing

Medium white wove paper with vertical mesh. From the second Ottawa printings as well. 

Stout vertical wove paper with no distinct mesh. This type is found on the early Montreal printings. 

Thin, stout white wove paper with clear vertical mesh. From the late Montreal printings. 

Medium soft horizontal wove. From the Montreal period. 

Very thin horizontal wove paper from the second Ottawa period

Medium stout vertical wove paper from the late Montreal period

Perforation Varieties

Unitrade lists two perforations: 12 and 12 x 11.5, the latter only being found on the 2c and 5c. However, this a bit of a simplification, as the actual perforations varied from 11.75 to 12.3, while the vertical perforation varies from 11.9 to 12.3, with the 11.5 actually being 11.6. Stamps from horizontal perforation measuring 12.3 are only from plate 2, which first appears in 1886. The 8c is only found perforated 11.9 x 11.9, and 2c and 5c stamps with this perforation are thus Early Montreal printings from before 1878. In keeping with the Small Queens, the perf. 12 x 11.6 should be all but gone by 1880. From 1880 to about 1886, most stamps will be perforated 12. The 1888-1889 Montreal Gazette printings, which are the 2c in rose carmine and the 5c in yellow green will generally be 12.25 x 12 or 12 x 12.25.

Misplaced Entries, Plate Flaws and Re-Entries

Weak and incomplete framelines along the top and bottom of the design occur frequently on the staps of this issue, and are not that special. However, there are major re-entries to be found on both the 2c and 5c, both of which are valuable. On the 2c, the doubling affects the right "2", the right "two cents", "Red"of "registered", "amp"of "stamp", "ana" of  "Canada" and the left "two cents". On the 5c, the "N"of "Canada", the "S" of "Registered", the "ER" of letter show distinct doubling. There are many more re-entries than just these. Ralph Trimble's website lists and illustrates all of the better known ones. You can access that site via the following link:

Minor re-entries usually involve doubling or tripling of the left or right framelines.

On the 2c, two major plate flaws are the burr at the upper right corner and the burr to the right of the "T" of "Cents". These burr flaws consist of a protrusion of the orange colour into the white space of the outer framelines. There is also what is known as an "apostrophe" flaw, which consists of a similar burr located in the margin just above the "C" of Canada. The 5c can be found with the right outer frameline wholly or partially missing. In addition, this stamp can also be found with a misplaced entry, in which a portion of the value tabletcan be found repeated inside the "F" of the left "five"

On the 8c you can find horizontal and vertical guidelines running through the letters of "Canada" and "Eight"

Imperforate and Part Perforate Varieties

The 2c cent is known imperforate, with only one vermilion pair being recorded. In addition to this, used singles with the bottom margin imperforate are known, as well as imperforate vertically. All of these varieties are rare.  These stamps are known to exist with very large margins, so one has to be on their guard for singles that have been cut down to resemble imperforate stamps or partially imperforate varieties. Generally, as long as the imperforate margins are half or more of the width between subjects on the plate, you can be pretty confident that you have a genuine example. If the margins are very small all around, then chances of it being a trimmed example are quite high.

The 5c stamps from plate 1 can be found found imperforate in the top margin and entirely all the way around. Stamps from plate 2 can be found imperforate in the top margin or the bottom margin, but no pairs have ever been recorded. Plate 2 stamps can be distinguished from plate 1 by the spacing between stamps. Plate 2 stamps are 1mm futher apart in the horizontal direction and 1mm closer together in the vertical direction.

Mis-Perforated Varieties and Other Freaks

The 2c is known with double vertical perforations and double horizontal perforations. In the examples I have seen the extra vertical perforations appear on the left side and the extra horizontal perforations appear at the top.

Some of the stamps can also be found with perforations running at weird angles. Don Waters, a member of one of my Facebook groups sent me this scan of a used 5c stamp in his collection:

Pre-printing paper creases are found on these stamps. I have only seen them so far on the 5c, but I am sure they can also be found on the 2c and possibly the 8c. However, the low print quantity for the 8c may well mean that there are no such varieties for that value.

Multiples and Sheets

I have seen complete sheets of all three stamps. The Ron Brigham sale held recently, had a complete sheet of 50 of the 8c value. I viewed complete sheets of the 2c and 5c at a Robert A Lee Auction. Much to my horror and great embarrassment, one of the sheets of 50 became two blocks of 25 while I was examining them! Fortunately for me Robert had a very relaxed attitude. On seeing my facial expression, he said "Its okay. These are very fragile sheets. They were bound to do this sooner or later."

Plate blocks and pairs can be collected that show the very attractive value counters and plate inscriptions as shown below:

Image result for proofs of Canada's 1875-1888 registration stamps

The plate inscription "British American Bank Note Company Montreal" appears in the side margins reading downwards between the 4th and 7th stamps down on each side of the sheet. It also appears in the horizontal margins between stamps 2 through 4. 

Image result for proofs of Canada's 1875-1888 registration stamps

The value counter appears in words right above the first stamp, and on the other side of the sheet just above the 5th horizontal stamp, there is a  numeral for the value. 

Occasionally, one can also find the guillotine guide lines in the top margins, as well as the pane markings "A" in the top margin, or "B" in the bottom margin. 

Postal History

A wide variety of covers can be collected for this issue. There are several factors that contribute the the interest level of postal history from this set. One of them is the changes in regulations that allowed for the use of mixed frankings to pay the registration fees. An interesting project would be trying to collect all the different possible combinations that can be found between 1889 and 1893 when the registration rates changed, as well as before. The 8c value properly used on cover to pay the registration fee to the UK is a great rarity and can fetch upwards of $20,000. The cover below was sold by Robert A Siegel in May 2014 for $17,500 US before buyer's premium. 

Image result for canada 8c registered stamp

Because registered mail contained important documents, usually of a commercial nature, it is possible to collect some very historically significant covers. The key is to pay attention to the dates, the names of the addressees and the cancellations. The cover below was sent entirely within Manitoulin Island in 1877 and took 2 weeks to travel under 100km!


Manitoulin Island is an island located in Lake Huron (in Ontario). It is roughly 1,000 square miles and was not opened for non-native settlement until 1862. It had a population of around 12,000 in 2012. 

The following illustrations show some of the types of covers that can be found for this issue:

Image result for proofs of Canada's 1875-1888 registration stamps

Image result for 8c registered stamp of canada


A wide variety of cancels can be found on these stamps including:

1. The registration number of the letter in pen.
2. Straight line "Registered"
3. Various fancy corks.
4. Heavy black "R" in black oval.
5. CDS town cancels.
6. Split ring town cancels
7. Target and bulls eye cancels
8. Various barred grids
9. All the above in colour

Proof Material and Specimens

Die proofs exist of all the stamps in the issued colours, and various others, though they are so rare that I do not know what colours exist. A search in Google did not turn up anything sold in recent years.

Plate proofs of the stamps exist printed on India paper and mounted to card. These too are very rare.

Some stamps were also overprinted "specimen" for distribution to member countries of the Universal Postal Union. I have only ever seen examples of the 2c and 5c, overprinted in small, sans-serif letters. These must also be very rare, as specimens usually are, since there are generally only as many produced as member nations.

Gum Variations

The gum on the early Montreal printings is dull and appears streaky and unevenly applied as if by brush. Inexperienced collectors can mistake these for no gum or regummed stamps. They are not though. In fact the 8c value only comes with this type of gum when original, as it was only issued in 1876-1877. So if you find examples with shiny, thick or yellow gum, they are not original gum.

Later Montreal and Ottawa Printings have a variety of thicker, shiner gums, most of which are yellow to brownish yellow. It would be interesting to do a study of the gum types correlated to the papers and shades on mint stamps, with the shades tied into a study of dated used examples. This would allow approximate years to be assigned to the various gum types, and this could further aid the study of the Small Queen issue.

Many examples of this issue are found without gum. I'm not sure why this is, but it is important to watch for regummed stamps. These can be identified by having the wrong type of gum (i.e. colourless and shiny), or by the presence of gum on the very fine microfibres of the perforation tips, where there should not be any gum.

Hopefully, this post gives you a good idea of the potential that exists for this very beautiful issue of classic stamps.