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Stamps 101

a Collection


How do you
measure stamp value?


First things first . . .

Philately: The collection and study of postage stamps, postmarks, stamped envelopes, usually as a hobby.


So, you’re interested in stamp collecting? Well, Stamps 101 is designed to teach you the basics of what you need and want to know about philately.

Good News!

Stamp collecting can be a very interesting and educational hobby - and one that does not have to make a serious dent in your budget! You can buy stamps from anywhere between $0.15 – $500,000 or more!


The key is to enjoy the stamp experience!

Fun with Philately - The entertainment and interest begins when you have decided what interests you. Then, you head out to find the items that will create a nice collection.

What to Collect -

Interested in Starting
a New Collection?

There are many ways to collect stamps. One way is to just start browsing and note a few stamps that interest you. Most people start our collecting all and everything of stamps. If the interest in stamps is lasting, soon the aspiring collector is overwhelmed by the enormous number of stamps to collect. Then it is time to narrow the interest. Maybe to one or a few countries' stamps, or perhaps a topical (what is pictured on the stamp, for example orchids or dogs). Stamp collecting tends be to a journey of shifting interests and a lot of fun in the process.

Here are some helpful ideas . . .

American Philatelic Society -
"APS" to friends. A 50,000 member strong collector's society headquartered in State College, PA. Member receive a great monthly magazine and have access to services such as a philatelic
library and an expertising service.

American Topical Association -
Let's say  you want to collect stamps from a specific country or era in history. There are also many topics to choose from with the American Topical Association. These people can help you find what you are looking for by introducing you to the topics they have researched, and provide you with a list of stamps that fit that topic of interest! Click above to see a list of their topical handbooks!

Dealers in your area -
If you are having trouble deciding what to collect, it may be a good idea to talk to a dealer about where to start. A dealer can help you by giving you some advice and guiding you to a few shows in your area or sending you a catalog from his own upcoming auction. Check our links page!

Start Today - Build Tomorrow!

Your topic can be as serious
or fun-hearted as you would like it to be.

Philatelic Catalogs

Stamps are featured in catalogs. The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog is the most commonly referenced in the United States, but others are popular according to the country from which they are issued. Dealers will use the "Scott number" to reference items in their own stamp descriptions. This allows collectors to easily reference what they are searching for. You can order your Scott Catalog by calling 513-498-0832, 1-800-895-9881, or write Scott, P.O. Box 828, Sidney, OH 45365-0828 USA.

The Scott Catalog lists the retail value of Standard Postage Stamps from around the world. The estimates indicate what you can expect to pay for a stamp that is in Very Fine condition, without faults.


How to Collect

Lets imagine you were collecting airplane stamps - stamps featuring illustrations of airplanes. Your first and best move would be to contact the ATA (American Topical Association) and request a list of airplane stamps. You would then receive a list of stamps with the Scott catalog numbers referencing these items. One of those listings might include the 1945 Plane and Radio Tower stamp from Chile - Scott # C108.

Now, all you do is look it up in your nifty 6-volume edition of the Scott Catalog and decide if that is a stamp you would like to see in your collection. If you decided that you did, you would mark that one as a go and set out to find it among the others you have decided you’ve just gotta have! Now, the 1945 Plane and Radio Tower issue is only estimated between $.25 - $.55, so you won’t have any problem funding that addition to your new collection! With the Scott number, you can reference the item in auction lists or search for the Scott # in the Stamp One Stamp Search!

Determining Value

Grade & Condition - The grade and condition of stamps greatly determine their value.
Grade addresses only centering and cancellations.Condition refers to the factors other than the grade.


Only addresses
centering and cancellations


Refers to factors
other than the grade
that affect the value.


Dealers grade by the following criteria as written in the Scott Catalog
(1997 Edition - Copywrite 1996 by Scott Publishing Co.):

Fine: designs that are noticeably off-center on two sides. Imperforate stamps may have small margins, and earlier issues may show the design touching one edge of the stamp design. For perforated stamps, perfs may barely clear the design on one side, and very early issues normally will have the perforations slightly cutting into the design. Used stamps may have heavier than usual cancellations.

Fine-Very Fine: Somewhat off center on one side, or slightly off center on two sides. Imperforate stamps will have tow margins of at least normal size, and the design will not touch any edge. For perforated stamps, the perfs are well clear of the design, but are still noticeably off center. Used stamps will not have a cancellation that detracts from the design.

Very Fine: May be slightly off center on one side, design will be clear of the edge. Will present a balanced apperaance. Imperforate stamps will have three normal-sized margins. Used stamps will have light or otherwise neat cancellations.

Extremely Fine: Close to being perfectly centered, Imperforate stamps will have even margins that are larger than normal. Even earliest perforated issues will have perforations clear of the design on all sides.


Factors that can improve the value of the stamp include:

Factors that may decrease the value of a stamp include:

Faults include:

(These criteria are generally standard, however, Scott acknowledges that there are no official standards for grading, and the prices they estimate are variable based on the dealer you purchase the item from.)


Stamp listings and descriptions are not known for their design appeal. They are straight an to the point! It is necessary however, to understand the standard for which they are written. The following listing is from the Scott Catalog:


p green .15 .30
Scott # Denomination Color or other description Used/Canceled value Unused value



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