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Stamps in the Attic: Searching out those Hidden Gems

by Tonny Van Loij (07/18/11).

A Scott US #91 Abraham Lincoln 15¢ black stamp, when originally printed in 1868, sold originally for 15 cents—a large sum for postage then. Today’s catalogue value for this stamp $13,500, mint condition.

I first became interested in stamps at the age of 9. Like many, I had a childhood stamp collection and as I grew older, my enthusiasm for stamps has never waned and I have been collecting ever since. But what about those stamp collections, started by your grandfather or uncle, that has been sitting in the attic for all these years. Could it possible hold a hidden gem?

I’m here to say that yes, it could contain a stamp or post card that is very valuable in today’s market. You’ll never know until you pull it out and take a look.

Over the last three years, I have been privileged to appraise many stamp collections that were handed over the years from family member to family members. Most of the recipients have no idea where to start in establishing the value of these collections. Not every collection contains a hidden treasure, however now and then I come across one and am honored to be able to break the news to the lucky owner.

Now, this may be a good time to step back and explain a few things: First off, there is a specific code that identifies every stamp ever issued. Every stamp issued by a country receives a catalogue number according to date of issue. Sometimes a set of stamps is issued over a long period of time and numbers are saved until date of issue and then used consecutively.

Second, the value of stamps—like everything else in the collecting world—hinges on the condition of the stamp in question. All “classic” stamps issued between 1840-1940 are graded as follows: Fine; Fine-Very-Fine; Very Fine; and Extremely Fine (close to perfection). These terms are used when stamps are perfect, little off center on one or more sides, etc. There is no uniform set grading system. Not every dealer or specialist will come to the same exact conclusion.

So, back to those hidden gems. I recently attended a National Stamp Show as an appraiser and I came across a real gem. The stamp in question was Scott US #91 Abraham Lincoln 15¢ black. This stamp, when originally printed in 1868 sold originally for 15 cents. Today’s catalogue value for this stamp $13,500, mint condition.

At another occasion, the gem happened to be an old postal card—Scott catalog UX #17 The cards were priced at 2¢. These cards where preprinted for large mailings by private companies. The postal cards in question where recalled, however, two of them got somehow in the mail. After the authenticity was confirmed—the item was in the collection passed on to my client from his grandfather. The catalogue value is $ 2,900 recently sold for $3,800. According to my notes (appraisal) the company that had them originally printed was Booth, Dailey & Ivins, a garbage company in New York, and one of the two that got away was mailed on Oct 14, 1902.

Now, before you start planning everything you’re going to buy with the profits from Grandpa’s collection, be warned that these examples are the exception. Still, a typical collection can be worth between $500 and $7,500, and even more so if you get lucky.

If you have stamps or a collection that you are interested in having evaluated you can contact me through WorthPoint’s Ask a Worthologist service. You never know . . . you could be the owner of a hidden gem and just need me to tell you.

Tonny Van Loij is a Worthologist who specializes in stamps and philately. He is a member of national and international stamp societies and Gold award-winning stamp exhibitor.

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