Stamp Collecting with GS - Stamp Grading and Condition

Nothing is more important to a collector than a stamp's grading and condition, and nothing is more important than knowing how to adequately describe and accurately grade stamps.

Knowing how to eye-ball a stamp's grade and condition is something each collector must learn, and though it might take a little practice, a practiced eye will save both time and money and help a collector build a better collection.

Stamp catalogs have sections that outline the relationship between a stamp's grade and it's value. Typically, a catalog pegs its printed prices to a certain grade, and it's understood that better grades sell for a premium and lesser for a discount.

Even in this day of enlarged web site scans, collectors need sound and fair descriptions because some faults do not scan well and rarely are both sides of the stamp shown at a web auction site.

In fact, many grade a stamp by the picture, then compare their opinion with the seller's. If his is inflated, either he does not know his stamps, or hopes that you don't.

The verbiage of stamp grading and condition is fairly standard across the world of philately, here and abroad, and in fact, it is the language of stamp collecting.

Does it make the grade
Grade is about centering, cancels and gum. Grade describes how well the stamp's design is centered between the perforations*, both horizontally and vertically, on the paper, and the condition of the gum for mint stamps, or the effect of the cancellation on used stamps. (*or margins in the case of imperforates)

Grades are meted out like school exam scores: "superb" all the way down to "poor," but an adequate description also addresses all necessary concerns about condition.

Stamp Grades
Perfect in all respects. The finest quality.
A rare grade.
Extremely Fine or Extra-Fine:
Close to perfect.
Design is well-centered. Margins are even all around. Designs of even the earliest issues are well clear of the perfs on all sides.
Imperforates have even margins that are wider than usual for that particular issue.
Cancels are light and neat.
Mint have OG.
Condition: Rich, bright color. Clean. Perfs intact.
Condition: no faults.
Many early stamps are never seen in this condition.
Very Fine:
Design is balanced and well-centered. There are ample margins, though not necessarily perfectly even.
Imperforates have three normal sized margins.
Cancels are light and neat.
Mint have OG.
Condition: Rich, bright color. Clean. Perfs intact.
Condition: no faults.
Grade used for most catalog values.
Fine/Very Fine:
Design is "slightly" off-center, or may be off-center either horizontally or vertically but not both. Design is well clear of the perfs.
Imperforates have two normal size margins, and design does not touch the edge.
Cancels do not detract from the design of the stamp.
Mint have LH or HH, depending on the age of the issue.
Condition: no faults.
Design is "noticeably" off-center both horizontally and vertically. The design barely misses the perfs, but they do not cut into the design.
Early issues have perfs or separations that may cut into the design.
Imperforates have thin margins.
Cancels may be heavier than usual, perhaps even obscuring the design.
Mint have LH or HH, depending on the age of the issue.
Condition: no faults.
Good or Average:
Design is off-center and perfs may cut into the design.
Cancel is heavy and obscures the stamp's design.
No tears or thin spots.
Lowest collectible grade.
Design is off center and the perforations cut far into the design.
Cancellation is thick and heavy, smeared, blurred.
Generally not suitable for a collection.
Condition is a description of the physical characteristics of the stamp's paper, ink and gum in the case of mint stamps. An adequate description should be as concise as possible but use as many words as necessary to fairly described the stamp.

A rare, early British colonial issue from the tropics may have several faults that must be addressed and the description might be as long as this paragraph. However, older issues with faults may still be desireable because of the price and rarity of faultless examples, some of which may no longer exist.

Postive Conditions:
Crisp, clear printing impression on a line engraved issue.
Wide margins between design and separations.
Rich, hot-off-the-press colors.
Selvage attached to the stamp, especially on older issues.
Usual or rare cancellation on used stamps.
Faults: anything that has altered, damaged or changed the stamp or its appearance since printing other than a cancellation or other postal marks, such as overprints and precancels.

Gum (see below): A regummed mint copy. No gum on an uncancelled copy. Something stuck in the gum, dirt or a fingerprint.
Paper: missing piece, holes, tears, folds, creases, stains. Paper thinned, as if the back of the stamp has been peeled off, either in whole or in part. Heavy hinge remnant.
Color: Chemical changes in color, stained. Attempts to remove the cancellation may change the color.
Perfs: Shortened perforations or a row of perf tips cut off forming a straight edge indicating a scissor cut. Nibbed perfs, a singular or pair of perfs that were pulled off, or a single or pair that are noticeably shorter than the others.
Face: Something stuck to the stamp. Scuffed. Pen, pencil or other marks of a non-postal origin, e.g. your child's crayon marks.
Some repairs, tiny tears and thins may be seen only under high magnification, ultraviolet light examination, or in watermark fluid immersions.
Stamp conditions can vary by country and standards are not the same for all countries, due to poor printing technology at that time and place. Sometimes you'll see the note, "Very fine for this country."
Gum: found on what now are called water-activated stamps, has it's own lexicon.
No Gum (NG): The gum has been removed or the stamp was issued without it.
Never hinged (NH): Undistrubed gum.
Lightly hinged (LH): Vestiges of a peelable hinge are seen in the gum.
Heavily hinged (HH): A bit of hinge is stuck to the gum.
Original gum (OG): Original, undisturbed gum.
Regummed (RG): A person has applied a new coat of gum to replace the damaged original.
Regumming has become so hard to detect, some say impossible, that some collectors will not pay a premium for old stamps listed as OG.