“When can a stamp be worth 10x catalogue value?”

The most critical factor when determining the value of a stamp

Let me make this clear…

There is one very visible element to valuing a stamp.

In the US, it is the most important factor in determining value.

It is all about “centring”. Or “centering” for my American readers!

The centring of a stamp is the most reliable and easily verifiable measurement.

Now let’s have a look at why centring is so important and how you can use it to great advantage and profit.

Stamp centring in the US

Stamp collectors in the US (and Canada) are obsessed with the centring of stamps to add to their collections.

As a result, well centred stamps are worth far more in the US market than they are in the rest of the world.

A stamp is considered a gem when there are four visually equal margins. Even after a careful examination, it will be impossible to pick a margin smaller than the other three.

The US Scott specialised catalogues publish an extended price guide for selected stamps in 8 grades ranging from VF-50 to Superb-98:

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The two stamps featured in the table are common, yet there will only be a handful graded 98. The centring of the stamp is the most critical element used to determine the grade.

The most important thing to note is the wide difference in value between XF (extremely fine) and SUP (Superb). For #441, the price is over 4 times more and is 15 times more for #C27.

The reason for the wide variation in pricing is all about rarity…

Many classic imperforate stamps were printed close together on the sheet. This makes it difficult to find neatly trimmed examples with all four margins in equal size (almost never seen).

The designs of perforated stamps were also printed close together, making it difficult to find examples where the perforations do not cut into the design.

Also, as the perforation process occurs after printing, any sheet which was even slightly misaligned would result in the perforations being closer to the design on one or two sides.

Improved production methods mean modern stamps have more precise perforating techniques. Consequently, what may be above average centring for an early issue may be below average for a modern issue.

There is no denying that well centred stamps are more aesthetically pleasing. This means the most discerning philatelists want stamps that are perfectly centred to add to their collection.

This demand for perfection, coupled with extreme rarity, leads to massive premiums being applied to perfectly centred examples. 

Stamp centring in the UK

The UK and British Commonwealth stamp market does not place the same importance on centring as the US market.

The following quote from a collector posted on an online stamp forum sums things up:

“As a collector of British Empire and early South America I am particularly fussy about acquiring stamps that are very well centered. I know it isn’t necessarily important for every collector but for me it adds significantly to the aesthetic appeal.

Fortunately, I never seem to have to pay much of a premium, if any, for a perfectly centered stamp versus one with irregular margins.”

The Stanley Gibbons catalogues include a footnote for pre-1920 classic GB stamps referring to significant price premiums applicable to well-centred, lightly used stamps.

Those premiums can be double or even more.

Yet, most of the stamp trade, particularly in the UK, seem to have overlooked this in the past.     

There are signs of an awakening, a growing recognition…

In recent auctions of British and British Commonwealth stamps, there has been an increasing number of well-centred stamps selling for much larger premiums.

You never know, the UK market may see premiums in the future similar to the US market of 10x or even more.

Perfectly centred stamps at UK prices

I think there is a real opportunity to profit in the future by picking up well-centred stamps at current prices.

Demand in the rest of the world is rising for well-centred stamps and price premiums at auction are now occurring more regularly.

It is important to appreciate that perfectly centred stamps are exceedingly rare.

They are much more aesthetically pleasing and are deserving of a much higher premium in pricing.

I have selected for you a few examples we have available of classic stamps, across a range of price levels, which benefit from being particularly well-centred compared to examples typically seen.

Let’s compare the best with the rest…   

Our example       

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Typical centring

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Canada 1916 (1 Jan) 2c + 1c scarlet, type 47, die I, perforations 12, SG233.

 A fine mint example with large part original gum. Minor wrinkles do not detract from very fine and fresh appearance.

Perforations and centring far above average for this issue. 

A difficult stamp to find in unused condition.

Canada War Tax Stamps were issued between April 15, 1915 and December 1916.

The War Tax was added in addition to the rate of postage meaning the stamp carried both its face value and the added WAR TAX. The additional revenue raised was used to defray the costs of war.

Canada's first war tax stamps were produced with modified printing dies of the 'Admiral' series, first to read WAR TAX, and later issues read 1T¢.

Stanley Gibbons catalogue value: £60+.

Price: £50


Our example     

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Typical centring

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Antigua 1921-29 £1 purple and black/red, SG61.

A very fine quality example of this attractive King George V stamp with original gum. Unusually well-centred for this stamp, which is rarely seen so fine.

Price: £275


Our example

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Typical centring

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Great Britain 1884 10s Ultramarine, SG183.

 A superb used well-centred horizontal pair lettered GC-GD, neatly cancelled by clear and crisp Ilfracombe circular date stamps for 'MY.25.1889'.

Most appealing with the date stamp leaving the left-hand stamp with a clear profile.

A scarce multiple of this Queen Victoria classic surface printed stamp with particularly lovely colour.

Price: £1,100


Our example

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Typical centring

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Malaya - Federated Malay States 1904-22 $25 green and orange, watermark MCA, SG51.

A well-centred mint example with good colour and large part original gum. Despite a minor bend and tiny surface mark, it is still a really fine example of this key high value stamp, being the highest value in the set.

A classic design of British Empire philately featuring elephants with the Howdah (the ornate carriage on the elephant’s back).

Provenance: Ex Sir Gawaine Baillie (Sothebys 16 Nov 2006, lot 754).

The Stanley Gibbons catalogue value is £2,250.

Price: £1,750


Our examples

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Typical centring

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China United States Postal Agency in Shanghai 1919 surcharges set of 16 to $2 on $1 purple-black. Also includes 1922 2c on 1c blue-green and 4c on 2c carmine, SG1/18.

These stamps represent all issues of the United States Postal Agency in Shanghai which was open from 1 July 1919 to 31 December 1922.

They were valid for use on mail despatched from the US Postal Agency in Shanghai to addresses in the United States.

A nice well-centred mint and fresh quality complete set of these rare stamps, with original gum.

The combined SG catalogue price for all stamps in the set is £2,550 (stated as cheapest price).

Well-centred examples are referred to as worth double this amount making this an attractively priced set.

Price: £2,500


Our example

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Typical centring

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Great Britain 1915 10s pale blue "Seahorses", SG413.

A very fine and fresh perfectly centred unmounted mint example, with full original gum, printed by De La Rue.

A stunning example of this most famous of GB King George V stamp issues in the highest condition grade.

GB Specialised Catalogue No: N70(6).

Price: £4,250


Make a clean sweep

To recap:

  • A small selection of particularly well-centred stamp rarities
  • All priced at catalogue value or below
  • Deserving of a premium valuation based on their condition grade
  • With evidence the market is awakening to the true scarcity value of well-centred classic stamps from Great Britain and the British Commonwealth

Why not make a clean sweep and acquire the whole collection for the price of just £9,925?

If you are keen to acquire all six stamps, please contact me at mike@justcollecting.com as soon as possible and I will reserve them for you immediately.

Alternatively, give us a call on +44(0)1534 639998 or message us to +44(0)7700702962.

Let me know…

Kind regards


Mike Hall

PS. US collectors are ahead of the curve here. More and more collectors outside of the US are becoming passionate in their pursuit of well-centred stamps. With higher demand and such a limited supply, prices should theoretically rise. The big question is whether we will see price rises of 10x or even more? 

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