Condition is a factor that has a direct, and considerable bearing upon the value of your stamps. Reduced to its simplest terms, a stamp that is torn in half would not be worth as much as the same stamp in perfect condition. It doesn't take an expert to recognize that. But "condition" in philately carries far greater connotations. Basically, collectors prefer that their stamps be in choice condition. Unused stamps should have the gum intact, the design of the stamp should be well centered, leaving even margins on all sides between the design and the perforations, and the perforations themselves should be without blemish and with no teeth missing. Used stamps must, likewise, be in the same perfect condition. Absence of the gum is, of course, expected on the used stamp. Cancellations must be very light and preferably centered exactly upon the stamp. This is called "socked on the nose" by collectors.
I have described the ultimate in condition demanded by collectors. For modern stamps, such perfection is not too hard to obtain in individual stamps. However, it is far from possible to obtain such super-fine stamps of the nineteenth century. For such stamps "condition" has a different meaning. Perfection is, of course, always sought after but is seldom obtained when we deal with the nineteenth-century issues, and the older the issue the less we are able to approach perfection. Hence, for unused nineteenth-century stamps original gum is not expected but, if present, it fetches a considerable premium. The best possible centering of the design is required for a stamp to be in "very fine" condition, but "very fine" as a description has an entirely different meaning for an early nineteenth-century stamp than when applied to a modern issue.
Certain general rules apply to all stamps and these are what anyone would normally expect.
Any stamp that is torn or otherwise damaged would not be acceptable to anyone. A used
stamp that is so heavily canceled as to block out the design of the stamp would likewise
be unacceptable. In referring to the stamps they offer, auction dealers use the following
terms that have become more or less generally understood.
"SUPERB" - A term used very sparingly to describe a nineteenth-century stamp of unusual brilliance and over-all condition. This should never be used to describe a modern stamp and should only be used to describe a stamp which is of outstanding condition.
"VERY FINE" - Used to describe both nineteenth- and twentieth-century stamps when the condition is above the average. Such a stamp may be expected to be out of the ordinary.
"FINE" - Used to describe both nineteenth- and twentiethcentury stamps that are in all respects "up to par."
"FAIR" - Used to describe both nineteenth- and twentiethcentury stamps that are neither "fine" nor actually poor.
"POOR" - Stamps that are damaged, heavily canceled, or "shop worn." Only otherwise very valuable stamps would be offered at auction in "poor" condition. Collectors sometimes wish them as "space fillers" - to fill a space in their albums until a better copy may be secured.
In addition, there are various other descriptive terms. "Average" means somewhat the same
as "fair." "Mint" means an unused stamp with full original gum as it was issued, i.e. in
the condition that it left the mint. In the case of stamps, of course, the mint is the
Bureau of Engraving and Printing or the manufacturer of the stamps. The spread in value
between a stamp in "very fine" condition and the same stamp in "poor" condition is quite
startling. The first might be well worth ten dollars and the latter only fifty cents.
Expressed in terms of " catalog " value such a stamp might shape up somewhat as follows in
actual value, i.e. what it would cost you to acquire it.
CATALOG VALUE - $8.00
"VERY FINE" - 10.00
"FINE" - 7.50
"FAIR" - 5.00
"POOR" - 50
Condition is a factor that will become ever more important as the tyro advances. The beginner should keep it in mind and should place in his collection only stamps that are clean and sound in other respects. It is not desirable to demand that every stamp must be mathematically centered. Many stamps may never be obtained in this condition and even the very modern issues may not always be so obtained. If we should eliminate all stamps that were centered a little to the right or left, stamp collecting would not be possible at all. However, a modern stamp that is so badly off center as to have the perforations running through the design need not be accepted and you will not be required to do so. Remember you are collecting stamps for pleasure. This is your hobby. Do not let condition become such a fetish with you that all pleasure has flown out of the window.