The Collection of Rare Stamps
Stamp collecting has been a hobby for as long as stamps have been issued. Maybe you can remember as a child sorting through a bag of stamps, trying to determine where in your stamp book countries such as Magyar or Helvetia could be found. Though stamp collecting is not as popular a hobby as it once was, there are still an estimated 25 million stamp collectors in the United States and 200 million in the world.
Some stamps today are really very beautifully designed, purposefully so to attract the collector of new issues. The fascination for the serious collector, though, is in finding stamps that are less common, rare, or unusual is some way. Though there is not a direct correlation between rarity and value, those stamps that are in some way unique are more likely to be of greater value than more common, ordinary stamps.
Stamps can be unique for several reasons. Stamps that are still attached to each other are called a block. Blocks are rarer than individual stamps because they preserve the relative positions of stamps as they were originally printed and provide information about how the stamps were produced. Though there are various kinds of blocks that are collected and provide a wide variety of information, the most commonly collected block is the plate block, which includes the part of the margin where the serial numbers of the printing plates are found.
Another reason why stamps can be rare is that an error of some sort occurred in the printing process resulting in stamps not having their intended appearance. Errors may include design errors, such as wrong pictures, misspelled text, etc. Stamps may be printed with the wrong denominations, missing parts, misplaced or inverted elements, overprints, paper or perforation errors. Though printing errors are generally rare because of several layers of inspection, they still occur, as evidenced by the 2011 “Statue of Liberty Forever” stamp on which the Statue of Liberty imaged not the original Statue of Liberty but the Statue on Las Vegas.
Most US stamps were printed and sold by the post office in whole sheets, and many people bought them with the intention of collecting or saving them for future generations. By definition, sheets are rarer than individual stamps of any given issue, because most sheets were broken up to be sold or used. Sheets of very common stamps are often not worth much more than face value, while sheets of rare stamps can be very valuable.
A sheet of stamps is a whole sheet as it comes off the printing press. Stamps are sold by the sheet by the post office, and many collectors buy them to save for future generations. Sheets are rarer than individual stamps because sheets are designed to be broken up and sold. When they are not sold and used for postage purposes, their value as a whole increases. Sheets of very common stamps are not worth much more than their face value, but sheets of rare stamps, however, can be quite valuable.
Finally, there are the “back of the book” stamps. Back of the book are those stamps which are found in the back of most specialized stamp catalogs. It includes most of those stamps which are not the primary postage stamps issued by a postal authority. There are varying opinions as to whether some stamps are back of the book or not, but some of the types of stamps that are typically considered back of the book include special delivery stamps, postage due stamps, duck stamps, newspaper stamps, revenue stamps and airmail stamps.
The above kinds of stamps are usually not sought after by the average collector. However, if you are collecting any of them, you know how enjoyable the hunt is. And you also know how valuable some of the above kinds of stamps can be.