Depending on which stamp collector you ask, you’ll hear that used stamps are worth more than unused ones. However, you might hear the same argument for unused stamps. So, are used stamp collections worth more than unused ones?
Used stamp collections aren’t worth more than unused ones in most cases. Unused or mint stamps are usually in better condition because the gum’s still attached, and they weren’t canceled. However, in some situations, used stamps can be worth more, such as when they’re considered rare.
If you’re a new stamp collector, you may hear contradicting information about which stamps are worth more. In this article, I’ll get right to the topic and explain why mint stamps are worth more. I’ll also mention when that’s not the case.
Mint Stamp Collections Vs. Used Ones
Evaluating a particular stamp collection isn’t the easiest thing to do. There are always dozens of factors to consider and multiple angles to consider to gain an objective value. Many (amateur) stamp collectors refer to professional dealers for help. However, the answer is often the same—unused or mint stamps are worth more than used ones.
Of course, it depends on what each collector deems as “more valuable.” Is this phrase used in a purely financial sense? Perhaps “more valuable” means it’s psychologically more pleasing for a collector to collect only a certain type of stamp, which only complicates things further.
In terms of value, mint stamps are worth more in most cases, but there are exceptions, as I’ll explain later in this article.
In the sections below, I’ll explain why mint stamps are worth more for most collectors:
One of the first things any collector (of any collection) is looking for is the condition of whatever they’re collecting. Used items, including stamps, are expected to be slightly damaged or show signs of wear and tear. However, the amount of damage affects the final price.
If a stamp isn’t damaged that much, it’s still valuable, even if it’s used. Even so, mint stamps take the lead in this category over used ones. A stamp in pristine condition is what every serious collector wants. The same is true for stamp collectors who’re interested in making money from selling stamps.
For a mint stamp to be considered in excellent condition, it should have the following characteristics:
- No cancelation marks
- Original color
- No visible damage
- Perforation (crenelated edges)
- Presence of original gum (hinge)
The absence of these elements—except cancelation marks—on stamps doesn’t mean they’re no longer mint stamps. They’re still considered unused, but their value decreases if they miss one or more elements from the list.
The main characteristic distinguishing mint stamps from used ones is the cancelation mark. Cancelation marks refer to any kind of marking over stamps, proving they were used (and can no longer be reused). These marks are usually called postmarks, and cancelations today are normally done mechanically.
In the past, the cancelation was done by stamping ink or marking it with a pen. Once a stamp is canceled, it’s no longer considered mint, meaning its value automatically decreases, even if the condition is excellent.
The main problem occurs when the cancelation was done poorly. This means that the most important features of a stamp aren’t visible. If you take a stamp showing a monarch’s or another historical figure’s bust and cancel it to cover the entire bust, you have a problem. This is why most postmarks are placed in corners or over unimportant parts on the stamp.
Light cancelation isn’t a major issue, especially for collectors who collect used stamps. The problem is with heavy cancelation, where the black ink ruins a large portion of a stamp.
So, the main takeaway is that cancelation doesn’t necessarily decrease a stamp’s value dramatically if done properly. Indeed, some collectors only want canceled stamps with perfectly placed postmarks.
Most damage occurs on the back of stamps. Stamp hinges are covered in sticky gum, allowing them to stick to paper. One of the first signs of a used stamp is the absence of gum.
This can be a big deal for many collectors because they don’t want to deal with removing a used stamp from a piece of paper and then reapplying hinges to stick them in their collection. It’s a process that should be avoided if possible since it can devalue stamps.
Modern self-adhesive stamps come with oil-based gum that’s almost impossible to remove once it’s glued to paper. This makes mint stamps more valuable today because once a stamp sticks to paper, it’s there for good!
In the stamp collecting world, the rarer a stamp is, the more valuable it gets. The truth is there are fewer mint stamps worldwide than used ones, which makes them more valuable.
This makes sense when you think about it because stamps are primarily made for people to use them, and only stamp collectors prefer mint stamps.
As one study that focused on commemorative stamps shows, the three most relevant indicators of stamp prices are:
- The number of stamps produced
- The year or period in which a stamp was made
- Unique characteristics of the stamp variety
In this sense, the more stamps that are made, the lower the price, the reason some collectors are interested in mint stamps only if they weren’t mass produced.
The number of stamps produced is connected with a stamp’s face value (the printed price of the stamp). So, stamps with higher face value are generally fewer in number because people don’t use them as often.
Instances When Used Stamps Are Worth More Than Mint Stamps
Nothing’s clear-cut in the stamp-collecting world, and this is best seen in the fact that some used stamps can be worth more than mint ones. However, these instances are limited in number, and they usually call for a few years of experience in stamp collecting.
Below are the instances in which used stamps are more valuable than mint ones:
New cars are usually more expensive than many older models. However, we all know that an older car can be three or four times more expensive than a new one simply because it’s rare and vintage. Why would it be different for stamps?
Truly rare stamps can reach astonishing price tags only a few collectors can afford. Collectors don’t typically buy these stamps for aesthetic value but for future investment.
Moreover, most collectors focus on a particular theme for their stamp collections. As it turns out, the most lucrative theme is different countries. These stamps are great because some countries didn’t produce many stamps, or not many have survived.
An excellent example is the German Empire’s 1 Billion Overprint from 1923 because the usual 100-mark stamps were turned into stamps costing 1 billion marks due to hyperinflation after WW1.
In the past, people tended to buy stamps with a lower face value because they were cheaper, and low face-value stamps were produced in larger numbers. That makes higher face value stamps rare pieces that many collectors are looking for today.
Therefore, if you have a mint stamp with a low face value that was mass-produced and a used one with a high face value, the used stamp may be worth more because it’s a rarer piece.
What About Cancel-To-Order Stamps?
One unique phenomenon in the stamp-collecting world is cancel-to-order (or CTO) stamps. These mint stamps were canceled only to be sold as used stamps, meaning they were never technically used in post but are still considered used. This is done to ensure some stamps are never used postally.
Due to the high demand for used stamps, manufacturers often make CTOs for those collectors. This isn’t illegal since official governmental organs often approve CTOs for dealers and collectors.
Where Can I Get My Old Stamp Collection Valued?
If you’re unsure about certain stamps you’ve acquired, and whether they’re worth any money, the best option is to have them evaluated. This raises the main question: where should you evaluate your old stamp collection?
You can get your old stamp collection valued in auction houses that sell stamps or respected stamp dealers, such as Stanley Gibbons. Today, you can check various online forums and groups for an informal evaluation. Lastly, many collectors refer to various stamp catalogs for evaluation.
Whether you have used or minted stamps in your collection, it’s important that your stamp album is arranged neatly, especially if you’re planning to sell it. Many dealers aren’t interested in disheveled albums.
Unused (mint) stamps are worth more than used ones, especially for investment purposes. However, in rare situations, used stamps can surpass unused ones in price. Still, stamp collectors are far more interested in collecting unused stamps precisely because they’re more difficult to find.
Other reasons mint stamps are worth more include:
- They’re usually in better condition
- There are no cancellation makes
- The gum is still present
You may also encounter unused cancel-to-order stamps, which were canceled for selling as used due to market demand for them.