Stamps for Dummies
  Are Used or Unused Stamps Worth More ?

One of the commonest questions we are asked, especially by non-collectors, is "Which are more valuable; mint or used stamps ?"
I usually don't get the chance to explain the answer in detail, so here it is - in more detail !

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to that question. The value of absolutely every stamp is determined by just two factors; supply and demand. But let me try to explain here some of the ways in which the supply and demand balance can be different in mint stamps and used stamps.

First of all, some definitions;
"Mint" normally means a stamp as it would have been originally sold over the post office counter. Broadly, stamp collectors tend to mean an unused stamp which still has its original gum.
"Unused" is generally the term for a stamp that is not cancelled, but has lost the original gum (or some of it).
"Used" relates to a stamp that has been through the post, i.e. it has been used for its original purpose, and you would normally expect such a stamp to have a postmark ("cancel"/"cancellation").
"Fiscally used" means that the stamp has been used to pay a fee on a document, other than a payment for postage. Many fiscally used stamps are cancelled by rubber stamps, or are signed over by hand, or have just a datestamp, but there are some difficult ones that have fiscal cancels that look postal !

You will also see references to "unmounted mint" ("M.N.H. for "mint never hinged" in the USA) or mounted mint. This is because many stamps have been mounted in albums over the years, and if this has been done using a stamp hinge this will leave a mark on the gum, meaning that it is "mounted mint". Many collectors prefer unmounted mint over mounted mint, and in fact some collectors only want them that way.

As the price is based on supply and demand, if a stamp was available in equal quantities mint of used, and if the demand was equally balanced, you would expect the price to be the same in either state.

The majority of stamps that have been issued for normal postal use may well have seen the largest quantities used in the post. Let's say a stamp was in use for many years and 100 million were sold. It may be that only 100 thousand mint example were kept by collectors, but you would also find that of the vast number used in the post a very high percentage would have ended up just being thrown out. So of 100,000 mint, almost all of that number will still survive, but of the 99,900,000 used, maybe only one million ended up being kept by collectors. Starting with a supply with a used:mint ratio of 999:1, we end up with an availability now in the ratio of 10:1.

Generally speaking, you'll find that standard stamps of larger countries will be commoner used than mint, simply because they would have been used in such large numbers. But the amount of mail going through the postal systems in less populous countries (e.g. Andorra, Iceland, Tonga, or Anguilla) means that collectors would maybe have to wait a long time before one came their way on the mail. In that case the collector might send some money to the country requesting stamps, or possibly a dealer might make a bulk purchase. (Most post offices will sell their stamps mint, though in recent decades it has become quite standard to sell them already cancelled.) This means that if you look at typical junior-type stamp collections you will often find that almost all of the mint stamps they have are from countries from which you got little mail.

Older higher-denomination stamps tend to be scarcer mint than used. If you consider that a 1 stamp issued early in the 1900s would be beyond the spending power of almost all collectors, it means that very few mint ones would have been kept, except by a small number of richer collectors. However, some of these "high values" were used in reasonable numbers on mail between banks etc.
Some Commonwealth countries issued stamps in very high denominations which were intended primarily to pay government fees. A 100 stamp might have been used in fair numbers to pay a tax on land purchase or mining rights or export duties, but would have been almost unheard of as a postal rate, and well beyond a collector's pocket to keep an unused one.

There's no simple rule. Some stamps are dearer unused, some are dearer used. For every generalisation there are exceptions.

Robert Murray Stamp Shop
5 & 6 Inverleith Gardens
Scotland EH3 5PU
Tel. 0131 552 1220  or 0131 478 7021
Email; [email protected]

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Last updated Tuesday 21 June 2016. Copyright Robert Murray 2016.