Don't Leave Anything to Chance with Your Stamp Collection

Leave nothing to chance, have regular valuations and make sure you have adequate insurance......


It is often difficult to determine the real market value of stamp collections or of individual stamps. There are many cases of under- or over-valuing collections or single articles. Additionally there are instances of underinsurance or cases where the item is simply not insured. The need for specialist assistance to recognise and value philatelic material accurately is essential, as is the need to insure valuable collections. If ignored, the consequences may cause upset and disappointment to the unsuspecting when an overall financial assessment is given and the value is far less than had been expected. This can be avoided if valuations are updated regularly. Valuations may also result in the discovery of items that were previously ignored or considered worthless. So there can be pleasant surprises as well! 


During the course of our work at Morphets we are often asked to prepare professional valuations. Sometimes the request comes from a private client who requires an up-to-date appraisal for personal reasons or more frequently for insurance purposes. In other cases, we are instructed by solicitors needing assistance in formalising a Probate Valuation or in respect to settlements in Family Division ancillary proceedings. Often, these valuations involve philatelic material that include stamp collections, individual stamps and related items. Valuations, apart from their legal significance and financial importance, are required to finalise divorce and legal separation proceedings and, in the case of Probate, to allow a deceased testator's estate to be distributed to beneficiaries in accordance with the wishes expressed in their Will and, sometimes, as a precursor to the items being offered for sale at Auction in order to realise liquid cash funds. 


The need for adequate insurance is another aspect. Stamps can vary so much in value, it is important to have regular valuations carried out to ensure that Underwriters know the value of the collection or items they are being asked to insure against, risks that include, burglary, fire, theft, water or moisture damage. Many people impulsively reach for Stamp Catalogues, including those published by Stanley Gibbons and other similar Price Guides. These are to be used prudently with the caveat that they are a starting point only and should be used with extreme caution. They provide only a general guide to prices and are not conclusive. So much in the stamp world relies on rarity and overall condition to establish a realistic value. Additionally,  especially with rare stamps and collections, an accompanying Certificate of Authenticity issued by a respected organisation, such as the Committee of the Royal Philatelic Society, London is evidence of the genuineness of the item and acts as a guide to value. An excellent example of this is demonstrated by the Certificate (illustrated below) issued by 'The Expert Committee' of B.P.A Expertising Limited, London in respect to a single used Heligoland 1867-68 One Schilling (Rose and Blue Green) stamp that confirms the stamp is, in the opinion of the Committee, genuine. This is important for both the current owner, to confirm the identity of the stamp and for future generations of owners, so long as the Certificate is retained and accompanies the stamp during its lifetime. It is after all a very sound investment. What makes this particular Certificate all the more important is that there were many reprints and variants of this type of stamp and others in the series, that to an untrained eye, look exactly the same. Needless to say, the values of the reprints are significantly less than the genuine article. Others are quite simply fakes.


(Heligoland is a small archipelago consisting of two islands located in the North Sea, off the coast of Germany. Between 1807-1890 the islands were under British Administration and a part of the British Empire)


Other sources that might offer guidance as to value are auction house catalogues that sometimes also show prices realised. Here again, extreme caution is recommended because there are so many variations, comparisons are difficult to make and condition is always of paramount importance. Discussions with philatelists at local stamp society meetings and at stamp fairs are also helpful.


In the case of a loss and subsequent claim under an insurance policy, it sometimes comes as a shock to learn that 'underinsurance' may, at the underwriter's discretion, be penalised by the application of what is known as 'Average' to a legitimate claim that will reduce the value of a final  settlement. The reason for this is that the premium that has been paid does not accurately reflect the value of the philatelic items at risk. Many people assume that their stamp collection is covered under their Home Contents Policy. To some extent this is true, but there are financial policy limits in respect to collections and single items. There are also specialist collector's policies available that offer tailor-made 'agreed value' cover in respect to single items and collections. Sadly, it is often only after a loss has occurred that items are found, because of the passage of time or because they have been forgotten, to be significantly undervalued; another reason to update valuations on a regular basis. 


Conversely, many old and uninteresting looking stamp albums have their secrets hidden deeply buried amongst their pages and have never been noticed. This can be very welcome and unanticipated news for the owner. Within many albums lurk unexpected surprises that include the discovery of a valuable stamp or covers. Only recently, acting on a last minute impulse, a Client who had decided to consign five old, dust covered cardboard boxes and a small suitcase containing a large number of loose postage stamps, albums and miscellaneous other related ephemera to the proverbial local authority skip, decided to ask Morphets for an assessment. It was a wise decision. The small suitcase had been lined with newspaper that bore a date in June 1953 and it was obvious that it had probably been the last time it had been opened. Whilst most of the contents were of minimal value one album found at the bottom made the search worthwhile. It contained mint sets of George V Silver Jubilee British Empire stamps, including all the high denomination issues. The value was in excess of £3000.00. Elsewhere other items, including Queen Victoria covers, were also found amongst what had appeared at first sight to be only worthy of putting out with the rubbish. A salutary lesson and certainly a case of underinsurance! 


It is always worthwhile to carry out a regular review of items to confirm values. There are still many discoveries to be made and philately offers a rich seam of material for research and exciting finds, amongst long forgotten collections and items that are to-day actively sought by collectors throughout the world. 


At Morphets we will be happy to assist in helping to examine and value all types of philatelic material and offer advice with regard to the sale of items at auction.


Peter Read 


Philatelic Consultant, 




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