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Saturday 3 April 2010

Quality Matters - and Why It is Hard to Find

Some years ago, as a novice dealer, I bought in auction a stock of Soviet stamps housed in numerous stockbooks. What I failed to notice was that the owner had used all the top rows in his stockbooks and then exposed them to dust and sunlight. The result? I was the new owner of a stock of unsaleable sets - the quality of the top row material was too degraded to be combined with the material from the other rows.

Over time, most philatelic material has been damaged and its value reduced by the dealers, collectors and beneficiaries of collectors' wills through whose hands it has passed.

Dealers may no longer put hinges on mint stamps, but they still write on any postal history item that comes their way. Rub out the old prices, write on your own. Eventually, it takes its toll. The average piece of Victorian postal stationery has had Higgins and Gage numbers, dimensions,catalogue values and prices written on it so many times as to be virtually worthless. It goes straight into my £1 boxes.

Collectors still put hinges on mint stamps and some still prefer to pick up their stamps by wetting their thumb, as if tweezers had never been invented. Combine enough saliva with the damp cupboards which are a Must Have for many collectors and you soon have a collection foxed from start to finish.

Postal history is at the mercy of another range of collector habits. True, the excitement created by the invention of the red biro has passed as has the enthusiasm for writing the catalogue values of the stamps next to them on the cover - and in ink. Nowadays, covers are more likely to be subject to trimming and refolding.

One should not be too hard on dealers and collectors, however. Only the Experts have thought that the thing to do with a beautiful and rare cover is to sign your name on it - in the case of Italian experts, in a position where you cannot fail to be distracted by it.

Quality matters. It adds value. And it is a commodity in ever-diminishing supply.

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