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Sunday 23 November 2014

Collectors and Collectibles

Recently, I was asked to value a large collection. The owner came to my house and went out for a walk, leaving me the collection. He knew it would take me some time. In fact, I gave up very quickly. It was impossible to examine the stamps.

They were mint and a lot depended on whether they were* or **, hinged or never hinged. But they had been mounted on what we call "Home Made Pages" using a complicated system with the black mounts hinged rather than stuck to the A4 pages. Every time I tried to remove a stamp from a mount to look at the back, the mount promptly fell off the page. Worse, the pages were organised back to back in the cheapest office stationery protectors. Every time I tried to remove one page, the backing page came too and stamps fell out from the back.

It was a valuable collection but I gave up.  Everything was falling apart and I did not want to be responsible.

Some of the stamps - they were Russian - had chalk lines ( varnish lines) on the front and they had aged - become very visible. I think this is sometimes the effect of contact with cheap plastics.

Many thousands of pounds had been spent on the collection. A few pounds on the home made albums. It is a false economy and not the first time I have seen it.

I have also seen albums stored flat, not standing up, so that stamps stick to the pages. I have seen albums stored in damp conditions. And of course, I have seen cheap hinges which won't peel off, photo corners which damage minisheets, covers and cards, pencil notes scribbled on covers, covers cut down to make them "look better" and so on and so on. Collectors are the enemies of collectibles.

Recently, I was going through some pre-philatelic letters. Not for the first time, I was surprised at their very good condition. How come a letter of 1814 is so much better preserved than a letter of 1914?

It must have something to do with the very high quality paper often used before letter-writing became a mass activity. But there is a more important reason: there are few collectors for pre-philatelic mail, the letters have passed through fewer hands, they have been in fewer dealer boxes, and they have not been ironed or cut-down to look good on an album page.

A collectible is something worth conserving. It's something worth storing and displaying in ways which do not damage it. It's something which easily loses value. Just think, for every one thousand Penny Blacks which entered collections say 100 or 150 years ago, how many now are in as good condition as a Penny Black which happened to get lost inside an envelope left inside a book, 100 or 150 years ago, and only now re-discovered?

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