For many collectors, the stamps of the British Empire hold a great fascination and respect. Great Britain is the Father of America, and at one time the U.S. was the largest of the British Colonies. As a youngster, the stamps of the British Empire presented the greatest fascination of all stamps, and I have been addicted since.
No other area has contributed so much to philately as the British Empire. At one time, the sun never set on the British Empire, and all parts of the empire issued stamps for postal and revenue usage. Many of the higher denominations NEVER sought postal usage, and their availability is very limited. (Australia Sc.# 129 Specimen) In as much as the normal issues are somewhat common, many of the high denominations with face values of 5 to 10L are actively sought, and prices of $500.00 to $20,000.00 are paid. Many collectors who seek representation of these values, prefer to find them with fiscal or revenue cancels, which are sold at a tremendous discount from mint or postally used stamps of the same denomination. Many of these are catalogued, but most are not. Specimen issues of the high denominations are also sought, and in most cases can be obtained at a fraction of the price of the regular stamp.
Specimens (Pre-1950) (Cook Islands Sc.# 659-60 Specimen) were originally prepared from the first pane of the first four sheets of an issue. They were sent to the Universal Postal Union countries all over the world as samples of what they might expect on incoming mail from the various countries/colonies. By overprinting “specimen”, “Specimen” or by perforating “specimen” on the stamps, they were “De-franked” (or in other words, made not valid for payment of postage.) (Cyprus Sc.# 862 Specimen) Still, these specimens remain actual copies of the real stamp. Today’s specimen issues (since 1953) are prepared mostly for philatelic agencies.
Occasionally a specimen stamp will show up on a cover and should be considered as bogus, as they do not have franking value. If you are interested in specimens of the British Empire, they are listed in the current edition of Gibbons, British Empire Part 1. Almost all issues from Edward to George VI are listed.
Expertization is another area of concern, particularly in the case of expensive overprinted, or surcharged stamps. While there are many recognized “experts”, the certificates of the British Philatelic Society (BPA), The Royal Philatelic Society (ROYAL) or a David Brandon (BRANDON) certificate are generally accepted by any British collector or dealer.
Pricing is perhaps the most difficult part of British stamps. Almost all stamps are listed “somewhere”. The problem is that since most British stamps enjoyed as many as six printings, most catalogs only list one or two, which in most cases are the cheapest. The catalog used in the U.S. (Scott’s), lists only an estimated 50% of all varieties, as compared to the Stanley Gibbons catalog (SG). Also bear in mind that the SG catalog is actually the price list of one of the largest stamp houses in the world. The Scott catalogs are printed by Amos Press, owner of Linn’s Stamp News, and do not offer any stamps for sale. Herrick Stamp Company of Hewlett, New York has quite a few SG varieties illustrated on their website.
Auction price realizations are often an excellent guide for pricing, and careful inspection of these prices will note that the stamps are sold at a price lever HIGHER than listed by Scott. Be sure to add the hammer charge of 15% to the price realized, as this is what the collector actually pays for the stamp.
Condition and quality of a stamp is of paramount importance. All catalogs list prices for stamps that are fine to very fine and in sound condition. Any stamp below this standard is discounted tremendously and any stamp that exceeds this standard is priced somewhat higher. Superb copies often bring two to three times the listed price.
This has been updated from Global Stamp News – November 1990 – Issue #1