Rare stamps can be a smart investment, but more than that, philately is a fun hobby that can be passed down to our kids as a pastime, aide in understanding history, and as part of an education on investing in your passion.
The adoption of pre-paid postage in 1845 and the subsequent release of stamps as we know them today provided an easy way for Americans to send mail while being assured of its delivery. Stamps may have been solely adopted for utility, but collectors grew to love both the vivid portraits and stability offered by stamps. While you can start a collection as easily as checking your mailbox, curating a collection of rare stamps worth money takes a bit more planning.
Read on to learn about some of the rarest and most valuable collectible stamps on the market along with some tips on how to curate your own collection.
Are Stamp Collections Actually Worth Money?
In short — yes, stamp collections can be worth a lot of money. However, their value is contingent upon factors like rarity, historical importance, condition, and collector demand. The worth of stamps is influenced by attributes such as centering, which denotes design alignment, and perforations, the small holes along edges.
Stamps from earlier eras, like 19th-century classics, often command higher prices due to scarcity and historical significance. For accurate valuation, collectors refer to stamp catalogues, expert appraisers, online platforms, and auction houses that specialize in stamps. Face value doesn’t necessarily reflect a stamp’s market value, as unique and rare stamps are more sought after by philatelists, driving appreciation over time. Insuring valuable stamp collections is paramount due to their appreciable worth. Comprehensive coverage protects against potential risks like theft, damage, or loss. Insurance providers offer specialized coverage tailored to stamp collections. Proper documentation, including photos and inventory details, streamlines the insurance process. Whether housing American or British stamps or those from around the globe, insurance offers stamp collectors peace of mind by safeguarding their investment from unforeseen circumstances.
4 Rare and Valuable Collectible Stamps
If you’re ready to get into rare stamps in a big way, starting with the most valuable stamps lets you make a big splash and set up a portfolio of high-value collectibles that is worth money immediately. While pricier to get started, you would have a collection of specimens proven to stand the test of time. Be warned, however, that these top-tier old stamps come with a hefty price tag.
The Inverted Jenny
The Inverted Jenny, Source: Wikimedia Commons
- Mint Condition (Never Hinged): $75,000 – $150,000+
- Lightly Hinged: $40,000 – $100,000+
- Used (Postmarked): $20,000 – $70,000+
One of the best-known stamps in history as well as being one of the rarest stamps available, the Inverted Jenny Stamp saw an upside-down blue inking of the World War 1 era JN-4HM inverted on a single 100-stamp sheet of the print run inside its right-side-up red frame. While two blocks of 4 remain, single stamps are what most often turn up on the auction block, with the last sale netting over 1.3-million dollars for the 24-cent postage stamp.
Benjamin Franklin Early Releases
1847 5 Cent Benjamin Franklin Stamp, Source: Wikimedia Commons
- Mint Condition (Never Hinged): $100 – $1,000+
- Lightly Hinged: $50 – $800+
- Used (Postmarked): $20 – $600+
While he was never a president, Benjamin Franklin holds a special place in US postal history. Notably, he served as the first postmaster of America and played a crucial role in its early postal system. Additionally, Franklin held the position of the British Crown’s postmaster for the colonies, granting him a unique vantage point that contributed significantly to intelligence gathering during that period.
Starting with the earliest postage stamps printed in 1847, Franklin’s contributions to philately were recognized with his picture on postage stamps. This recognition of his legacy was paralleled by George Washington’s appearance on American stamps. It’s intriguing to note that many of these early stamp specimens suffered from printing issues, rendering mint-condition examples highly sought-after among collectors. These well-preserved stamps not only possess historical value but also hold considerable monetary worth, with some fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars in the philatelic market. Franklin’s influence on American postal history, combined with the presence of George Washington on stamps, intertwines the nation’s foundation with its philatelic heritage.
Hawaii Missionary Stamps
1851 Hawaiian Postage Stamp, Source: Wikimedia Commons
- Mint Condition (Unused): $5,000 – $50,000+
- Lightly Hinged: Prices can vary widely; generally lower than mint condition.
- Poor Condition (Faults): Varies widely; significant faults can greatly reduce the value.
The San Francisco and Honolulu post office saw a lot of traffic back and forth in the 19th century. In 1851, poorly printed stamps in 2-cent and 5-cent denominations were made to allow missionaries on the islands to write home. Fewer than twenty specimens from either denomination are known to exist, with used examples commanding over $200,000.
British Guiana 1C Magenta Stamps
British Guiana 1C Magenta Stamp, Source: Wikimedia Commons
- Mint Condition (Unused): Due to extreme rarity, prices can reach several million dollars if available.
- Lightly Hinged: Due to rarity, prices could still be in the high range, potentially over $1 million.
- Used (Postmarked): $600,000 – $1 million+ (values can vary greatly).
The British Guiana 1C Magenta stamp stands as one of the most coveted and illustrious treasures in the world of philately. Hailing from the small South American colony of British Guiana, this stamp is renowned for its extreme rarity and exceptional historical significance.
Printed in 1856 in Georgetown, this singular stamp holds the distinction of being the only known example in existence today. Its aura of exclusivity is further heightened by the fact that it has changed hands through various collectors and exhibitions, even being sold in London for a record-breaking price, cementing its position among the most expensive stamps ever to grace the philatelic world.
Building a Collection of Rare US Stamps
Rare stamps are highly condition-sensitive and need to be properly handled and stored to protect their value. This is true for both unused stamps, canceled stamps, and cachets, or canceled stamps attached to an envelope, which are often commemorative in nature. Aside from the special care needed to maintain their value, you’ll want to consider your strategy for building your collection of rare postage stamps.
- Themes – Some of us love presidential stamps and by every one that’s released. Others may like historical issues that celebrate great moments in our culture. For those who just like dinosaurs, the United States Postal Service has you covered. Themed collections let you explore what you’re passionate about through the lens of stamps.
- Value – If your primary focus is on curating a collection that increases its value, then you’re going to want to focus on rare stamps that are wanted the most or what you think those stamps will be in the future. While some postage stamps have clearly shown the ability to set the bar for rare stamp prices over time, finding buying trends that let you invest before a stamp’s value increases can offer more profit in the long-run.
How to Determine the Value of a Stamp
Rarity is one aspect that collectors consider when they’re appraising stamps. Other considerations include:
- Condition – Collectible stamps range from ones with significant fading, hinge marks, and other signs of use all the way to completely unused stamps.
- Gum – Gum refers to the adhesive backing on a stamp. Unused stamps will generally retain their original adhesive.
To get an accurate value for your collection or an individual stamp, it’s best to consult professionals. The American Philatelic Society is a great collector’s resource, and they even provide a directory of local dealers who can provide you with a professional appraisal.
Curating a Themed Collection for Value
If you’d rather build a rare stamp collection that focuses on your interests, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the idea of value. Even within a given niche, there will be rare stamps worth money that stand out from the crowd but will make an excellent addition to your collection. When looking for the rarest stamps to add to your themed collection, take a few factors into consideration.
- Don’t Break Them Up – While many stamps collections focus on single stamp specimens, blocks and sheets can make valuable additions too. These offer a glimpse of the stamp in its fresh-off-the-press glory that may increase the rarity of your collection in years to come.
- Do Your Research – Limited edition runs and stamps that were heavily circulated but lightly collected can help you not only support your theme but add value. Checking circulation numbers on new releases can help you spot specimens that may be primed to gain value but that are currently offered for a much more reasonable price.
- Keep An Eye Out For Errors – You’re making a mistake if you aren’t looking for mistakes. Errors are rarities that come from printing or cutting mistakes. They also account for some of the most valuable rare stamps on the market. Finding and adding these oddities can not only give your themed collection something unique but also valuable.
Removing Stamps from Envelopes
There are certain situations where you may not want to remove stamps from their envelopes:
- Historic postmarks
- Famous Senders and/or Recipients
- Stamp was applied to an exotic postcard or maximum card
However, for most other stamps you want to remove and display on their own, these are some basic steps to follow:
- Separate the part of the envelope where the stamp is currently attached. Set this section aside.
- Soak the stamps and the paper they’re attached to in a bowl of lukewarm water. Ensure that the temperature is not too hot as this may cause permanent damage.
- Don’t crowd the stamps. Only soak a few stamps at a time.
- Let the stamps soak until you see them floating freely from the envelope pieces they were attached to.
- Carefully remove the stamps from the bowl of water. Rinse the backs to remove any excess gum. Then, lay stamps between two sheets of paper towels with a book or paperweight placed on top. This will prevent curling as the stamps dry.
- Let dry overnight and your stamps should be ready for mounting.
Storing and Mounting Stamps
If you have a growing collection, the most efficient and economical method of showcasing your stamps is by mounting them and keeping them in an album. Collectors generally prefer peelable stamp mounts. Never use tape or glue.
Mounts are clear plastic sleeves. After inserting a stamp in a mount, you’d simply need to moisten the back of the mount and adhere it to your album page. Used properly, a mount can easily protect your rare stamps from air, dust, dirt, and moisture.