Guest blog by Brian Austin, Buckingham Covers, a proud PTS member and Stampex International stand holder.
The PTS website provides some brief guidelines for those interested in valuing a stamp collection. Of course, how we define value differs from person to person but the context of this website page refers to possible financial value. The PTS outlines some factors which would generally suggest that a collection may have financial value. The PTS also outlines some factors which would generally indicate that a collection is unlikely to have any significant financial value. Under this latter section, the PTS states that “First Day Covers from the last 30 – 40 years are less likely to have value and that prices offered may be less than what one might have hoped for”. This is not a statement I, or we as a company agree with, so we were pleased to be asked by the PTS to write an article detailing more information about which covers should have a better future.
Any newcomer to cover collecting needs to do some research, decide what you are, and aren’t going to collect and learn the importance of condition, stamps and postmark.
So what is a First Day Cover, well in the simplest terms it is a set of stamps affixed to an envelope postmarked on the day they are issued. Most collectors will take this to the next stage by putting their stamps on a special illustrated envelope and getting a postmark connected to the issue.
If there is a new set of stamps with flowers on, use an envelope with a flower picture and take it to the Post Office near Kew Gardens to get a postmark. So from my notes above this has covered the research and postmark part (Kew has a good flowers connection). To cover the other parts, stamps, I would say that 90% of people collect covers with the full sets of stamps on one cover and this is what I advise you should do.
Finally condition, try and stick the stamps neatly so that the postmark will be able to be seen clearly (sometimes tricky with full sets). Send it to postmarking in another envelope and include one to send it back in. Address it lightly in pencil, never in pen and if possible don’t type. Addressing a cover is always tricky, Royal Mail regulations say you need an address on the cover, but when it comes to selling it, does another collector want a cover with your address on it?
So what tips can I give you on buying First Day Covers, well the above is not a bad place to start, clean covers, full sets of stamps and a connected postmark. To this I would add make sure it is first day. Just because it looks like one or has a special postmark it might not be. Get a catalogue and don’t be afraid to check your dates before you buy.
More and more people are not now collecting every new issue but picking and choosing which to collect. You could collect a certain period e.g. covers of the 1970s or by theme e.g. trains or even First Day Covers issued at Stampex.
So should you collect covers for investment? Well no, like anything, collect them for enjoyment and if they go up in value then that is a bonus. As a company we advertise the covers that have gone up in value and the ones we are buying, but are not allowed to use the word investment. Stamps and Covers are like anything, we don’t know what will go up in value, if we did why would we tell anyone? We do, through our experience, know what should be a good issue and what might be an error, a rare stamp, a cover that we have only seen a few times, or never before, and this is what keeps us looking through collections, dealers stocks and auctions.
I can say three things that we are not looking for and do not buy and would advise you to steer clear yourself:
I wrote once that I kept a First Day Cover Catalogue with my spare tyre in the boot of my car, and a good collector will hopefully use it more than the wheel, but which one should you buy? If you have got this far in my ramblings I am happy to send you one of ours free ‘The Collectors Guide 1840 – 1970’ (email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address quoting PTSFREE) this lists all the early issues plus some secret tips. For a good general catalogue covering everything, you need ‘The Booth Catalogue – Collect GB First Day Covers’. For something more specialised with strength in the different types of covers since 1971, look for a copy of Collecting British First Day Covers by Adrian Bradbury. I would say that you do not need to buy a new catalogue every year, in fact I regularly see collectors using the same old one, once you know your way round a particular edition it is easier to stick with it.
To sum up the above, like anything, you will get out of First Day Cover collecting what you put in. You may be completely happy with what you are collecting, but with a little time you could be producing or buying a much better first day cover, to take pride of place in your collection.