Beginning philatelists: important details to start

First of all we clarify an important term to understand what these controversial elements of collecting apply to.

A postcard is a rectangular piece of thick or thin cardboard paper intended for writing and mailing without a wrapper. Other shapes of the rectangular can also be used. There are novelty exceptions, such as wooden postcards, fine wood postcards, and copper postcards sold in the copper country of the state of Michigan, and coconut “postcards” from the tropical islands.

In some places, you can send a postcard for a lower price than a letter. Stamp collectors distinguish between postcards (which require a stamp) and postcards (which have pre-printed postage on them). While a postcard is usually printed by a private company, person or organization, a postcard is issued by the corresponding postal authority.

The oldest postcard in the world was sent in 1840 to the writer Theodore Fulham’s Hook in London, England. The study and collection of postcards is called Deltiology.

Now, returning to the subject of philately:

We know as ‘philately’ the collection of stamps or other objects (such as envelopes) related to postal shipments.

The term philately was coined in 1864 by Gustave Herpin, who introduced the term in a press article in the publication ‘Le Collectionneur de timbres-poste’.

Herpin had become an authority and expert on stamps since the first postage stamps had been issued two decades earlier and he began collecting them.

Like him, many others had been initiated into this type of collecting, which led to the search for an appropriate way to define this emerging hobby.

Some were those who proposed names such as ‘timbrology’ or ‘timbrophilia’, because in its origins the stamps were known as ‘stamp’ (today there are also those who call them so) and there was even who proposed ‘philately’.

But finally the neologism philately was imposed (in spite of being very discussed) and which came from joining the Greek words ‘philo’ (love/friend/lover) and ‘atleia’ (tax-exempt/tributary).

It is not possible to determine who was the first person to collect stamps (it appeared in 1840 in the United Kingdom and within a few years they were already used in the mailings of much of the planet), but it is worth mentioning that a year after the first stamps were put into circulation in England, a curious announcement appeared in The Times newspaper in which a young Londoner wanted to receive correspondence from other people and places in order to collect used stamps.

How to recognize old stamps and estimate their value


Postage stamps are the essential component that ensures that a letter is sent from one place to another. As early as 1837, they were included in envelopes and other objects. Their cost has increased over time and today, with the invention of the Internet and e-mail, postage stamps are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Examining them and knowing their age to determine their value is a simple process that could bring anyone a financial reward. This will depend on the stamp you own.

With a pair of clean philatelist tweezers, pick up a stamp from a corner. Hold a magnifying glass and look at the nuances you can see. With the tweezers, lift the stamp and slide it gently into the plastic sheet that you have previously stuck in a folder. Handle all the old seals in a similar way to prevent them from getting dirty or damaged.

Visit websites like to learn about old stamps and their value. Point your cursor to the right of the home page until you find the “Browse U.S. Stamps by Year” menu. Click on the year your stamp was issued.

Scroll through the different collections of stamps. Identify the original cost and value of the stamp. Compare it to its current value as determined by the listing. Search your own collection and see if you have stamps identical to those listed on the website.



Stamps were originally issued to frank any kind of correspondence, but over the years special services were established, with their own postage stamps. In this note we will refer to those that have generally been issued by the vast majority of postal administrations, and we leave for the following week those that were created in a certain country or group of countries.

The first major division between postage stamps is that which classifies them as ordinary (those used to transport mail by any means of surface, land or sea) and air (those issued especially to transport mail by air). This distinction has been lost over time and now the generality of the stamps are ordinary, regardless of the means of transport that is used, in fact, and while the distinction was in force, the franking was done indiscriminately with any type of stamp.

During what we could call the glorious years of aviation, the fondness for collecting airmail stamps, as well as pieces related to this postal service, gave rise to a specific branch of philately: aerophilately.

At the end of the XIX century, the organization of the postal services around the Universal Postal Union, made it necessary to identify the stamps used by the authorities of the respective states, the same ones that required a differentiated treatment. This gave rise to the official service stamps, in many cases identified with a stamp (OFFICIAL or OFFICIAL SERVICE), over the ordinary stamps. Official stamps were also issued, both for ordinary service and air service.

When mail delivery services were created in less time than ordinary ones, special stamps were used to identify the payment of the additional fee involved. This is how express service or special delivery stamps were born, which in many cases used images that referred to the speed of transport.

Another widespread species of stamps is the Postage Due stamp. When the postage on the correspondence did not cover the fee, or simply did not pay it, the letter was fined at the destination, generally with twice the value it should have paid originally. The postage stamps were attached to the letter for proof of payment.

An important category of stamps, especially in certain countries, such as Switzerland, is that of charity stamps (semi-postal stamps). In these stamps, the face value is expressed by a sum (5+1, for example); the first value pays the postal rate and the second is intended for a specific purpose.

These stamps should not be confused with postal tax stamps, stamps that were placed on correspondence as a tax to finance activities, works or services. They are actually tax stamps, but their use in correspondence, which is the one taxed with the tax, turns them into postal pieces.

Finally, there are the official closings. Strictly speaking, these are not stamps, since they have no face value and are not used for postage, but rather labels with which correspondence that was open for some reason was stamped. In any case, they are a postal element that is part of the stamp collections.

The acquisition of stamps


Many collectors ask their family and friends to save stamps for them from their mail. Although stamps received by large companies and those held by elderly relatives may be of international and historical interest, stamps received from family members are often of the ultimate species. Definitives may not seem important, but, considering their variety of colors, watermarks, paper differences, perforations and printing errors, they can fill many pages in a collection. The introduction of any specific variety or approach to a collection may require the purchase of stamps, either from a distributor or online. A large number of relatively recent stamps, often still attached to fragments or envelopes, can be obtained cheaply and easily. Rare and old stamps can be obtained as well, but these can be very expensive.

Duplicate stamps are those of a collector no longer needed, therefore, to fill a gap in a collection. Duplicate stamps can be sold or exchanged, making them an important means of exchange among collectors.

Many dealers sell stamps through the Internet, while others have neighborhood stores that are among the best resources for beginning and intermediate collectors. Some dealers also jointly set up weekend coupon markets, called “bags” that move around a region from week to week. Collectors also gather at regional shows and couponing programs.

Collecting specialties

A worldwide collection would be enormous, running into thousands of volumes, and would be very expensive to acquire. Many consider Count Philipp von Ferrary’s collection in the early 20th century to be the most complete ever formed. Many collectors limit their collection to certain countries, certain periods of time or particular subjects (called “topics”) such as birds or airplanes.

Some of the more popular collection areas include

Rare Stamps


The rare stamps are often old and many have interesting stories attached to them. Some include:

Some of the most valuable stamps in the world

Quotation Catalogues

They are the main tool used by serious collectors to organize their collections, and for the identification and valuation of the stamps. Most coupon stores have Quotation Catalogs available for purchase. Some offer online catalogs, free of charge or for a fee. There are hundreds of different catalogs, more specialized in particular countries or periods.

The most expensive stamps in the world

When the first stamp was issued in 1840, few could have suspected that it would inspire a passion that would last for centuries. The only thing that has grown more than the historical importance of stamps is the amount of money collectors can make from them. Our experts have made a selection of the most expensive stamps in the world, and they explain to us why each one is so valuable.

The Penny Black – £3000 Issued in the UK in May 1840, the Penny Black was the first adhesive stamp in the world, something that is why it is considered so valuable. The Penny Black carries a picture of Queen Victoria II and does not show the country of origin, as is the case today. Although there are many Black Pennies for sale, an unused one can earn its owner about 3000 Euros, making it very popular among collectors.

Inverted Swan – 35 500 EuroThe Inverted Swan is one of the most famous and unique stamps in the world, not because of its beauty, but rather because it was one of the first investment mistakes in the world. The Inverted Swan was issued in Perth, Australia in 1855, when a complicated lithographic process was followed to produce these stamps. However, unlike what is popularly believed, it is actually the edge that is turned, not the swan. This famous stamp was last sold in 1983 for 35 500 euros.

Red Mercury – 37 000

The red Mercury seal is extremely valuable because of its rarity. More than a postage stamp, the red Mercury was used for sending newspapers. These stamps have an image of the Roman god and were printed in yellow, red and blue, depending on the number of newspapers in the package. However, the red Mercury had a short life and was soon replaced, which is why so few have survived and why it has such a high value of 37,000.

Hawaiian Missionaries – 39 000 EurosDespite the cheap blue paper on which the Hawaiian Missionaries stamp was printed, it is among the most unusual and expensive stamps of all time, currently valued at about 39 000 Euros. The Hawaiian Missionaries was the first stamp to be issued in Hawaii and was used predominantly in correspondence between missionaries, hence its name.

Dendermonde upside down – 75 000 Euro The inverted Dendermonde, which shows the town hall upside down, is Belgium’s largest contribution to printing errors. Although this error affected two sheets of the first stamp issue and one sheet of the second, only 17 are known to exist today. It is rumored that two of these stamps were lost when a famous stamp collector was murdered in 1942. If you would like to get one of the few that remain, it would cost you an estimated 75,000 euros.

Inverted Jenny – 750 000 EuroAnother printing error is what gives the Inverted Jenny its huge price tag. Now valued at around £750,000, this stamp shows an inverted image of the JN-4 Curtiss aircraft and was issued in the USA in 1918. Only 100 units were printed, which is why the Inverted Jenny has such a high value.

Baden 9 Kreuzer – About 1 million eurosMore than being valuable because of an error in the image, the Baden 9 Kreuzer owes its value to an error in the color used. The 9 Kreuzer stamp has the face value of 9 Kreuzer and is pink, while the 6 Kreuzer stamps were green. However, a printing error made a batch of 9 Kreuzer stamps green instead of pink. Only four of them are known to exist, and one was sold in 2008 for more than 1 million euros.

The first Two Mauritius – More than 1 million eurosEmitted in 1847 in Mauritius being a British colony, these stamps were created based on British stamps with an image of Queen Victoria. Only 26 copies are known to exist and they are the first Commonwealth stamps to be made outside of Britain, so it is not surprising that Mauritius stamps are worth over 1 million euros each.

The Yellow Tre Skilling – Over 2.1 million euros The Yellow Tre Skilling is considered one of the most expensive postage stamps in the world, because instead of being printed in the usual colors (blue-green) it was actually printed in yellow. This Swedish stamp with a printing error and issued in 1855 is believed to be the only one in existence, so it is valued at over 2.1 million euros.

Start your philatelic adventures and let your collection take off with one of our many stamp auctions.

Expert advice: How to determine the value of your stamps

Are you curious to know if your stamp collection has any value? Our in-house stamp expert Daan Hartevelt has been asked many times if an inherited stamp collection has any value. Dan has been collecting stamps since he was young, and has traded many of them. This, along with his experience working for a renowned stamp store, makes him the person to turn to if you are curious about the value of a stamp. This is what he had to tell us about how to determine the value of your stamps.

Do the stamps come from a serious collector?

Daan says that people often find their grandfather’s stamp collection or also inherit stamps in other ways, and of course they want to know immediately if these stamps are valuable. The first thing to ask is whether the person from whom you inherited the stamps was a serious collector. If not, unfortunately, it is likely that the stamps have less value. A serious collector will seek out the best and most collected stamps for his or her compilation, so that they retain their value.

What is the condition of the stamps?

Do they look new? When they are closed in a damp place, the stamps get reddish stains, or they discolor with age. They can also wrinkle if they are not stored properly. As with anything you want to determine the value of, stamps will have a higher potential value the better they are stored. The quality of the stamps will also give you information about the collector, since if he is serious he will probably have protected his investment by keeping the collection in good condition.

What do you already know?

Sometimes there is already information about your stamps. Maybe there is a catalog value or maybe you have already had to pay taxes on those stamps before. Information of this kind will give you an idea of their possible current value. Daan even uses this data to accurately determine an estimated value for the stamps that go on auction. In addition to searching for catalog values, you could also compare previous sales and auction results. If you do this, it is important to make sure that the stamps you are comparing are in the same condition. The same stamp in perfect condition and without a postmark will always bring in more money than one with a postmark.

How rare are your stamps?

Just like comics, paintings or anything else you can collect, rarity influences value. Rare stamps, like other collectibles, will always have a higher value. And depending on their rarity, the state they are in will not be as important. An extremely rare stamp can have value regardless of the state it is in, although a rare stamp in perfect condition will always be more valuable.

Are your stamps in high demand?

Demand, in combination with rarity, is a very important factor to consider. And like everything else in this world, demand influences prices. So in many cases a rare African or South American stamp will have a different value than a rare German or Chinese stamp because the stamps from the latter countries are more collected than the former. If your stamps are popular and highly sought after by collectors, you have a better chance of getting higher prices.

Final advice

Now that you know some of the basic principles of how to determine the value of your stamps, Daan has one last piece of advice for you: originality is definitely important. Our goal at Catawiki is to sell only genuine items of the highest quality and this attracts a specialized audience that knows they can trust our auctions. If you think you have a very expensive stamp, it is a good idea to have it examined by an expert. Of course, you can always ask our in-house philatelic experts for advice. They will often advise you to appraise a stamp that looks expensive. Although you can also check its authenticity and potential value at local stamp stores, it is best to have any stamp you believe to be truly valuable examined by an expert. By doing this you will not only be able to determine its authenticity, but you will also be able to raise the price. If a buyer sees that a stamp has been certified by a professional, they will be willing to pay more.