Please come along as I return briefly to a beloved topic in stamp collecting — the exquisite pleasure of “completing sets.” Internet stamp shopping has made it easier than ever to fill your “wish lists” with the stamps missing from your key sets — that is, if you can afford to spend the money! (“But it’s an investment!” I tell my wife, who rolls her eyes, gives me the cold shoulder, puts her foot down and closes the books.) The accompanying illustrations show how several of my recent online purchases — within my budget — allowed me to fill out two favorite sets in my British Commonwealth collection: the Ascension Queen Elizabeth definitive series of 1963; and the Jubilee Issue of 1897 from Canada, commemorating the sexagenary (60th year) of Queen Victoria’s rule. Each stamp in that latter series features side-by-side portraits of the queen as a swan-necked beauty in 1837 and a doughty dowager in 1897.
Admittedly, I have not “completed” the Jubilee set. Its values run from a half-cent to $5, including $1, $2, $3 and $4 stamps. The high values are hideously expensive. Some of the lower values cost more than I normally would want or be able to spend. But recently I got the bug, so I’ve been marshaling my resources and trolling the Internet for bargains, just to see how many from the set I could gather …
But before more words about Canada, a few words about Ascension. The attractive bird issue of 1963 followed the first Queen Elizabeth definitive set of 1953 — a gorgeous and valuable series that I have described elsewhere (see my Ascension blog post). The 1963 set is not cheap — I had to shop around and finally bought the top two values, from separate dealers, for a combined $22.30. I hope the images here and below help to explain the appeal of stamp collecting in a visual way — notice the designs and the colors, also the way the completed set (below) moves smoothly from 1 penny through 1 pound, each stamp linked to the other by a common design template, each one its own handsome object, with original art, vivid color and the unifying portrait of the queen. The complete mint set sells online for $33, so I don’t know how well I did — particularly since my 1/6 stamp is cancelled. I may decide to pick up a mint 1/6 some day — it’s not expensive. Meanwhile, I indulge my predilection for complete sets, even if they do include a mix of mint and cancelled stamps.
Now, on to the Canadian set, and my bold bid for the 15-cent and 20-cent stamps in the series. This set is a particular favorite of mine, and seems to be popular with many collectors. The stamps, as mentioned earlier, are pricey! It took me years of stop-and-go collecting to begin building my set. My first big move was to buying the 1/2 cent. Oddly, its price seemed to be rising sharply a few years ago. When I finally jumped in and picked up a mint copy in 2014, it cost me $22.49 — a 4,400 percent increase over face value, right? Imagine: If your ancestors had been in Canada in 1897, they could have picked up a full sheet of these black beauties for a quarter, the face value! (Why is this low-value stamp so expensive? Why so rare? Uh, sorry, I haven’t gotten around to researching that particular subject yet; maybe later …)
Some of the mid-range values are not outrageously expensive — I got a mint 1-cent for $2.25, a mint 5-cent for $4.35. Others cost a bit more. I scored a coup, I think, when I found the 50-cent, used, offered for $39.
A word on the condition of stamps like these in relation to their value. Mint, never-hinged examples from this set command sky-high prices. Hinged mint copies go for considerably less. Used copies may cost slightly less than that. Then comes the matter of centering. A stamp may be sound in every other respect — no tears or thins, scuffs, short or missing perforations — yet still be a relative bargain if the design is noticeably off-center. You will notice in my set, pictured here and again below, a number of pretty dramatically off-center values — look particularly at the 1/2-cent (skewed high), the 15-cent (low) and the 20-cent (skewed left). At least the stamps themselves are sound. And remember my urge toward “completeness,” which overcomes key considerations like mint or used — or in this case, centering. I stand by my Jubilee set, noting that each stamp is intact, if not the most elegant example you will find.
The mint 20-cent cost me a whopping $38.39 from one dealer; the used 15-cent a still-considerable $33.94 from another. It was a thrill to insert these two rarities into their protective, black-backed sleeves (using stamp tongs, of course!), custom-cut and mount them in my British America album. Wow! The set is filling out nicely! Of course I should not expect to pick up the $1 or higher values anytime soon — unless I come into some serious money. (I saw a $2 nearly obliterated by a heavy cancel, on sale for something like $90 …) But just having the set complete to the 50-cent would be a feat I never thought I would accomplish; if only I could find an affordable 6-cent! The pressure is on: Just look at that page (pictured above). The white hole in the middle cries out to be filled! Copies of the 6-cent were available on Internet sites, all right, but the cost was daunting — $30, $40 or more. I could pick up a damaged “space filler” for much less, but that’s not my way. I insist on intact stamps, with only the rarest of exceptions.
Eventually I did settle on a 6-cent, offered on an Internet site for a very reasonable $15.50. What’s wrong with it? It looked fine, though the cancellation was ugly. It seemed to have all its perforations, and the centering was even decent, so. I snapped it up. When it arrived in the mail a few days later, it fulfilled my expectations. Yes, one corner is a little greasy; the cancellation makes it look like it’s missing some perfs, even though it isn’t. It’s a sound stamp, listed as “fine.” And the price sure was right! Plus, I got the pleasure of adding the missing piece to “fill out” this desirable set from the 1/2-cent through the 50-cent. (See below, enlarged.)
Altogether, I figure I spent a little over $185 over a period of five or more years to acquire this “partial set.” Now, let’s check online to see what this set is going for today. According to the widely used online site Zillions of Stamps, using the middle range of prices, my partial set would cost an encouraging $296.50 — 62.5 percent more than I paid. An all-mint partial set, 1/2-cent through 50-cent, was selling for $400 …
What a handsome series it is! Though I can’t help but wonder how many Canadian stamp collectors in the turbulent economy of the 1890s were able to buy those $1, $2, $3, $4 and $5 stamps — any more than most collectors today can afford the inflated prices of these rare, high-value beauties …
Photo gallery: The top values
Well, at least we can feast our eyes. Here they are, the top values of the Jubilee Issue, all lined up, like a wish list for my fantasy stamp collection. (See below.) These images are from the Internet, of course, not my collection. They are, so to speak, for illustrative purposes only. And what illustrations! Notice the exquisite engraving: the delicate portraits, the emblems, the stylized maple leaf border; the vivid color; the fine centering — and the high prices! I will supply brief captions with a few details.
The $1 (color: lake) is offered for $375. It is a mint, never-hinged example, very well-centered.
The $2 (dark purple) is offered for $2,900. It is a superb example, accompanied by certificate. Notice the near-perfect centering.
The $3 (yellow bistre) is also a beautiful example. It is offered for $1,395.
This example of the $4 value (purple) is marred by a heavy “railroad cancel.” The centering also is skewed toward the top. Price: $190.