Determining a Grade For Imperforate Mint Stamps

1. Size of margins - 0-70 points:

  • 70 points - The margins are oversize on all four sides - usually showing portions of the adjoining stamp.
  • 65 points - The margins are full on one side and oversize on three sides. Full margins are defined to be approximately 1/2 of the average distance between impressions on the plate from which the stamp was printed. This varies widely by issue.
  • 60 points - The margins are full on two sides and oversized on two sides.
  • 56 points - The margins are full on three sides and oversized on one side.
  • 54 points - The margins are full on all sides.
  • 51 points - The margins are full on three (or two for triangular stamps) sides and close on one side.
  • 49 points - The margins are full on two sides and close on two sides.
  • 45 points - The margins are full on one side and close on three sides.
  • 44 points - The margins are clear on all four sides, although none of them are full.
  • 34 points - The stamp has margins on only 3 sides and none of these are full.
  • 24 points - The stamp has margins on only two sides and none of these are full.
  • 15 points - The stamp has no margins to speak of at all, but is not cut into the design on any one side by more than 1/2 mm.
  • 5 points - There are no margins, and the design is cut into on one or more sides by between 1/2 mm and 1 mm
  • 0 points - The design is cut into by more than 1 mm on any one side.

2. Paper freshness - 0-10 points:

  • 10 points - The paper is bright and fresh, showing no signs of discolouration.
  • 8 points - The paper is fresh, but not bright. There may be a small gum soak affecting the edge of a margin.
  • 6 points - The paper is not visibly toned, although not particularly fresh.
  • 4 point - The paper shows some very light overall toning.
  • 2 points - The paper has noticeable toning, although it is not deep.
  • 0 points - The paper is heavily toned or has visible staining, or a deep gum soak the size of a hinge end.

A gum soak is a translucency in the paper caused by over-moistening of the gum, which has caused it to bleed through the paper to the front of the stamp. It is caused by over-zealous licking of hinges when mounting into albums.

3. Clarity and strength of printing impression - 0-5 points:

  •  5 points - The impression is razor-sharp, with all finer details of the design being clearly visible. The stamp appears almost like a proof.
  • 3 points - The impression is reasonably strong and detailed, but some of the shading lines may merge into one another, but no ink stripping will be visible.
  • 2 points - The impression is neither crisp nor weak, with some but not all of the finer details being visible. On lithographed or typographed (surface printed) stamps, there will be some patchiness (ink-stripping) visible.
  • 0 points - The impression is weak, heavily blurred or there may be extensive ink stripping

4. Freshness and depth of colour - 0-10 points:

  •  10 points - Unusually deep and rich colour. Appears as fresh as the day the stamp was printed.
  • 8 points - Post office fresh colour that shows no oxidation or fading.
  • 6 points - Full and true colour that is not faded, but is not post office fresh, but does not appear aged.
  • 4 points - Colour is not faded, although it is not fresh, and appears slightly aged.
  • 2 points - Colour shows some very mild fading or other discolouration, or is otherwise uneven.
  • 1 point - Colour is noticeably faded or very slightly altered
  • 0 points - Colour is highly faded, and noticeably changed.

Colours that are naturally pale, will at best receive a point value of 8 regardless of how fresh they are. This is to reflect the fact that collectors generally prefer deeper colours visually. That said, a stamp that is superb in all respects that has pale colour will still receive a possible maximum grade of 98, which is still superb. Determining whether a colour has changed from its original state requires some knowledge of the printing inks used for a particular issue and can be difficult for the novice to judge. For example, the green inks used by De La Rue on the crown CA commonwealth keyplate stamps were originally deep or dull green, or occasionally deep blue green. These inks were singly fugitive, which means that they are water soluble. When these inks are exposed to water, they fade first to bright blue green and then to a bright yellow green. These are changed colours, and a stamp like this would receive a score of 1 if it was bright blue green and 0 if it was yellow green.  

5. Absence of visual paper flaws - 0-5 points:

  •  5 points - No visible paper inclusions, no visible creases, no margin nicks, no visible thin spots, no visible tears or visible scuffs.
  • 4 points - May be a slightly noticeable paper inclusion but no other flaws.
  • 3 points - may be a small margin nick but no other flaws.
  • 2 points - may have a small inclusion and a small margin nick, or only a very small scuff.
  • 1 point - may have a small corner crease, but no other flaws.
  • 0 points - Has one or more visible closed tears, thin spots or large surface scuff.

It should be noted that the following serious faults reduce the grade of an item as follows:

  1. Missing piece. - 90 points.
  2. Colour heavily faded or altered. - 70 points.
  3. Tears that are more than 2 mm long. - 60 points.

Less serious faults reduce the grade of items as follows:

  1. Creases that break the paper - 30 points.
  2. Creases that do not break the paper, being light bends - 5 points each, or 10 points if a more than a bend, but not breaking the paper.
  3. Shallow thins - 30 points if larger than a pencil tip eraser and visible from the front; 20 points if larger than a pencil tip eraser and not visible from the front; 10 points if not larger than a pencil tip eraser, not visible from the front; 5 points if smaller than a pencil tip eraser, and only visible in watermark fluid, or when backlit.
  4. Closed tears: 30 points if 1-2 mm in length; 10 points if 0.5 mm - 1 mm long and 5 points if less than 0.5 mm long.

You will notice that we have not mentioned the issue of the gum on mint stamps at all. Gum does not affect the grade of a stamp as it is a purely non-visual characteristic. It does affect the price of course. Generally, with respect to gum, we describe it as NH when there are no gum disturbances at all, LH, when there is a small and light disturbance from 1 or 2 hingings and no hinge remnant. The term OG is used to cover all manner of other gum disturbances in situations where substantially all the gum remains on the stamp. "Large part OG" is used when 50-75% of the gum remains and "small part OG" is used when less than 50% of the original gum remains on a stamp.