Grading Evolution

Image result for philatelic gradeOur hobby is just 170 years old, a mere babe by the standards of hobbies such as numismatics. But already the grading standards and the quality grades that collectors desire has undergone a profound metamorphosis, one which current generations of collectors have been spared. For the first collectors, any copy of a stamp from perfect to severely damaged would do and the earliest stamp price lists never mention quality because it didn’t matter. One sees an entire genre of philatelic articles beginning about 1870 on soaking and how that is the preferred way of removing stamps from envelopes. This was the quality conscious successor to the earliest removal method of just scraping stamps off envelopes with a knife, which produced the grossly disfigured stamps that later generations just tossed. The “Good, Fair, Poor” paradigm of earliest grading gradually inflated to the “Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine” triumvirate that we have today. Perhaps the most significant change in the hobby over the last fifty years is how stable grading standards and terms have become. We have survived two abortive bouts with encapsulation and third party grading by numbers – one in the late 1970’s when philately had a price bubble and no idea seemed too silly. And just recently, there was another bubble in numeric grading that pushed common stamps to ridiculous prices on the basis of supposed grading scarcity. It is nice to have a hobby where sanity is the rule and today the traditional grading standards are again working very well.

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