How to collect the first editions of stamps

The Stamp Man

The Stamp Man

2020-06-21 21:14:18

The finest quality examples you can buy

In rare book collecting, first editions are what collectors look for.

The holy grail is to find mint quality examples of first editions. These are the ones with the most value and investment merit.

The same applies to rare historic stamps...

The philatelic term used for the first editions of stamps is “imprimatur". The literal translation of this rather stuffy Latin word is “let it be printed”.

They represent the first sheet printed of a stamp issue from the approved and finished printing plate.

Usually, only one sheet per stamp was kept by the Treasury in their archives.

A small number of these first edition stamps were officially removed and released to the open market. In the 19th century, small numbers were removed from each sheet and given as gifts to important people.

They are exceedingly rare and among the most highly prized items among stamp collectors.

Collecting just first edition stamps is a fascinating area of study, but very difficult to assemble as they are so rare.

Regardless, even owning just one first edition in your collection creates a real feature point.

7 Reasons you want to add an imprimatur to your collection

I can think of 7 obvious reasons why you would want to add an imprimatur to your collection...

  1. They are extremely rare and the exact number of possible examples in existence is precisely known
  2. Provenance is crystal clear and usually they have limited prior private ownership, previously remaining in gold medal winning philatelic collections for lengthy periods of time
  3. Imprimaturs offer collectors the chance to own the finest possible impression of the issued stamp. Plates wear out and the difference between a slightly worn impression and an imprimatur is notable.
  4. Many were engraved to the highest standard by the leading masters of their generation
  5. Imprimaturs are an important aspect of our postal history
  6. They are highly sought after and have been known to dramatically exceed their estimates when they appear in auctions. The reason being collectors know they may never get another chance to secure an imprimatur for a particular stamp issue.
  7. Despite their rarity and exceptional beauty, they are not as expensive as you might expect and look undervalued presenting a potential huge upside for future price appreciation

Owning an imprimatur is a privilege as you become a custodian of our postal history. Please look after your imprimatur!


To help you choose, here are 5 imprimaturs I personally recommend within a range of budget sizes...

Under £1,000

Great Britain 1956 21⁄2d Carmine-red 'Wildings' (Watermark St Edwards Crown Sideways), SG544var. Superb unmounted original gum bottom marginal imperforate imprimatur pair, each stamp with a BPMA handstamp on reverse and showing sheet number '26511' in margin. Ex sideways delivery coils. Scarce. SG544var

Price £400


  • The early Queen Elizabeth II Wildings issues are a popular area of British stamp collecting 
  • Released by the British Philatelic Museum in 2014 providing exceptional provenance including “BPMA” handstamp on reverse 
  • Bottom marginal examples with sheet number in the margin are particularly sought after 
  • Listed in the Stanley Gibbons Great Britain Specialised Queen Elizabeth II catalogue at a price of £900. Available at a 56% discount today. 

Under £2,000

Great Britain 1841 1d red brown plate 151 imprimatur. A very fine four margin example lettered HL. One of only 21 possible examples from this printing plate. Accompanied with a 2004 Royal Philatelic Society (RPS) certificate of authenticity. A stamp with the best possible provenance previously belonging to the Royal Philatelic Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, SG8.

Price £1600


  • The early Victorian imprimaturs are the most widely collected and sought after
  • This 1841 penny red imprimatur from plate 151 is the only one taken singly; the other 20 examples came from a part of the sheet
  • It has the best possible provenance previously belonging to the Royal Philatelic Collection giving it a premium value

Great Britain 1873 3d rose, plate 15, SG143var. A very fine unused original gum imperforate imprimatur lettered TJ. A scarce stamp being one of only 23 possible examples, many of which are in institutional collections. Provenance: Ex. "Verus".

Price £1750


  • The Queen Victorian surface printed stamps were an era of experimentation and the 1873 3d rose saw new check letter boxes with coloured letters in a white background for the first time 
  • Very scarce stamp with only 23 possible examples 
  • Listed in the Stanley Gibbons Great Britain Specialised Queen Victoria catalogue at a price of £2,500. Available at a 30% discount today 

Over £2,000

Great Britain 1884 5s Rose Imprimatur, SG176var. A superb unused original gum imperforate example lettered CF of one of the most striking and popular of Queen Victorian surface printed issues. This imperforate imprimatur from the very first approved printing sheet is very rare with only 49 possible examples, many of which are in institutional collections.

Price £5500


  • One of my favourite and most iconic of the Queen Victorian surface printed stamps
  • Very rare with only 49 possible examples
  • It is made particularly attractive because of the richness of the rose colour and large margins

Great Britain 1878 6d Grey, Plate 15 Imprimatur, SG147var. A very fine unused original gum top marginal imperforate imprimatur lettered AK showing plate number. An important rarity in GB philately, unique in private hands. Provenance: Ex. Crawford, Bates, Beaumont & Latto.



Price £6950


  • This is the crown jewel of my recommendations
  • Stunning quality and exceptional because of being a top marginal example showing plate number “15”
  • Considered an important rarity in GB philately and unique in private hands
  • We are offering this on a private treaty sales basis on behalf of a client. The owner has recently reduced the asking price for a “quick sale” from the retail value of £9,750 to £6,950, 29% discount

Undervalued area of the market

Now looks an opportune time to buy imprimaturs.

Through history they have consistently risen in value. As you would expect, they were always more valuable than basic mint examples.

However, in the past 10 years, these price rises have come to a halt.

By way of example, the 1873 3d rose imprimatur featured above was valued in the SG specialised catalogue 2001 edition at a price of £350. In their 2011 specialised catalogue it had increased to a price of £2,500. That’s an increase of 614% in a 10-year period.

SG have not issued another specialised catalogue since 2011, although a new edition is coming out later this summer.

Right now, imprimaturs look undervalued to me. They are rarer than basic mint examples.

They are also of the finest quality and provenance possible and should command a premium value.

Imprimaturs are the very first printings of famous stamp issues and of profound importance to our postal history. They deserve a premium value.

Yet, that premium has been eroded in recent years. This looks anomalous to me.

It only needs a small number of collectors chasing these scarce first editions of stamps, and competing against each other to secure them, for prices to rise again.

And finally, we have seen increasing interest and higher realisations for such stamps recently suggesting we could be at the start of an uptrend.

Own a first edition today

We only have a small selection of imprimatur first edition stamps still available.

As you can see from my recommendations above, some are available at very attractive discounts to current SG catalogue values.

Such opportunities do not come around often.

You can reserve the stamps you want immediately by responding to this blog or call us on +(0)1534 639998. The first will always be the first.

Kind regards, 

Mike Hall

CEO Just Collecting

PS. If you are interested in building a collection focussed solely on imprimatur first edition stamps, please let us know, and we can advise you further on how to build an amazing collection with profound historic importance.

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