Generally, the Penny Black stamp is not a rare stamp. The total print run from all the Penny Black plates was 286,700 sheets (each sheet contained 240 unperforated stamps). This meant that sixty eight million Penny Black Stamps were issued (68,158,080 to be precise). Assuming a survival rate of two percent, there are likely to be about 1.3 million still in existence. However, the survival rate may be considerably more than two percent.
The reason for the good survival rate is because in Victorian times, envelopes were an exception rather than the rule. Instead the letter was folded and sealed with sealing wax with the stamp being stuck on the outside of the folded letter. Today the envelope and stamp is thrown away and the letter kept, but in Victorian times the letter together with the stamp was kept. This applied to legal and business correspondence as well as personal letters. For years, Penny Black stamps lay safely hidden in the filing cabinets of banks and solicitors all over the country. When the cabinets were eventually emptied many years later, the value of Penny Black stamps was already appreciated and many were sold as collectors items.
The value of a Penny Black Stamp depends on three factors:
1. The physical condition of the stamp
2. The plate used to print the stamp
3. The appearance of the white margins
The physical condition – faults in the condition of the stamp such as thinning, tears, creases or stains will lower the value.
The plate used to print the stamp - some plates are rarer than others. The rarest is plate 11.
The appearance of the margins – Penny Blacks were not perforated and the seller had to cut out the stamps from the sheet using scissors or a knife. There was only about 1mm between the stamps and it was not unusual to accidentally cut into the printed section of the stamp, resulting in irregular margins. The number, size, and regularity of the margins make all contribute to the value of the Penny Black stamp.
For example, a Penny Black with two full margins and a reasonable amount of the other two margins is regarded as an average specimen. Stamps with four, regular margins are exceptional, and collectors will pay higher prices for these stamps.
An example of a used Penny Black with I - L letter corners from plate 8 with four good margins. Note the red, Maltese Cross cancellation stamp.
How much is a Penny Black stamp worth? In 2008, a Penny Black in poor condition can cost as little as £15. A reasonable looking Penny Black will cost you £25. A better quality specimen might cost £60 to £100. A stamp with unusual attributes can cost up to £250. Mint examples are considerably more valuable – expect to pay anything from £1800 upwards. By contrast, a used Penny Red can cost as little as £1.50.
Penny Black stamps sold in presentation folders, with certificates of authenticity tend to be priced at well above market rates.