Asked Questions (FAQ)
are my stamps worth?
To be brutally honest, your collection is probably not
worth very much. High valuations are driven by relative scarcity and sometimes,
collector interest in the topic. For instance, although the $11.75 Express
Mail stamps (such as the one showing the Space Shuttle lifting off) issued
by the United States are printed by the millions and used in large quantities
every day, used copies are relatively scarce and often command purchase
prices of several dollars. The reason for this value is that decent used
copies are hard to come by because standard Express Mail envelopes and
boxes are designed such that the "pull to open" strip tears
through stamps placed in the indicated box upon opening. the fact that
most Express Mail is commercial in nature futher assures that few good
used copies survive; Express Mail pouches regularly are tossed in the
trash by clerks and secretaries.
Conversely, the commemorative stamps heavily promoted
now by the U.S. Postal Service as collectibles will most likely never
be worth more than face value, as is the case with virtually all U.S.
issues since the 1930's. The U.S. prints commemoratives in large quantities
(40-100 million) and aggressively promotes the purchase of these as "collector
stamps", to be retained in hopes of an appreciation in value. As
a result, there are huge amounts of this material available around in
unused condition. There are a few exceptions, especially in the case of
mint sheets of commemoratives which sold poorly because of an unattractive
design or an unpopular topic, i.e. alcoholism, drug abuse, etc. In general
unsold commemorative stamps are destroyed by the Postal Service after
a period of several years, thereby limiting the availability of those
issues which did not sell well.
It is not uncommon to attend a local stamp show and see
dealers offering intact sheets of fifty U.S. 3-, 4-, and 5-cent commemorative
stamps from the 1950s and 1960's at 85-90% of face value. The same dealers
purchase huge quantities of this material at 65-75% of face value from
individuals and retired dealers who had stockpiled the stamps in hopes
of financial gain. Only people interested in buying this old postage are
collectors who do not mind having to stick fourteen 3-cent stamps on an
envelope to make up the present 41-cent rate for letters.
Age alone does not guarantee value, either. Many 19th
Century issues were printed in large quantities, especially in industrial
nations such as Great Britain and the United States. As a result, large
numbers survive in used condition, and somewhat smaller numbers in mint
condition. As with more modern issues, the actual number surviving is
the real key to value.
How do I sell this collection?
There are a number of ways to dispose of a stamp collection.
The best approach depends upon the size and value of the collection. In
order to get a rough idea of the value of your collection, try this technique:
Examine 100 of the stamps in your collection at random and jot down their
value as stated in the Scott Catalogue. If the majority of these values
do not exceed the minimum valuation of 20 cents, count the total number
of stamps in the collection and multiply by 5 cents. The result is a reasonable
estimate of what a collection of mostly common stamps will be worth to
another collector. If a substantial portion of the stamps you examined
are valued in excess of the catalogue minimum, it may be worth conducting
an inventory of the whole collection, then taking 25 to 40 percent of
the total Scott value as your asking price. Just keep in mind that no
educated collector will pay more than 3- to 5-cents each for common stamps,
those with the minimum valuation. If it turns out that your collection
is worth no more than several hundred dollars, which is generally the
case, you should consider contacting your local stamp club. There are
many such clubs throughout the country which hold regular meetings at
which the members trade or buy and sell amongst themselves. Many also
hold auctions of material, with non-members welcomed to sell their collections.
This will probably give you the highest price realized for your collection.
If you are Internet-active, please check out the various auction sites
and consider selling your collection in this manner. eBay (www.ebay.com)
is by far the largest auction site of any kind in the world, especially
for the stamp hobby. Such auction sites afford the opportunity to advertise
a stamp collection to a worldwide audience at minimal expense. You could
also look in the Yellow Pages under "Stamps, for Collectors"
to find local dealers. Most dealers will be willing to take a look at
a collection and make an offer for purchase. Do not expect the dealer
to do a stamp-by-stamp inventory of your collection; the dealer's time
would cost far more than the value of the common stamps that comprise
the bulk of most collections. Also keep in mind that the dealer can only
pay you perhaps 50 percent of what he hopes to retail the material for,
since he has to make some profit. Selling stamps to collectors is not
a high profit business! Finally, for more valuable single items or collections,
you should contact one of the philatelic (stamp collecting) auction houses.
These auctions take your material on consignment and list it in their
periodic auction catalogs. Bids are accepted by mail, FAX, and e-mail;
if your material sells, the auction house gets a fixed percentage as a
commission. I also recommend that you visit the website of the American
Philatelic Society (www.stamps.org) and request their brochure on how
to dispose of a stamp collection. The APS is the largest and oldest stamp
collecting hobby organization in the United States; most serious collectors
and legitimate dealers are members. The APS can direct you to local stamp
clubs and dealers.