Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What 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.

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