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How not to sell a heirloom stamp collection

To a stamp collector, inheriting a relativeʼs stamp collection is almost like winning the lottery. But a non-collector who inherits a stamp collection has a dilemma: he or she has heard that stamps may be valuable, but hasnʼt a clue how to find out the value of their new collection, much less how to turn it into cash.

Stamp collecting is a surprisingly fascinating field, but a pastime that is literally dying. Many people are INHERITING stamp collections — with absolutely no interest in the hobby, or knowledge of what the collection is worth, or how best to sell it.

The inheritor of a stamp collection has three choices, as long as we ignore the fourth one, which is to put the collection in storage and forget about it, and that is not a good solution.

The three choices are these:
   1. Become a collector
   2. Donate your collection
   3. Sell your collection

Please bear in mind that these choices are by no means equal, or necessarily advisable, today we focus on the 3rd option.


Selling stamps drops you into shark-infested waters. Dealer and collectors know full well the ignorance of most people when it comes to what the value is of stamp collections they own — especially so for the folks who inherit such windfalls.  The temptation is overwhelming to pay the minimum needed to unburden the disinterested of their stamps — it’s human nature, and not worth getting too worked up about.  It’s what MOST people would do.

EXAMPLE:  This month a local woman went to an international stamp show with her collection of Chinese stamps. She walked up to this one table, where the dealer gladly paid her $400 for a collection that was worth at least $10,000 — and likely MUCH more.  

Best Advice: 
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Most of us who inherit a stamp collection would want to believe
it’s precious– a good place to start is by meeting a few ( not one ) assessors who could estimate the worth of the collection.

Once assessed an option for you would be to donated some stamps to a local charity directly and took the write-off of the ones which may not be to your care taking best. How to sell, using a local dealer and eBay — mostly for the experience. But the most valuable part of the collection you could approach an auction house to sell at a major show. It’s pretty clear that, if you DO have a valuable stamp collection, the auction option is normally going to yield you the best return — though this option is not without pitfalls as well.
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HERE’S SOME OF WHAT WE LEARNED:

1.  Trust no one.  Or at least, don’t BLINDLY trust people in the business.  Indeed, often it seemed the more sincere and friendly the dealer, the less likely you’ll be getting a good deal.  However you will still have to go through a grind. You could check some of the online portals who offer indicative current price to stamps.

2.  Trying to figure the value of a stamp is daunting to the uninitiated. MANY factors are in play beyond simple scarcity.  The QUALITY of the stamp is all important — new or franked, how “badly” franked, WHERE it was franked (some collect based on such an odd factor), the adhesive method used to put the stamp in the album (and the resulting damage to the stamp), the number of perforations (!), centering (big factor), country, etc.  Suffice it to say that — unless you become a collector yourself — this analysis is beyond the capability of 99.9% of the populace.

3. If your stamps do indeed have collector value, figure out a way to get a number of people to “bid” on them.  This can be done at a stamp show (bigger is better), but in this day and age, there are two options:
   A.  Stamp auction

   B. Amazon / EBay and a few other internet sales

4. Modern stamp auctions are mostly internet auctions.  Only a tiny fraction of the bidders are actually in the room.  And things move lightning fast, as seldom is there a bidding war.  We found that at an action we visited, the average time for an item to be sold (or not sold) was TEN SECONDS!  Elaborate efforts are made by the auction houses to put out the information on their offerings in both hard copy auction books and Internet format prior to the auction — and naturally bidders are worldwide. 

5. Recommendations from collectors as to who to use as an agent in such sales can be quite helpful, but always be aware that some get a small kickback for referring sellers to auction houses, etc. Ask around. You could invest a fair amount of time at a REMARKABLY well-run local stamp club, and the collectors/curators who would be anxious to share their expertise.

6. Because of the difficulty in grading stamps, the best way to sell on eBay/Internet is to do it on consignment.  Yeah, your agent gets a hefty chunk of the proceeds, but we could not have done it any other way.  Selling a lot of items on eBay is a business in itself with many aspects few master.  But if your collection is worth much more than a $1,000 or so, the stamp auction house may be the better way to go.

7. Unless you are desperate for cash, take your time.  No rush. You’ll probably net more from the sale.  And the process itself can be surprisingly interesting.

8. A ROUGH gauge of the value/scarcity of a stamp is stampworld.com. But understand that some of the prices are usually inflated values. A rough rule of thumb is that a stamp can be sold for 15%-25% of the catalog listed price (new and used listed separately).  But there can be a remarkable difference, depending on supply and demand — and quality. Occasionally a stamp can sell for even MORE than catalog — but that is seldom the case. Remember, it’s supply and demand that (should) establish value.  And then you have to consider the cost of doing the sale — when thinking of what you will NET in such transactions.

We hope this information is helpful.  If you still insist on getting ripped off just to quickly get rid of your stamps, let me be the first to offer you an incredibly “unfair” pittance for your collection.  But my advice?  Reject this offer!

I’ve been holding off on the bad news but here it is – most stamps and stamp collections are worth little to nothing.
• Mint stamps with original gum on the back are worth more than used stamps
• Earlier stamps are worth more than modern stamps
• Stamps with any faults (creases, tears, thins, etc.) are worth far less than those in perfect condition. One thing that is common with most collectibles, especially stamps, is that condition is everything. The same stamp that normally sells for $100 may not even be worth $10 if there are creases, thins, tears, etc.
• Boxes of loose used stamps are usually worth very little
• Stamp albums that are sparsely filled are usually worth very little
• Stamp albums for children or beginners are usually worth very little
• Used US postage stamps printed in the last 70 years are worth almost nothing
• Mint with original gum stamps printed in the last 70 years are, with a few exceptions, worth less than their face value and can be used for postage without worry. The net effect is that virtually all US stamps produced since the 1930s are available in quantities that far exceed collector demand so stamp collecting values have suffered. Sadly, for many stamp collectors that means that their stamp nest egg is worth only a fraction of what was originally paid.
Many stamps are rare but not valuable because there is not enough demand to drive the price up. But find a rare and high demand stamp and watch out. A handful of the crown jewels of philately have sold over the past few decade for multi-million dollar sums.

Author: kheyati

https://philatelist.home.blog/ I am an avid philatelist, I focus on global miniatures & souvenir stamps. Happy to help enthusiasts!

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