Selling your Stamps
As a stamp dealer for over 40 years you can imagine how many times I get asked how one can sell his stamps. The question comes both from stamp collectors who have decided it is time to sell their collections and from family members who have inherited collections that they know little about. The former group usually have a good idea what they have and its value, the latter group usually needs a lot of help!
WHAT IS THE COLLECTION WORTH?
First, one should never sell a collection unless he has some idea of its value. Assuming the seller is not a stamp collector, there are several ways to get an idea of a collection’s worth. If you have inherited a collection look to see if the collector left an inventory of his stamps or records of his purchases – these are excellent starting points.
If the collection consists of one or a few countries, you can acquire a copy of Scott’s stamp catalog and look up the prices of the stamps. (Most public libraries have the Scott catalogs and will let you check them out.) The Scott catalog actually consists of 6 volumes arraying stamps from the United States and A-B countries in Volume 1 to stamps from So to Z countries in Volume 6. Each catalog lists the stamps largely in chronological order. The catalog shows a picture of a stamp from each set, lists the catalog number of each stamp and gives the retail prices for unused and used copies. Scott usually also gives prices for stamps that are never hinged – stamps with undisturbed gum. In adding up catalog values I recommend that you ignore stamps with catalog values less than $1 as most buyers will also ignore them – they are just too common. I would also ignore catalog values for stamps that are obviously defective – stamps with tears, thins, creases, etc. When you come up with a total catalog value estimate you must remember that you will be able to sell the stamps only at a discount from the catalog value. Dealers will retail stamps at 50 – 100% of catalog value depending on a lot of factors. Dealers will generally pay from 15% to 40% of catalog for collections – with the higher percentage going for high value collections in very fine condition.
You can also get an estimate of the value of your collections by seeking out advanced collectors with knowledge of the type of stamps you have. You can find these collectors at local stamp clubs. Most stamp dealers will also give you a ball park value for your collection if you show them the collection. If the collection is too big to carry to a dealer you can ask them to visit you are your home. If they come to your home they will probably charge a fee. Be sure to ask in advance what the dealer’s fees are. (The American Stamp Dealer’s Association maintains a list of dealer members who will provide estate evaluations without cost.)
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO SELL?
When you have a ballpark idea of your collection’s value the next step is to decide how best to sell the collection. In 90% of all cases you will want to sell your collection intact – not piece meal. If you sell parts of your collection separately the very best items will sell quickly and you will end up with a sizable proportion of the collection that no one wants. An exception to this is when you hae a collection with distinctly different collector appeal. For example if ouo have a collection comprised of several different countries it might be best to sell as country units. If you have a collection that has a large section of stamps and a large section of covers , you might want to offer the collection in two parts.
Auctions are a good way to sell larger collections – particularly collections containing stamps from a number of different countries. Collections valued at $5000 or better are sought for consignment by most auction houses. Collections worth lesser amounts are sought by the smaller auction houses. Auctions are also a good way to sell individual items worth hundreds of dollars each. All auction houses will charge you fees for selling your stamps. Most houses will charge a flat fee for each lot that they list and a percentage commission on the price realized for sold lots. Most auction houses charge a percentage of 15-20%. (If you wish to sell via auction you can give us a call and we will recommend auction houses that fit what you have to sell.) It generally takes three to six months (or longer) for you to receive payment when you consign your stamps to auction. In recent years several auction house have added online bidding to their auction sales. They add many more images of the auctioned lots including for collection lots. This added service has greatly increased the number of bidders who are not able to actually visit the auction site to view lots but can now see what the collection looks like. As a result auctions who show images for larger lots receive many more bids and the auctioned lots sell for much higher prices.
An alternative to selling via auction is to sell your stamps to a stamp dealer. I suggest you stick to stamp dealers who are members of a recognized philatelic organization such as the American Philatelic Society (APS), American Stamp Dealers Association (ASDA), and National Stamp Dealers Association. All of the organizations have established codes of ethics. You will maximize the result by offering your collection to dealers who sell the type of material contained in the collection. For example, we specialize in the stamps from four countries and we have many customers for the stamps from these countries. We have almost no customers for stamps from other countries. If you have a United States stamp collection – we have little interest in it and would either not make an offer at all for the collection or make a very low offer based on the hope that we could find a dealer to resell the collection to at a wholesale price. If you have a German collection we would have much more interest as we have buyers for German stamps and could afford to make a higher offer for stamps we expect to sell at retail. You can find dealers and see what they specialize in from ads in philatelic publications such as Linn’s Stamp News and Scott Stamp Monthly. Another excellent source is the American Stamp Dealer’s Association.
I will mention one other method – eBay. Sellers sell millions of stamps each year on eBay. To sell on eBay you have to be able to scan the stamps and complete the listing software online. The process is not that difficult after you have listed a couple of items but there are a number of caveats. There are a lot of selling fees involved – listings fees, commissions on sold lots, Paypal fees to accept payment, etc. My experience is that most buyers on eBay are bargain hunters and that better, more valuable items do not bring realistic prices. Selling stamps one by one is a slow, labor intensive process. If the seller does not know much about stamps, pricing of eBay lots is difficult. I would recommend eBay as a selling method only to collectors who know their stamp values.
WE CAN HELP
We are always willing to assist you in selling your stamps. If you have questions give us a call or send us an email.
If you have individual items that you believe might have value; scan them and send the scans to us via email, we will give you an idea of the value of what you have. You can also scan a few pages from your stamp albums and we give you an idea about them too. Keep in mind we specialize in German and Austrian area stamps and will pay well for them. (In forty years buying stamps we have had only two or three sellers decline our offer. Unfortunately we have little knowledge of the value of stamps from other countries so cannot help you value collections from other areas.