Stamps, Covers and Postal History

Selling An Inherited Stamp Collection

Portions courtesy of American Stamp Dealers Association

If you inherited a stamp collection, it can be an intimidating task to sell it. If you are not a serious collector yourself, you will be unfamiliar with this specialized world. You will have to make choices on how you go about getting the collection appraised and then selling it. Below is a summary of decisions involved in selling a collection. To start the process you may want to watch this nine minute video produced by the American Philatelic Society

Things You Need to Find Out…before selling a stamp collection

Did the collector spend substantial sums on the collection?
Ask yourself the following questions to help determine the value of the collection to be sold. They are the same questions that a dealer asks himself before making any determination about the potential value of your collection

Did the owner buy single items, collections, or packets? Packets are usually comprised of many low value stamps that help complete a collection but often do not add much value. Can you determine how much money he/she spent or how regularly the owner bought? Can you find any bills of sale, invoices or canceled checks from dealers or auction firms? Is there an insurance policy or a will with instructions? 

If the collection is comprised of low value stamps, that will have a large impact on overall value. A collection which is made up on many low priced items is not worth as much for resale as a smaller collection with a few high priced quality items.

How is the collection stored?
Is it in albums, mounted on album sheets or stock cards, or is it loose in shoe boxes or cartons? Does it list the catalog value or original purchase price next to each item? Stamps should be stored with care in a dry place away from extreme temperatures, preferably in a bank vault or safe. See that the collection is handled as little as possible. Also, although not always true, a collection stored on shoe boxes and envelopes is often not valuable.

What is the condition?
Are the stamps mint or used? Are they attached to an envelope? If they are, leave them attached!

Mint (not canceled) stamps are those which have not been postmarked. Postally used stamps have gone through the mail and bear a cancellation mark. Envelopes (or covers as they are called in philately) can have value as postal history in addition to the value of the stamp(s) attached to them. Historical value considers the writer or recipient, the place of origin or destination, the date the cover was mailed. They can also bear a design (cachet) or be a “First Day Cover” – one which is issued to coincide with the first-day-of-issue of a specific stamp, and carries that stamp on it.

Are the stamps singles, pairs, blocks or sheets or are they a complete unit (set) as issued – a series starting with a low value, with each following a stamp increasing in value to a final high (i.e., 1 cent, 5 cents, 8 cents, 25 cents, $5)? If they are larger multiples, do not detach or separate them, as stamps often have greater value as multiples.

The importance of condition cannot be emphasized. The tiniest tear, the minutest thin spot, the faintest crease, or the smallest stain can reduce a stamp to a fraction of the value it would have in perfect condition.

What determines the value of a stamp collection?
Don’t be deceived by catalog value. A given stamp may be brought or sold above or way below catalog prices, depending upon the condition of that particular stamp. Condition refers to freshness, color soundness, centering, gum perforation, and margins.

The sale price of a stamp varies depending on who buys it – retail shop owner, auction mail sale bidder, dealer at a stamp show, or another collector. Each sector of the market has its own markup and price structure.

The price paid for a stamp also depends on the role of the buyer- whether it is a retail shop owner, show dealer, another collector or bidder in a mail sale or public auction. When selling stamps you must remember that unless you sell to another collector or through auction, you will only obtain a wholesale price from a stamp dealer, since he must resell the collection at a profit or keep it in inventory until it is sold.

Estimating the value of a stamp collection

Don't believe the collection is valuable just because of the quantity and age of the stamps. Don't expect much in terms of value unless the collection was formed by a serious collector (let's say for the sake of argument that a serious collector is one who spent $50 to $100 per month over many years) rather than a casual collector who might buy current issues at the post office and go to a couple of stamp shows a year.

Determining the Value Yourself

Your local library may have stamp catalogs that would apply to your collection; you may think of going the do-it-yourself route by identifying the stamps and selling on one of the online auction sites like eBay. But if you have a number of older classic stamps, be prepared to expend time and effort. While modern stamps are fairly straightforward, earlier classics have many varieties that take a practiced eye and a level of philatelic knowledge that your catalog may not give you. And as stated above, catalog value may not be representative if the stamp is in less than excellent condition or is very common. If you can identify the individual stamps you can also go to an online venue such as eBay or Hipstamp to see what similar items are selling for.

Obtain a Professional Appraisal
A professional appraisal by a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association is often recommended. ASDA members adhere to a strict Code of Conduct. They are responsible for reviewing your philatelic material and placing a fair value on the stamps, with regard to the quality and the current market price. Appraisal fees vary, depending on the appraiser and on the size of the collection. However, it is the practice of most dealers and auctioneers to waive the appraisal fee if the collection is subsequently sold to them or consigned to their auction.

An appraisal can be prepared based on several approaches:
1. Catalog Value

2.  Insurance (replacement value)

3.  Potential auction realization

4.  Retail (over-the-counter) value

5.  Wholesale value (what the dealer will pay on that day)

Make your own Inventory (Recommended only for those with stamp knowledge)
If you have some knowledge and experience in stamp collecting, you have an edge when selling a stamp collection. Start by preparing an inventory or list of your stamps. The most common method of preparing a collection for sale is by marking in pencil the catalog value (keeping in mind that the catalog value is a guide and may not represent the true market value) of each stamp or row of stamps in the margin of the album page, according to one of the current stamp catalogs. (If you can’t buy one most libraries have one available in their reference section). It is important to note that many U.S. and worldwide stamps feature the same design, and can be incorrectly identified unless the collector is familiar with perforation varieties, watermarks, or color shades.

Methods of Sale

There are several methods of sale to be considered. The appropriate method depends on the nature of collection, the value of the material, the preference of the person selling the collection and sometimes the geographical location of the sale.

Direct Sale to a Dealer
Selling to a dealer has two advantages. The seller receives an agreed amount of money immediately and there is no fee. The seller should ask for references, and should contact the American Stamp Dealers Association to ask whether the dealer is a member in good standing. Most members display the ASDA sign of membership in ads. All ASDA members take an oath to conduct business under a strict Code of Conduct. You can go the a American Philatelic Society, National Stamp Dealers Association, or ASDA websites to find dealers near you.

Sell at a Stamp Show
Take the collection to a local or regional stamp show. There you can show it to several potential buyers at one time and obtain the highest price offered. Although this can be intimidating it can save significant time over going to one dealer at a time. Show dates can be found on your state or city's philatelic society website. Larger shows can be found on the APS website.


Consignment to a Dealer
The seller can place the stamps with a dealer on consignment. The seller should ask for an itemized receipt, a minimum price should be set, and payout terms should be arranged before the collection is consigned. If possible, the seller should have photographs of any expensive stamps in the collection, and these should be made part of the receipt. A time limit, in writing, should be placed on the sale and on the payout.

Consignment to an Auction House
Auction offers the greatest potential for the highest sale price but is best for higher value stamps and collections. The customary fee to the auction house is a percentage (10-20%) of the sale price. There may be a wait of a few months, between the time of consignment and the date of the next auction. On a consignment of sufficient value, most auction houses will, at the time of consignment, give a cash advance against the estimated sale price.

Private Treaty
Retail dealers and auction houses often act as agents to offer collections in their entirety for sale privately. Commission fees vary.

Selling on eBay

If you are willing to do the legwork this is a good way to get a good financial return. I will warn you that if you take this route it will be as if you have taken up a new hobby. Selling on eBay is simple but can be time consuming. The stamps have to be scanned or photographed and studied enough to provide a good description of the stamp and its condition. As we said above, condition is all important.

Other Options
You might consider keeping the stamp collection. Throughout the years stamps have increased in value. You could try to add to the collection and enjoy the hobby. It is one which can be shared with children and grandchildren. You can also visit a local stamp club and make friends while you learn about stamp collecting and get to know your local ASDA stamp dealers.

How to store your stamps… …until you decide to dispose of them
The condition of your stamp collection affects the final sale price because buyers all seek stamps in sound condition. Postage stamps do not bring good prices if they are torn, creased, mildewed, stuck together, pasted down or damaged by moisture. Therefore, during the time that you are determining the value of your collection, you should take the following precautions.

Keep your stamp collection at dry, moderate room temperature. Avoid attics or basements, since temperatures are both hot and cold, or dampness damages stamps. When storing stamp albums, place them in an upright position. Do not stack them one on top of another since the weight of other books will tend to make stamps stick.

If any of the stamps are stuck together, do not attempt to separate them because you may do damage in the process. Leave them stuck together until a professional stamp dealer can look at them and determine whether they can be separated safely. Do not remove any stamps that have been postally used on envelopes. If the stamps themselves have a value, they can have an even greater value when left on an envelope. Leave the stamps in multiples, whether cancelled or unused, intact, since they are sometimes more valuable as blocks or sheets that as singles.

In Short
Selling your stamp collection is like any other decision; consider all of your options, always get multiple opinions, plan carefully and be sure to do business with stamp dealers that display the ASDA logo.