Dangerous Auctions

The situation took place couple of years ago, but may as well have happened yesterday, we got a call from a Thrift Shop in the Hatboro area, a small town just a few miles from our office. The shop had been given a collection that they felt was pretty valuable, and they wanted us to look at it. They were very upfront about the terms of sale which were as follows—the collection was open to bid, high bids would be revealed (they originally had said that there would be sealed bids, but when we went to see the stamps, it was pretty clear that they were prepared to reveal all bids), and bidding was to remain open for seven business days after the last bid that topped a previous bid was received. We went to see the collection, as it was close and there appeared to have some very nice stamps in it, but after hearing the high bid we lost interest.

Here is the danger in setting up a selling situation like this. For buyers, open ended bidding is a thankless way to try to buy a collection. Sealed bids are difficult, but a situation where high bids are constantly being revealed and a time frame of seven business days elapsing between bids can mean a situation where bidding can last almost forever. But the maximum danger with this particular collection is going to be for the poor collector who buys it. Collectors often dream of the great score in being able to buy a collection from a virginal collector source without the dealer middleman. But what dealers confer on buyers is piece of mind. This particular collection had two dangers. First, there were several early issue US revenues that had had their perforations cut away so that to non-experts they would appear to be valuable imperforates (one stamp purported to catalog over $10,000). It is doubtful that the person who created the collection had been duped. Rather he had put a space-filler in the collection many decades ago and it is the unknowledgeable buyers who were paying for it now.
But more significantly, the collection had an ordinary US #7 that someone had told them was a #5, and was bidding on as such. This is a significant error, to the tune of $65,000. Naturally the Thrift Shop was uninterested in my explanation on why this stamp could not have been a #5 (# 5 comes from near the middle of the top row of the first impression from the sheet, so that even without plating the stamp you know that a stamp with a large left sheet margin, which this stamp had, cannot be #5), nor should they have been. Their duty was not to the buyer; it was to the Thrift Shop. And if someone wanted to pay a big number for a bunch of misidentified stamps because they thought this was a great opportunity to buy a collection without the dealer middleman, then there really was nothing anyone could do about it. Some people diagnose their own medical symptoms, and some write their own contracts and wills. Of all the old time expressions that I have found to be true, the most veracious is that a fool and his money are soon parted.
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