Chapter 3: How Do I Sell My Stamp Collection? What You Need to Know Before You Sell
It doesn’t matter if you have inherited a stamp collection or built it from scratch yourself. You have two options: sell it yourself or find someone to sell it for you.
Why Shouldn't You Just Sell Your Stamps on eBay? Or Craigslist?
E-commerce sites such as eBay make listing items quick and easy. There’s even a historical tradition of selling stamps at auction.
However, stamp collectors have very high standards, more so than other hobbyists.
Successfully listing stamps isn’t as easy as taking a quick picture, writing a short description and posting the item online. You have many considerations:
Quality: The quality of digital photos isn’t high enough for stamps. Color and clarity are vital. A flatbed scanner produces better images, but it’s not handily available on your smart phone.
Knowledge: People who have inherited stamps — and even many collectors — are not knowledgeable enough to provide appropriate, essential and meaningful information to potential bidders. You should provide important details, such as country, catalogue number and condition. An inexperienced seller may not be accurate or thorough enough to invite bidders. Many stamps have varieties and different dates of issue with paper varieties, which would be virtually impossible for a novice to identify.
You need to depict each stamp precisely, noting defects. How do the perforations look? Does a fold, scratch or tear mar the stamp? A full description is key — the typical auction phrase “sold as is” is generally inappropriate for stamp sales.
Value: When you sell stamps yourself, you must determine what your stamps are worth. Not all stamps bring big bucks. If you’re not sure, you take the risk of selling at too low a price. Even valuable stamps usually bring in only 60 to 70 percent of what they’re worth on sites like eBay.
Shipment: Mailing stamps takes care. They need to be well protected so they arrive without injury. Shipping insurance raises the price. You need to decide if you’ll offer it, or if it’ll be optional.
Understanding what’s involved with an online auction means you know what the risks and challenges are. An online auction may not bring you the results you want. Your other option is to seek an expert and find an honest dealer.
How to Find Reputable Stamp Dealer
A trustworthy, knowledgeable dealer will appraise your stamp collection and offer sales advice. Dealers handle stamps in one of two ways:
Direct sale: The dealer purchases stamps for a stated price and pays you immediately. You don’t pay a fee, and you’ll earn the full amount agreed upon. A dealer sale is also more private than other types of transactions.
Dealer consignment: The dealer and seller set terms, such as minimum price, time limit and method of payout. The seller then leaves the stamps with the dealer. If a buyer turns up, the dealer deducts a fee before transferring proceeds to the seller.
Find reliable dealers, like Apfelbaum, Inc., by asking other collectors for recommendations. Look into professional associations such as the American Stamp Dealers Association, American Philatelic Society and National Stamp Dealers Association. Each has a code of conduct for members.
For instance, the American Philatelic Society’s code of ethics has 18 guidelines, which include:
- Not engaging in transactions if ownership is uncertain
- Correcting any errors that occur when buying or selling
- Not dealing in any stamps that have been modified without openly explaining the alteration
- Fulfilling both oral and written contracts
- Paying for items on time
- Alerting the society to any unethical behavior
Members are expected to follow the code and may face ejection if they violate it.
Selling Through an Auction House
Some specialty auction houses deal exclusively with stamps. Sellers usually list items with businesses in their home countries, though buyers may be international. Auction house catalogues reach thousands of potentially interested individuals. Though the auction company takes a fee — usually about 15 percent — this method generally earns the highest prices for stamps. Unlike working with a dealer, there is usually a lag time between listing an item and receiving the proceeds, sometimes many months.
Professionals often bring in top dollar because they understand the stamp market and know the best times to sell. Values fluctuate, based, in part, on availability. Prices drop with an overabundance of stamps, while scarcity bumps prices up. Dealers or auction houses are aware of these variations and can offer recommendations for timing your sales to capitalize on fluctuating supply and demand.