Help! I’ve Just Inherited a Stamp Collection

If you’ve been willed a stamp collection, consider it a sign of the great esteem your loved one had for you. Many collectors highly value their stamps. In choosing you to administer this important part of their estate, they have demonstrated a great deal of confidence in your ability to do it justice.

This responsibility isn’t something you should take lightly, but it shouldn’t be a source of undue stress, either. Even if you’re completely in the dark about philately, it’s easy to make smart choices about the future of your new collection. Read on for our complete guide on what you can do when you’ve inherited valuable stamps.

Appraising Your Collection

There are several factors that can affect the value of a rare stamp collection. Getting an accurate estimate of value requires a thorough appraisal from an experienced professional. A stamp appraiser will look at each item and give you an assessment based on:

Stamp condition — Like any collectible, stamps that are in better condition command a higher resale value. Some of the things an appraiser may look at include the condition of the backing and the perforations, how well the design is centered, and any damage. Whether or not a stamp has been used (cancelled) does not always affect its desirability. Some collectors specialize in cancelled stamps, and they make a point of seeking out issues from odd or interesting parts of the world.  

Rarity Stamp collectors strive for completeness. The rarer the stamp, the more desirable it will be to a philatelist who needs it to finish their collection. Some of the most expensive stamps in the world are those with printing errors that were quickly removed from the market, such as the famous 1918 “Inverted Jenny.”

Market forces — Stamp collecting is susceptible to trends just like any other hobby. Individual items can rise and fall in value based on market factors. For example, a rising middle class in Asia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa has led to a bloom of interest in stamps from countries in these areas. Stamp collecting is also a hobby with a lot of sub-specialization. Because some collectors find themselves priced out of pursuing more expensive issues, interest rises in previously neglected areas of philately, such as dead country issues or tax stamps.

Digging Deeper: Learning About the History of Your Collection

A quest to determine the value of your inherited stamp collection is the first step down the rabbit hole of a lifelong interest. One of the things that’s so great about stamp collecting is that it combines history, geography, commerce and a wide range of other fascinating topics. If you’re a stamp collector, there’s always something new to learn. There are plenty of resources online that will provide background information about the history of your collection — one of the best places to start is the Apfelbaum, Inc. blog.

To Sell or to Keep?

The decision to sell or keep a stamp collection you’ve inherited is ultimately a personal one. If you’re not a stamp collector yourself, it can be difficult to understand and appreciate why so many people devote their time and energy to philately. Even an amateur may consider their collection to be their life’s work. When deciding whether you should sell or keep the collection, ask yourself:  

  • Is now the best time to sell? The stamp market changes everyday. What’s popular and valuable now may not be tomorrow. Conversely, an uptick in interest in a specific region or type of stamp can drive prices for good condition issues through the roof. You may be able to benefit more by holding off on selling your inherited collection for a few years instead of getting rid of it right away. If you have the resources and the desire to care for a collection, and you don’t need the money from an immediate sale, it may be worth it to wait a few years and see if the market changes in your favor.
  • Is the collection a work in progress? Another issue related to the value of an inherited stamp collection is whether or not it can be improved. As any philatelist knows, no collection is ever complete. More comprehensive sets — such as those highlighting a specific country or era — often fetch more than incomplete or scattered collections. Spending some time and money rounding out a collection that’s a “work in progress” can be worth it in the long run. Who knows, maybe you will catch the philatelic bug yourself, and the stamp collection you inherited will be the beginning of a lifelong hobby.
  • Am I ready to make the commitment this collection deserves? Stamp collecting doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby, but it does require commitment. Valuable stamps, particularly older ones, must be stored and handled properly to prevent damage. When you’re considering what to do with a stamp collection you’ve inherited, be honest with yourself about whether or not this is something you’re willing to do. Many people will retain a deceased relative’s stamp collection as a way of honoring their memory. As hard as it may be to admit, if you don’t have the time, money or space to properly care for it, you’re likely doing a disservice to their wishes.

If you can’t afford to keep an inherited stamp collection but aren’t willing to sell it, consider donating it to a worthy organization. If the collection is of value or historical interest, donating it is a great way to memorialize an avid philatelist. You may also qualify for a tax break! To get connected with organizations in your area who may be interested in accepting a rare stamp collection as a donation, contact Apfelbaum, Inc. or the American Philatelic Society today.

Advice for Sellers

When you’ve made the decision to sell a stamp collection you’ve inherited, it’s important to be sure that you’re getting the best price possible. You also want to be sure that your collection is ending up in the hands of someone who will give it the care it deserves. After you’ve had your collection

d, there are few things you should remember as you begin making preparations to sell:

  • There are several potential venues for selling your stamps. Selling to a dealer is the easiest way to get rid of a complete collection. However, many dealers are likely to lowball you if they suspect you aren’t familiar with the market for stamps. Do your research ahead of time and, more importantly, only deal with a company you trust. Look for stamp dealers that have a long history in the business, a genuine love and enthusiasm for the hobby, and a record of satisfied customers. At Apfelbaum, Inc., we’re committed to treating all of our customers fairly and helping them obtain a great price for their collection. You can read a few of our customer testimonials to learn more.
  • Public auctions are an easy way to connect with other buyers. Thanks to the Internet, you may not even have to leave your home to do this. Popular auctions can attract hundreds or even thousands of potential buyers. However, selling your stamps at auction will likely involve more work. The odds of finding a collector who is willing to buy your whole collection are slim. Instead, expect for certain items to go fast while others will be hard to sell. Breaking up a collection in this manner can also make it more difficult to sell later if you change your mind and decide to work with a dealer.
  • Keep your expectations realistic. These days, stamps rarely fetch their catalogue value. For some rarer issues, the gap between catalogue price and the price you’re offered will be smaller. However, for most collections, you’re unlikely to receive the full appraised value. With that in mind, you aren’t obligated to accept the first offer you receive. Shop around and remember that stamp collecting is a diverse field. If you have a specialized collection, such as stamps of a particular country, seek out buyers interested in that geographic region.

Protecting and Preserving Your Collection

Whether it’s for sentimental reasons or out of genuine curiosity for what is known as the “hobby of kings,” the choice to keep an inherited stamp collection comes with no small amount of responsibility. Many collectors start small and build their collection over time, learning properly store and care for their stamps. You, on the other hand, have inherited an entire collection — one that is likely the result of years of work. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your stamps in the best shape possible:

  • The wrong environmental conditions can ruin a stamp collection. Heat and humidity are the biggest culprits, though overly dry environments can have a negative impact as well. Avoid damp garages and dusty attics. If you notice your stamps are exhibiting signs of rippling, warping or spotting, move them to a more suitable environment right away.
  • Stamps should not be exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time. Instead of displaying them out in the open, keep them stored in a closet, on a bookshelf or under a bed, and bring them out only when visitors wish to see them.
  • Store stamps in a clear, inert enclosure. Chemicals in PVC, vinyl and other reactive plastics can cause stamps to break down over time. Instead, choose enclosures that are made of PVC-free polyethylene or polypropylene, which are non-reactive. Be wary of products billing themselves as “archival quality” — the term is completely subjective.
  • If you choose to mount your stamps, choose paper wisely. Stamps can incur damage when mounted to poor-quality paper. Use a product with low levels of wood pulp that has been buffered to a pH of 8.5.
  • Proper mounting and storage adds value to your collection. Investing in quality products not only ensures your stamps will be preserved for the long term, but it can potentially command a higher price for your collection if you ever decide to sell.  
  • When in doubt, trust a professional. The experts at Apfelbaum, Inc. can advise you on the best way to mount and store a stamp collection you’ve inherited. Contact our office by phone at 800-523-4648 or email for more information.

Estate Planning

Any discussion of inheriting a stamp collection should also cover the importance of including your stamps in your own estate planning. While it’s not always pleasant to think about what will hen to your collection in the future, doing so sooner rather than later can save your loved ones a lot of expense and hassle. It also ensures that due care and consideration will be given to your wishes.

One of the best things you can do in the early stages of estate planning is to keep your collection organized and inventoried. Unless there is a fellow philatelist in your immediate family, the task of preserving your collection will likely be left to someone without the specialized knowledge necessary to properly evaluate it. Keep a written list detailing every valuable stamp you own, as well as its location and approximate value. While this will be a useful aid for your loved ones in the future, it’s also a great way of identifying areas where you can grow your collection.

The other big question involved in estate planning is what you want to happen to your collection after you’re gone. Do you want to pass it on to a fellow collector? Donate it to a museum? Are you comfortable with a family member selling it for profit? Many collectors wish to see the years of work they’ve put into their collection recognized in some way or another. While the choice is yours, it’s important to remember the good that can come from donating your collection to an organization that will use it to promote the hobby.

On the other hand, perhaps the money that could come from a sale would be more helpful to your immediate family. It’s also possible to break a large collection up, so it benefits your heirs and builds your legacy as a philatelist. Whichever you decide, be clear about your wishes and make sure they are written into your will.

Inherited stamp collections of considerable value may be subject to estate taxes. In this regard, stamps should be given the same consideration of any other asset. To avoid penalties, it’s important to talk to an experienced tax lawyer in your state. You may have options that can limit the burden associated with the transfer of your estate. If you’re a member of the American Philatelic Society, you and your heirs can use the APS Estate Advice feature to access free legal advice from the Society’s in-house experts.

Taking the Next Steps

No matter what you decide to do with your collection, Apfelbaum, Inc. can help. Since 1910, we have been helping both beginner and long-time philatelists grow, sell or appraise their collections. If you’ve inherited a stamp collection and are wondering how much it’s worth, we can send one of our stamp appraisers to your location to give you an honest and accurate valuation.

If you already know what your collection is worth and are thinking of selling it, we host both private sales and public auctions of rare stamps. We can help you choose the option that has the best chance of delivering a strong return. Learn more and gain the philatelic expertise you need to manage your inherited collection today! 

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