Refresher Course

Save money while building your collection

By Michael Baadke

It's easy to spend a lot of money on your stamp collection. The costs of collecting often depend upon the choices you make. Most collectors aren't looking for ways to spend a lot of money, however. New collectors in particular may have an interest in the stamp hobby but not a lot of money to spend.

Figure 1. Specializing in one collecting area can focus a collection and reduce stamp purchases. Shown here are stamps from the United States and Ireland, and a first-day cover from Sweden, each expressing the theme of love. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. Bargain purchases include country lots from stamp dealers and auctions. Inexpensive lots can help fill the gaps in an existing collection or help to start a new one. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. Reading about the stamp hobby can help you save money in different ways. Thousands of readers obtained a known scarce variety of the 1994 Legends of the West stamps at about face value simply by reading in Linn's how to place an order. The retail value of these stamps is nearly $200. Click on image to enlarge.

It's been said that stamp collecting is one of the few hobbies that you can enjoy for free by saving the stamps on your daily mail. Some collectors multiply their free stamp sources by arranging with nearby businesses to pick up envelopes from incoming mail that would otherwise be discarded.

Still, many collectors are looking for stamps that they aren't likely to find through these methods. When it comes time to buy the stamps you need, there are ways to save that you can watch for.

Narrowing your collecting choices can help you reduce the amount of money you spend on stamps.

Some collectors start out in the hobby by simply buying any stamp that catches their eye. After a while the stamps they have saved are just a costly disorganized accumulation that has little chance of becoming a cohesive collection.

A better idea is to settle on a well-defined and limited collecting area and stick to your choice. And that doesn't mean you have to get every stamp from whatever country interests you, either. That type of compulsion to complete has soured many collectors on the hobby when they realize that there is simply no way they can get every stamp ever issued.

Completing a collection is not really the point. Creating the collection is what matters.

You may be a collector of United States stamps, but does that mean you plan to collect them all? Probably not. Some U.S. stamps are only known with one or two available examples, and those can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If you have a basic interest in U.S. stamps, focus that interest onto an era or subject that you want to collect and limit your stamp purchases to that area.

If you limit your U.S. collection, say, to the stamps issued from the 1922 definitive series up to the 1965 Prominent Americans definitive series (that's Scott 551 through 1276), you'll be building a reasonable collection of more than 700 different postage stamps with line-engraved designs covering more than 40 years.

Collecting stamps by topic is another way to enjoy the hobby without the constant pressure to fill all the empty spaces on a stamp album page. For most topics there are no preprinted albums, so the collector gets to decide exactly what he wants to collect and how he wants to collect it.

A collector interested in the theme of Love on stamps, for example, will find that the items he needs generally cost less than classic U.S. rarities, and he's likely to be pleasantly surprised from time to time by finding reasonably priced stamps fitting his topic that he didn't know existed.

Figure 1 shows stamps sharing a theme of love from the United States and Ireland, as well as a first-day cover from Sweden for its nondenominated Love booklet stamps issued Jan. 13, 2000.

When you buy stamps for your collection, check the dealer's asking prices against stamp catalog values and the prices set for the same stamps by other dealers.

Carefully read the valuing information in the introduction to your stamp catalog. Most catalogs list values for stamps of a specific grade: well-centered, undamaged, lightly canceled and so on.

If you're asked to pay catalog value or more for stamps that don't meet that grading quality, it may be time to see what other dealers are asking.

As you build your collection, stay organized to avoid accidentally buying the same stamp twice. Properly maintaining a want list or inventory list will help you buy only the stamps missing from your collection.

Stamp dealers can help you find good prices for stamps if you let them know what you're looking for. Look through Linn's advertisements to find a dealer who specializes in the area you collect, and let him know what your collecting goals are. As a professional stamp dealer, he may be able to provide you with suggestions that help you grow your collection economically.

Many dealers and stamp auction houses carry stamp collections that have been sold to them by former collectors. If a dealer has a surplus of such collections, they may be available at bargain basement prices.

The example shown in Figure 2 contains several pages from a collection of good quality Danish stamps, priced far below the catalog value of the stamps in the lot.

Each of these album pages bears a number of different stamps, providing a solid (and inexpensive) starting point for the collection, with plenty of collecting fun to build upon.

Stamp mixtures and packets also can help you develop your collection inexpensively. You may wind up with a number of duplicate stamps, but you can trade those with other collectors for additional stamps that you need.

If you don't know other collectors, you can meet them at your local stamp club. Joining a stamp club has several advantages besides opening opportunities for stamp trades.

Collectors talking with one another about the hobby share helpful information, such as which stamp dealer provides the best deals, how to order stamps cheaply through the mail or from overseas, where nearby stamp shows are taking place and much more.

Stamp shows provide the collector with an opportunity to do some real comparison shopping, comparing not only stamp quality and prices for individual items but also the inventories and expertise of the dealers present.

Information about stamp shows taking place in your area appears each week in the Stamp Events Calendar in Linn's Stamp News.

Reading Linn's and other useful publications can also help you save money. Many Linn's columnists regularly provide money-saving tips for collectors. The Focus on Forgeries column by Varro E. Tyler (on page 6 [in print] in this issue) helps collectors avoid buying fake stamps instead of the real thing.

John Ross keeps an eye on the ups and downs of the stamp market and advises collectors in his weekly Stamp Market Tips column (this week it's on page 62 [in print]).

News articles each week alert readers to exciting new finds in the stamp world and give Linn's readers a head start in finding rarities of their own.

A great example of how reading can net you a bargain is the story of how thousands of Linn's readers obtained a scarce variety of the 1994 Legends of the West stamps offered for a limited time by the United States Postal Service. The 20-stamp pane is shown here in Figure 3.

Just by following the instructions published in Linn's, readers obtained these stamps for their face value, $5.80, plus a small shipping fee. The retail value of the stamps quickly jumped to well more than $200, and today it remains close to that level.

The many advertisements throughout the pages of Linn's also help you find important information about the stamps that interest you as well. It seems like there are plenty of bargain-hunters in the stamp hobby, and for many collectors it's all part of the fun. For the collector on a budget, bargain hunting can be an essential part of keeping a collection growing.