Refresher Course

Stamp-selling tips: choose a method that suits your stamps and your goals

By Janet Klug

Perhaps your collecting interests have changed, or perhaps you bought a large lot or a collection that contains stamps that do not fit into your collection. Maybe you acquired many duplicates. Possibly you just ran out of space.

Figure 1. A United States 2¢ carmine George Washington stamp (Scott 707) in the Washington Bicentennial issue of 1932. Despite being issued more than 75 years ago, this stamp is still common, and supply exceeds demand. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. A U.S. 90¢ orange Oliver Hazard Perry definitive stamp (Scott 229). If you bought this stamp 10 years ago, you could expect to make a profit when selling it today, if it is in a grade and condition that is in demand. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. A British ½-penny green Queen Victoria and King George VI stamp (Scott 252). Click on image to enlarge.

Perhaps your collecting interests have changed, or perhaps you bought a large lot or a collection that contains stamps that do not fit into your collection. Maybe you acquired many duplicates. Possibly you just ran out of space.

Sooner or later most collectors will have stamps, covers, literature or other philatelic material that they want to sell. How you sell depends largely on what you have to sell. It also depends on how active you want to be in the process and the expectations you have.

Expectations play an important role. Many collectors come into stamp collecting with the expectation that when they sell a collection, they will get back all the money they spent on the stamps as well as a tidy profit.

If you bought quality uncommon stamps that are in demand today, it can work that way, but for most sellers, this is not the case.

Common stamps, such as the 1932 United States 2¢ carmine George Washington stamp (Scott 707) in the Washington Bicentennial issue, shown in Figure 1, are still plentiful and readily available despite being issued more than 75 years ago. There is an adequate supply to accommodate all collectors who want one.

The 1890 U.S. 90¢ orange Oliver Hazard Perry definitive stamp (Scott 229) shown in Figure 2 is a different story. Ten years ago, this stamp had a Scott catalog value of $425. Today it has a Scott catalog value of $700. Ten years ago if you bought a sound 90¢ Perry at full catalog value in very fine or better grade and unused, hinged condition, you could expect to make a profit when selling it today, not counting inflation.

How much profit depends on how you choose to sell it.

Dealers must price stamps to accommodate their cost to stock them, business and marketing expenses and a profit margin. Remember that stamp dealers are business people who have to pay bills and eat.

You cannot expect to achieve retail value for your stamps if you sell them to a dealer. He cannot buy your stamps at the same price that he sells them for and expect to remain in business for long.

A dealer will be factoring in the cost of doing business and a profit when he makes an offer to you. You always have the option to decline the offer.

The advantage in selling directly to a dealer is that you receive payment quickly with minimal effort on your part. But selling this way might not appeal to you at all. Many other options exist.

Local stamp clubs frequently have auctions or buyselltrade meetings for members to divest themselves of material they no longer need. It is also a good place to find new material for your collection.

Become active in your local club and you will find a ready marketplace for the inexpensive stamps and covers you no longer want. But a local club is probably not the best place to sell very desirable material with high values.

Many specialty societies have periodic auctions for members who have material to sell that falls within the specialty. The society will often charge a commission on the sales price for the material that sells. Every society auction is a little different, so find out the details before you make any submissions.

Some clubs, specialty societies, and the American Philatelic Society offer sales circuits. These are approval booklets filled with mounted stamps or covers in pockets. The circuits travel from member to member by mail.

Each member in the circuit views the material in turn and can purchase any, none or all of it. After making purchases or not, the buyer pays for forwarding the books to the next person in the circuit.

The central office or circuit manager keeps track of the items sold and within the stated period of time retires the booklets and returns them to the owner along with payment for the stamps and covers sold. The sponsoring organization retains a commission to fund the program.

The APS has the largest sales circuit operation. The circuits are approval booklets made up by APS members with stamps for sale to other APS members. The APS keeps the records, maintains distribution lists for the circuits, receives payments from buyers and makes payment to the sellers.

The seller is the individual who puts the stamps or covers in the booklets, identifies them by catalog numbers, prices them and submits them to the circuit manager for distribution to other members.

The pricing is the tricky part, because buyers will receive up to 10 approval books in a circuit at a time. Each booklet is likely to have been submitted by a different seller. Stamp collectors will shop for the best value for the money being spent. Sellers who price above the market will get most of their stamps and covers back unsold.

Most common stamps offered at catalog value, such as the 1940 British ½penny green Queen Victoria and King George VI stamp (Scott 252) shown in Figure 3, will come back to you unsold. Common stamps have to be offered at a discount from catalog value to have any chance of selling.

Most stamp collectors have heard about eBay, the Internet's largest online auction marketplace.

To use eBay as a buyer or a seller, you must establish an account. It is free to set up, and it is free to use as a purchaser. Sellers are charged a listing fee for each lot they list and a commission for each lot that is sold. Both charges are on sliding scales, depending on the value established by the seller when an item is listed and on the winning bid.

Although it is not difficult to learn how to sell on eBay, some wouldbe sellers are too intimidated to give it a try.

Detailed, stepbystep instructions for sellers are available on eBay's web site at www.ebay.com. Just click the "Sell" button at the top of the page and follow the instructions.

To be a successful seller on eBay, you must show good scans of the material you want to sell. This means you need to have a scanner and know how to use it and how to upload the scan to your auction listing.

Sellers need to describe lots accurately, noting any flaws or condition problems. Start the lot at a fair price that will encourage competitive bidding.

Selling on eBay is not difficult to do once you get the hang of it, but it can be time consuming. Additionally, you are required to collect the payment and ship the merchandise to the successful bidder.

Services exist for those who wish to sell on eBay but have neither the time nor the inclination to do so. These services will do all of the listing, billing and shipping and will usually charge a percentage of the final sales or a flat fee.

Sellers on eBay receive payment for the merchandise very quickly, and eBay will charge the seller's credit card for all of the fees incurred for listing and commissions.

The APS offers a service for its members who want to sell on the Internet but who do not want to do the scanning, billing and mailings to the successful buyers.

APS members can submit material that they describe and mount on pages to be sold online from the APS Stamp Store at www.stampstore.org.

The sender mails the pages to APS Stamp Store. APS personnel scan the pages and enter them into the Stamp Store inventory.

Buyers and sellers must be members of the APS, but anyone can browse or search the entire inventory, which currently boasts a quartermillion stamps, covers and other items.

When items are sold, the seller receives payment for the sales price less the listing fee and commission on the sales. Information on how to do it and the fees charged for the service are available on the web site.

Traditional auctions are good avenues to sell stamp collections or single stamps, sets and covers that have significant value.

The terms of sale, seller's commission and other aspects of selling a collection through auction vary from firm to firm. It is always a good idea to contact the auction firm first before submitting anything for auction.

Find out if your material fits into the kinds of auction sales that the firm handles. Ask what the commission will be for selling your material and how long it will take for payment after the end of the sale. Request an auction catalog for a recent sale and seek references from other sellers. For the best results, do your homework and be an informed seller.

You can sell by private treaty through a dealer, collector or auction firm that will act as your agent. In this method, you come to an agreement with the agent on the price that you want. The agent will charge a commission, so learn the net amount you will receive before you sign the contract.

A dealer might offer a private treaty option if he has an immediate buyer for what you are selling. The most attractive feature of a private treaty sale is that the seller receives payment quickly, more quickly than from a traditional auction. The drawback is that what is to be sold is not necessarily going to sell.

No matter how you sell, know the terms and conditions of the sale before you agree to anything. Insist on written contracts and read them completely. Ask the buyer of your material questions when you do not understand something.

Keep your expectations realistic. Remember that you enjoy a bargain when you find one, and it is likely that the person who wants to buy what you are selling will be looking for a bargain as well.

The fun of stamp collecting is acquiring and learning about what you have. You do not expect to profit from a used ticket to a play or sporting event, so factor in the enjoyment your collection has given you when you go to sell.