By Michael Baadke
What's the one thing that every stamp collector needs?
The answer is: stamps.
Where do you go to get the stamps you need?
The answer to that one depends on what you are looking for.
The stamps that people collect are as varied as the collectors themselves, and the place that I get my stamps may not be able to help you at all.
Let's start out by considering those men and women who have been supplying stamp collectors for nearly as long as there have been stamps: the stamp dealers.
There are many different kinds of stamp dealers, and many carry only certain kinds of stamps.
The local stamp dealer who runs a store in your town, as depicted in Figure 1, lower left, may try to carry a little of everything so that he can appeal to a broad customer base.
The mail-order dealer may carry stamps that appeal only to a specific collector group.
The dealer at a stamp show, pictured in Figure 1, lower right, may carry a worldwide selection of stamps, or he may only handle the issues of a limited geographic area.
The illustration at the top of Figure 1 shows what you may find when you visit a stamp dealer in his shop or at the show. He may carry higher valued items such as the 1927 Lindbergh airmail booklet pane, top left, and he may also have available unused stamps that you can purchase for face value, as shown in the box at top right in Figure 1.
The stamp dealer is particularly helpful to the collector because he is also a good source for collecting advice, supplies, literature and so on. Once the dealer is familiar with your collecting needs, he may be able to keep an eye out for specialty items that can complement your collection.
Collectors who have access to the Internet's World Wide Web can view stock from dealers throughout the world by visiting the Linn's site Zillions of Stamps at www.zillionsofstamps.com.
Mail-order stamp dealers are a particularly diverse group. You'll find some that sell stamps for a penny apiece and others that handle high-priced rarities.
Many mail-order dealers advertise regularly in Linn's Stamp News. Some present their offers in display advertising throughout the paper, while others describe what they sell in classified advertising in the last pages of each issue.
An index of classifications appears each week in Linn's near the beginning of the ads. This list, shown reduced in Figure 2, is very useful for finding the type of stamp offers you desire. This week the classified index appears on page 55 (in print), or search online.
Among the first listings in the classified advertisements are dozens of ads for mail-bid sales and auctions. Collectors can obtain catalogs that describe the various stamps being offered, and bid on them by following the instructions supplied with the catalogs.
Advertisements in other classifications offer mint or used stamps from many countries around the world, mixtures, packets and lots; topical stamps, and more.
Approval dealers allow you to look over stamps in your own home, returning the stamps you don't want to keep and paying for those that you do.
New-issue dealers help you obtain new stamps from specific countries or on a particular topic. Many of these dealers accept standing orders from customers and send stamps as they are issued.
Collectors often may order stamps directly from the country of issue, or from authorized agents in the United States.
Collectors of United States new issues can obtain stamps directly from the U.S. Postal Service through a number of different channels.
One option is to purchase stamps directly at the post office counter. Most windows don't carry a complete selection of current stamps, however, so larger post offices set up philatelic windows specifically to meet collectors' needs.
The stamps at the philatelic window are often assembled from select stock, chosen on the basis of exceptional centering and color registration.
Still, it's always a good idea to check the stamps that you buy at the post office (or anywhere), to make sure they are of the quality that you want to add to your collection.
Collectors who don't live near a philatelic center may purchase stamps by mail through the Stamp Fulfillment Services agency of the Postal Service.
The free quarterly catalog of the mail-order agency, USA Philatelic, may be obtained by writing to Information Fulfillment, Dept. 6270, U.S. Postal Service, Box 419014, Kansas City, MO 64141-6014; or by telephoning 800-782-6724 (800-STAMP-24).
The most recent USPS catalog is shown in Figure 3.
Stamp agencies generally sell only current mint postage stamps, while stamp dealers may sell either used or unused stamps.
For the collector of used postage stamps, there are more collecting possibilities.
Many collectors save stamps that come on envelopes in the mail. They start by carefully checking their own mail, and they also ask friends and business acquaintances to save envelopes for them as well.
By supplying a simple box, as shown in Figure 4, the collector can often get many envelopes that will yield stamps to add to the collection.
Often local businesses, churches, schools or utility companies will save envelopes for collectors, as long as collectors make a polite request and pick up the empty envelopes regularly, so they are not a burden on the person who is saving them.
Another way to get used stamps inexpensively is to trade with other collectors, either at the local stamp club or by mail.
Many local clubs maintain contact with other clubs, and trading partnerships can be established with collectors in other parts of the country or even in other lands.
Before trading with people you don't know, make sure some ground rules are set up first, so that each collector will be satisfied with each trade.
Use caution when contacting strangers, and don't send items of value until you are certain that your trading partner can be trusted.
Some trading offers may be found in Linn's classified ads in the Trading Posthorn section at the beginning of the word ads.