Auctions offer an opportunity to obtain great stamps and covers

Apr 27, 2021, 5 PM

Public auctions of stamps and covers take place nearly every week in the United States, and in cities all around the world.

While some of the stamp hobby's greatest rarities have been bought and sold at auctions, you'll also find terrific items available for just a few dollars.Bidding at auction is a great way to add more items to your collection, and it's really not difficult for any collector to participate.

Linn's creates and updates a schedule of many upcoming public auctions each week in its Auction Calendar, which you can find this week on page 22.

At a public auction you can sit in the auction gallery or at a stamp show and take in all the action. If you register in advance, you can place a bid right on the spot if a special stamp, cover or collection catches your eye.

Bids for most public auctions also can be placed online, by mail, by telephone or using other means.

Other types of auctions, such as Internet/mail sales, are very similar, but do not have live public bidding in a gallery or auction room. Instead, collectors use other means, such as e-mail, postal mail and so on, to place their bids for the items that interest them.

Online-only auctions, such as those held on the commerce sites Delcampe, eBay and others, provide auction options through online bidding.

Many of the pubic auctions held in the United States and in other countries take place at the auction house gallery. Some of the auction firms are located in large cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Berlin. Others are in smaller towns or near a major metropolitan center.

And many public auctions are held at major stamp shows. You'll find several firms that regularly conduct auctions several times a year, and often these sales take place in a large room adjacent to the main stamp show floor.

Auction catalogs are printed for each public auction, but many auction houses also publish their catalogs online, so it's easy for anyone to look through the items being offered.

If you see in Linn's Auction Calendar that a sale will soon take place, look up the firm on the Internet, and then click on a link to explore the auction catalog.

Are you interested in a single country or region? Linn's Auction Calendar gives a brief description of what's being offered. If you see a listing for worldwide material, you might find stamps and covers from the area that specifically interests you.

You also can request a printed catalog by contacting the auction firm. Sometimes the printed catalogs are free, but often there is a fee because of the high cost of printing and shipping the catalogs. Regular customers of the auction firm might receive complimentary copies of the printed catalogs automatically.

Browse the printed or online catalog for items that appeal to your interests. Each item is usually listed with a presale estimate of value. You might be able to bid lower than the estimate, but to find out for certain, read through the introductory material at the beginning of the catalog. This will tell you exactly how to place your bids, advise you on where to start bidding, and even how payment will be arranged.

Of course, if you bid low, it's possible that another collector will bid more and win the item.

Remember, an auction bid is a contract with the auction firm. If you win the auction, you're promising to pay the price (along with a buyer's premium, if applicable), and the auction firm promises to send you the item you won.

What is a buyer's premium? Most auctions add a percentage to the final bid price on every item sold. This premium might be 15 percent or 20 percent of your bid, for example. The auction catalog will explain the buyer's premium amount in the introductory material.

If, for example, the buyer's premium is 18 percent, and you win an auction lot with a bid of $100, your total bid is calculated as $118. Before you bid, it's important to understand any premium, fees, shipping charges and taxes that might apply.

If you attend an auction in person, you can register as you enter, then bid when the auctioneer announces that the item you're eyeing is being offered.

Many bidders don't personally attend the auction, however. Well in advance of the sale they might mail in a bid for one or more items using the bid form in the auction catalog or on the website. Or they can place bids directly on the website after registering online with the firm.

Auction bids are usually accepted in specific increments that are listed in the catalog. For example, for bids between $50 and $150, the firm might say you must bid in $5 increments. That just means you can place your bid for $55, $60, $65, $70 or so on, but you can't place a bid for $62.44 or some other unusual dollar figure. If you do, the auction firm will automatically round off the bid to fit the increments as described in the bidding guidelines.

You might discover, however, that you win an auction bid without having to pay the full price that you bid. Many auctions explain that the lots are sold to the highest bidder at one increment over the amount bid by the next highest bidder. If you bid $80 and the next highest bidder only offered $55, you might be awarded the item at $60 instead of $80. You'll still need to pay the buyer's premium on that $60 figure, however.

At some stamp shows and galleries you will have an opportunity to personally examine the items you'd like to bid on during a period prior to the auction. This is often referred to as an inspection of lots.

A "lot" is each item or collection being sold, which is usually numbered sequentially in the catalog. For example, let's say the auction catalog shows a United States stamp that you want for your collection. In the catalog it is identified as lot 77. After the auctioneer announces that lot number 77 is coming up for bid, he'll start the bidding at a designated dollar amount, depending in part if the firm has received bids in advance of the sale. To place your bid, raise your hand, and you'll become the next highest bidder for the amount that the auctioneer has called out. If no one else bids more than you, you'll win the item, and can arrange to obtain the item by speaking with the auction firm representatives waiting to help you.

Linn's reports of upcoming auctions often tell you some of the more rare and exotic items that are being offered, but don't let that concern you if you have a smaller stamp budget.

There's a good chance that the auction also will offer many other items that will fit just right into your collection.