Mixtures, packets, lots: what's the difference?

May 10, 2004, 11 AM

By Rick Miller

In Linn's classified advertising section, ads are grouped together by ad type.

One type of ad in the index to the classifieds is listed as "Mixtures," and another is listed as "Packets, Lots and Collections."

These two classifications refer to buying stamps in quantity rather than one at a time, but what exactly is the difference between a mixture, a packet, a lot and a collection? For example, if you order an item listed as a "lot," how would it differ from an item listed as a "mixture"?

A mixture is literally a bunch of stamps thrown together largely at random and sold either by weight, quantity or volume.

Linn's classifieds break mixtures down into U.S. mixtures, foreign mixtures and miscellaneous mixtures.

You should always read the advertiser's description closely for additional information to get the best possible idea of what is being offered. Some mixtures could easily fit in more than one category, and it is the advertiser who makes the decision of where it goes.

You should normally expect some stamp duplication in mixtures, because that is one of the things that set mixtures apart from packets.

After you read the advertiser's description, you might sometimes even conclude that he has listed his offer in the wrong category.

A U.S. mixture should contain primarily stamps from the United States, although because mixtures are often thrown together randomly, a few foreign stamps can also be present.

A foreign mixture should contain primarily stamps that are not from the United States, although again a few U.S. stamps might accidentally be included.

Miscellaneous mixtures can be worldwide mixtures that include both U.S. and foreign stamps, or they can be U.S. or foreign mixtures that the advertiser feels have some different quality that makes them better suited to the miscellaneous category.

Mixtures sold by volume might offer an envelope, a cigar box or a shoe box full of stamps.

A mixture sold by quantity might offer 500 off-paper stamps.

Mixtures sold by weight are usually referred to as "kiloware." "Kiloware" is a term imported from Europe, where mixtures are sold by the gram or kilogram.

In Linn's classifieds, you are much more likely to find mixtures sold by the ounce or the pound than by the gram or the kilogram, but the name refers to mixtures sold by weight, regardless of the unit of measure involved.

Kiloware mixtures can be for worldwide stamps, stamps from a single country or region or even only one type of stamp from a single country: for example, only commemorative stamps of Great Britain.

Figure 1 shows a photo of a 200-gram kiloware mixture of Norwegian stamps on paper.

Kiloware mixtures can be either on- or off-paper, and they can contain used or unused stamps or both, but on-paper, postally used stamps are the norm for kiloware.

A dealer might describe a kiloware mixture as "unsorted" or "unpicked." This means that he has not looked through the stamps to pick out better stamps.

Some kiloware mixtures are called "mission mixes" or "bank mixes." In the past, mission mixes were accumulated from the cuttings of foreign charitable or missionary organizations. They would often include a wide range of stamps from many different countries.

Today, such a mixture is sometimes described as a mission mix, whether or not it really came from a charitable or missionary organization.

Bank mixes came from clippings from the mail of banks. Such mixtures could be expected to include high-value stamps from many countries used on registered mail. Again, a modern mix described as "bank mix" might not actually have come from a bank or banks, but it should include high-denomination stamps.

Why would a collector choose to buy a mixture?

Mixtures give a lot of stamps for little money. The price per stamp from a mixture should be a tiny fraction of catalog value.

Postmark or cancellation collectors can find stamps for collections in postally used kiloware mixtures.

The duplicates from mixtures provide trading material or material for swapping circuits or sales circuits.

If you collect modern used postage stamps, a kiloware mixture might be the best way to acquire such material for your collection.

There are several things about the nature of mixtures that you should know before you decide to buy them.

There is always some duplication in a mixture. You probably will get many examples of some stamps.

Unless otherwise described, the majority of stamps in a mixture are often the most common stamps, ones with minimum catalog value.

Because they are sold in bulk without each stamp being examined beforehand, mixtures will almost always contain some damaged stamps.

One of the most popular regular features in Linn's is the weekly Kitchen Table Philately. In that column, one of a stable of anonymous reviewers examines a mixture or lot purchased anonymously from Linn's classified ad section or a similar section elsewhere.

The reviews use the byline "E. Rawolik" ("kiloware" spelled backward) Roman numerals differentiate the Rawoliks.

If you have no experience with mixtures, reading Kitchen Table Philately (on pages 32-33 in this issue) can you give you some idea of what to expect.

Several characteristics typically set a packet apart from a mixture.

A packet should normally contain all different, undamaged stamps. Again, it is important to read the seller's description closely to get the best possible idea of what the offer is.

Because the stamps in packets were sorted prior to sale, packets should not contain damaged stamps. However, particularly with packets of older stamps, the stamps might not be well centered or they can be more heavily canceled than is desirable.

Stamps in packets are normally off paper, although you can find some offered on paper. Stamps in packets can be mint, used or canceled-to-order (CTOs are stamps canceled without seeing postal duty and that are sold at a steep discount from face value). Read the seller's description to find out what the offer is.

In the early part of the 20th century, many packets contained forgeries of cheap stamps from obscure countries. Although the stamps were not expensive, it was cheaper and easier to forge them than to obtain the real stamps from distant, sometimes short-lived countries. These so-called packet trade forgeries still haunt the pages of many older worldwide collections, and they can be fun to study and collect for what they are.

In the years after World War II, CTO stamps became the staple of the packet trade. Eventually a reaction set in against CTOs. Today many packet advertisements will include a statement that the packet will not include CTOs.

Packets offer worldwide stamps, stamps from a single region or continent, or stamps from a single country.

Some packet ads specify a quantity of stamps, and some specify that the stamps in the packet will have a specific catalog value.

Packets are often packed with common, letter-rate definitive stamps with minimum catalog value, but if you are just starting out in a new area of collecting, a packet can be a good way to get started.

The off-paper used stamps shown in Figure 2 are from a packet of 225 all-different Lithuanian stamps.

Mixtures and packets normally contain only loose stamps. In contrast, an offer described as a "lot" is liable to contain just about anything relating to stamp collecting.

For example, the lot shown in Figure 3 contains loose stamps, a three-ring binder, stamps on album pages and in stock pages and glassines, stamp booklets, old approval sheets, and a couple of covers.

Other lots might include album binders, commemorative panels, retired circuit books, postcards, postal stationery, collecting accessories and the kitchen sink.

Lots are often sold by the box or by the carton. A lot is generally a random accumulation of philatelic items that is easier to throw together and sell as a lot than it would be to go through and try to organize or to sell as individual items.

Alternatively, a dealer might take all the items from inventory that haven't been selling well, mix them together randomly and sell them as a lot or lots.

Part of the appeal of buying a lot is that you often don't know what you are getting. If you like treasure hunts, buying lots might give you a great deal of pleasure, especially if you can figure out how to dispose of all the things that come in lots that won't fit into your collection. Donations to stamp clubs and charities are always appreciated.

Collections are exactly that: somebody's stamp collection, usually still on the stamp album pages. Sometimes an album binder is included.

Often a collection is just the remnants of a collection from which better items have been stripped and sold separately.

Again, reading the description is the key to understanding what you are getting.

Collections are often advertised and sold at a percentage of the catalog value of the remaining stamps. When buying a collection, it is always a good idea to check the identification and value of the better stamps to make sure that you are getting or have gotten what you paid for. Many collections are sold "as is."

The good thing about buying a collection is that the stamps are already identified, organized and arranged. Of course, you will want to check the previous owner's work in identifying the stamps before incorporating them into your own collection.

If you are thinking of launching a new collection, buying a collection might be the best way to acquire many of the basic stamps. Sometimes the album binder and pages are serviceable enough for you to use until you are ready to make the outlay for a new binder and album pages.

In buying mixtures, packets, lots or collections from Linn's classified ads or from other sources, reading the descriptions of the items being offered for sale is of paramount importance.

For example, you might often find something listed as a mixture or collection that you think sounds more like a packet. But as long as you read the description, you should have some idea of what is being offered.

Thanks to Linn's reader Walter J. Griesmeyer of Illinois for suggesting the topic of this Refresher Course.