To help new collectors get started, first find out what they really want

Jul 31, 2006, 9 AM

By Joe Kennedy

As a devotee of the world's greatest hobby, any stamp collector should be ready, willing and able to help others find out how great the stamp hobby really is.

But there's a right way and a wrong way to try to help people get started in stamp collecting.

Consider these hypothetical examples, and think about what your own answers would be.

Say a young man comes up to you and says, "I want to start a stamp collection. I'm a Boy Scout." Should your answer be:

A. OK, come over to my house, and I'll show you my stamps. We'll look through several albums.

B. Be glad to help. I'll sell you a bunch of my duplicates. How much do you have to spend?

C. All right, you should do it the right way from the start. Buy mint, never-hinged 19th-century classics and get a safety deposit box to keep them in.

D. None of the above.

The correct answer is D, none of the above. This kid just wants to earn a Boy Scout merit badge, and you have just wiped him out. An A, B or C answer could easily switch him to coin collecting, for heaven's sake.

To encourage this budding stamp collector, you should show him the United States 3¢ Boy Scouts stamp (Scott 995), pictured in Figure 1, and say something like this: "Cool. It's a great hobby! Do you know the requirements for the merit badge? We can go to the library and find them, or we can Google for them online. I'm ready to help, but we need to know where we're going."

A lady approaches you and asks, "Can you help me with a suitcase full of stamps that my aunt left me?" The lady does not really want to sell, but she hasn't a clue about forming a stamp collection.

You take a peek and see a mint pane of minimum-catalog-value 5¢ President Herbert Hoover stamps (Scott 1269), one of which is shown in Figure 2, on the top of the pile. Should your answer be:

A. No, I really can't use any more postage.

B. You will have to get some catalogs. They cost about $50 a volume and there are six volumes.

C. See if you can find a dealer. He might make you an offer.

D. None of the above.

Again, the correct answer is D, none of the above. You can't be too busy to take a look at this lady's stamps. In a few minutes, you can tell if she has trash, teasers or treasure.

Suggest that she start out sorting by country and promise a later session for step two of stamp collecting basics. Look around for some recent stamp catalogs you can give her. Maybe you can give her a used album that would house many of her stamps.

You never know what this new friend may find deep in that suitcase.

Your lovely and precocious granddaughter sits on your knee and says, "Grandpa, we are learning about other parts of the world, and the teacher said that stamp collecting is a good way to do it. May I have some of your stamps?" Should your response be:

A. Sure, Melissa. I'll get out my gold-medal-winning Colombian airmails exhibit and let you look at them.

B. OK, I guess, but are your hands clean?

C. Well, I'll turn the pages of my album, and you can look, if you promise not to touch anything.

D. None of the above.

If you said D, none of the above, you are starting to catch on.

Your dear granddaughter is discovering that there is a big world out there. She needs to look at maps, see pictures of far-away places and learn names of other countries.

If you are like me, you surely have plenty of inexpensive and even exotic foreign duplicates, such as the Mongolian 10-mung Dancer's Mask stamp (Scott 616), shown in Figure 3. You can put it into her sweet hands without worrying about whether or not the stamp will be damaged.

Give her some blank album pages and hinges and watch to see how she organizes her stamps. And give her little brother a handful of inexpensive stamps, a notebook and some library paste too. Find some maps and dust off the globe.

For most children, careful collecting is way down the road. Dig out a few older, engraved stamps showing kings and queens for her, in case she wants to go in that direction.

A local nursing home invites you to come and make a presentation to the residents. One of the older gentleman residents says, "Thank you for coming to our home to tell us about stamp collecting. How can we get started?" Should your answer be:

A. I'll sell you a packet of my duplicates and an album to put them in.

B. Here's the latest issue of Linn's Stamp News. You'll find lots of dealer ads. Let me know how it works out.

C. I haven't got time. Maybe the next time I come we can talk about it.

D. None of the above.

Yes, once again, the correct answer is D, none of the above. Maybe the gentleman just wants someone to talk to. Talk to him. Ask him what it was about your presentation that made him want to collect stamps. Ask him what he did before retiring. If he is really interested in stamps, give him a hand.

One of your neighbors is a big fan of the Three Stooges. He comes to your house in great excitement with an advertisement from a magazine for the Senegalese 400-franc Three Stooges stamp (Scott 1432), shown in Figure 4. You should:

A. Tell him not to waste his time with worthless foreign wallpaper.

B. Steer him toward being a real collector by specializing in the U.S. Washington-Franklin stamps.

C. Show him the World Numbering System web site where he can check to make sure that the stamp is not an illegal issue.

D. None of the above.

That's right. The correct answer is D, none of the above.

You should encourage his interest and tell him that collecting by topic is one of the most popular ways to collect. Show him examples of other stamps in his topic from your own collection or catalogs.

Offer to give him the address and contact information of the American Topical Association.

Your friend, Bill, recently read an article in the paper about some stamps that sold for $3 million. He wants to look into stamps as an investment, and says: "I know you collect stamps, Charlie. Can you get me started?" Should your answer be:

A. Sure, Bill. Stop in this afternoon, and I'll show you my stamps. That choir was good this morning wasn't it?

B. Okay, I've got a couple of old albums with some stamps in them. Be glad to sell them cheap to a friend.

C. You bet, Bill. I've got a box of foreign precancels that I'll never do anything with. You'll have a good time with them. I'll give them to you at a good price too.

D. None of the above.

Of course, the correct answer is D, none of the above.

Show him your British 1-shilling green Queen Victoria stamp (Scott 42), pictured in Figure 5. Note that, while your stamp has a Scott catalog value of $1,750, yours is worth considerably less than that because of its condition and grade.

Teach him about stamp grades, by pointing out how the perforations cut into the design of your stamp. Teach him about condition by explaining the difference between mint, unused and used. Show him the toned gum and heavy hinging on your stamp and explain how the condition of the original gum affects value. Explain about damage by showing him the tiny thin at the upper left of your stamp.

Tell him about fakes, forgeries, regumming and repairs and explain how expertization works. Tell him that knowledge is critical to buying expensive stamps, and that any buyer must be aware of the pitfalls.

Give him some auction catalogs. Take him to a show where he can see exhibits and talk with dealers.

In general, you should begin helping someone start a collection by finding out what he is really interested in, why he thinks stamp collecting would be good for him and what kind of help he is looking for.

You, of course, are intensely interested in yourself, your collection and your own welfare. You want to show off your incredible stamps, to display your cleverness in accumulating and exhibiting your treasures, and to make a profit on those boxes of duplicates tucked away in the closet.

Forget it. You have something much more valuable: a rare opportunity to add a new member to the society of stamp collectors.

If anyone approaches you and says, "Can you help me get started in stamp collecting?" Should your answer be:

A. Tell me what you like about stamps.

B. Do you have any other hobbies?

C. What do you do for a living?

D. All of the above.

The answer is still D, but this time the wording is "all of the above."