Options available to collectors when it comes time to sell

Aug 24, 2009, 6 AM

By Janet Klug

How you go about selling your collection depends upon what you have to sell. There is a market for nearly everything. When you begin to think of selling, review what you have and what you paid for it.

The best way to sell the mint 1898 United States $1 Western Cattle in Storm stamp (Scott 292), shown in Figure 1, will probably differ from the best way to sell the canceled-to-order Fujeira 1-riyal Chest of Anubis stamp (Michel 1235), shown in Figure 2. But there should be a market for both of them.

Most dealers will ask you how much you want for your collection. It is not a trick question. You know its value and you should know how much money you have spent on the collection, so you should know how much you want to receive for it. You are the seller. Ask for your price. It might take some haggling on both sides to negotiate an agreement, but that does not mean you should not establish a confident starting price.

A general worldwide collection of common stamps in mixed condition and grade undoubtedly brought the collector enormous pleasure on a modest budget. These kinds of collections are plentiful and thus are difficult to sell.

However, a meticulously formed worldwide collection, or a single popular country, region or topic that is in excellent condition is desirable to other collectors and therefore should be much easier to sell. Those who hope to get more than market value for an ordinary collection will be disappointed.

There are three basic ways to sell a collection: sell the entire collection to a dealer (including auctioneers); sell the entire collection to another collector; or break the collection down and sell it yourself as single items or lots. Let's look at each method.

Stamp dealers. It is likely you have developed a business relationship with one or more stamp dealers from whom you have made purchases.

These dealers should be at the top of your contact list when it is time to sell. You know them, and they know you. You are comfortable with them, and they have an idea of what you have in your collection. Your favorite dealers can give you advice on selling and make an offer on what you have to sell.

Beware of offers that are only for individual better stamps or covers that you are offering for sale. This is called cherry picking. The dealer takes the best, most saleable material and leaves you with the rest that may be very difficult or impossible to sell.

Depending on what you have, it might be more profitable to sell your collection at auction. This is especially true for specialized collections containing unique or high-value material. Select an auction firm with whom you have done business, or ask other collectors for recommendations of firms they have used. Make certain you have a clear understanding of the auction's consignor fees.

Anything can happen in an auction. Material might sell for significantly more than the estimate, a great deal less than the estimate or not at all.

Most auctioneers will permit consignors to establish a reserve price below which an item will not be sold. A reserve that is set too high often guarantees the lot will not sell, and the consignor still incurs fees that must be paid.

If you lack a customer relationship with a dealer, the pages of Linn's are filled with advertisements from dealers offering to buy your collection.

The American Philatelic Society lists dealer members on its web site at You can also contact dealer trade organizations such as the American Stamp Dealers Association, National Stamp Dealers Association and Mid-West Stamp Dealers Association for recommendations of dealers in your part of the country.

Sell to another collector. If you have a stamp club in your area, there are many good reasons to join. Not only will you learn more about all aspects of stamp collecting, you will make new friends and find others with whom you can trade, buy and sell. You might even find someone who will purchase your entire collection when you are ready to sell it.

Joining specialty societies is another good way to expand your knowledge and make friends. These friends will be interested in the same aspects of stamp collecting as you and thus might be interested in purchasing what you have to sell.

Selling directly to another collector has a feel-good aspect that other methods lack. You know your collection will be cared for by someone who appreciates and enjoys it.

Do-it-yourself. There have never been more venues for do-it-yourself sellers to market their own stamp collections, but keep in mind that doing so is time-consuming.

Selling your collection yourself can be as simple as taking out a classified or display ad in Linn's, American Philatelist or your local stamp club's newsletter. Some specialty societies have periodic auctions where members can consign material. This is similar to consigning to an auction firm, but the terms may be different and less costly.

The APS offers two venues to sell stamps and covers. To participate as either a seller or buyer, you must be an APS member. Sales circuits have been around for a long time. Acquire a supply of blank circuit books from APS. Fill them with stamps or covers you wish to sell. You, as the seller, will be required to write the catalog number, catalog value and your selling price beneath each item you are selling, and then mail the completed circuit books to the APS.

APS will scan each page of the circuit books you prepared for sale, then send them to APS members who requested circuits. Circuit members select items to purchase and then forward the circuit to the next person on the list. In about 18 months, the books will be retired. APS will send you a check for the material that sold, less the fees retained by APS, and return the books containing the unsold items.

The APS internet sales unit, known as Stamp Store, also sells member-submitted material.

The material is listed for sale on the APS web site at

Sellers download a submission sheet for each item. You describe it, establish your selling price and send it to the APS. APS scans the material and places it on the site.

When sold, APS will collect the money and package and mail the material to the buyer.

The seller receives a check from APS for the amount sold less fees for listing and sales commission. See the APS web site for additional information.

Internet auction sites are dominated by the behemoth eBay (, but others exist such as and

Listing fees, commissions and rules for sellers vary from site to site, so read the instructions for sellers before beginning to list anything.

These sites work by sellers scanning their material for sale, uploading it, describing the material and entering a starting bid.

Sellers decide how long their material will be offered, and interested buyers bid against each other for the right to purchase. Once the auction is over, the high bidder is notified, pays for the purchase and you, the seller, mail the purchases to the buyer.

There are many options available to those who have collections to sell. Explore the options thoroughly before making an informed decision. Do your homework to gain a good sense of the market value.

And don't forget: Dealers are in business to make a living. They must make a profit in order to stay in business.

If you expect to profit or get back every cent you spent on forming your collection, you are likely to be disappointed. But don't forget to factor in the enjoyment and knowledge you gained from forming the collection in the first place.