Running on empty? How to fill stamp album pages up quickly

Feb 28, 2011, 12 PM

By Janet Klug

Most of us who collect stamps probably have albums with spaces that are only sporadically filled. Often stamps are acquired one at a time, through purchases or swaps with other collectors. Some of the pages in our albums might be nicely filled while others are as bare as a maple tree in February.

The fastest way to fill those pages is to buy other collections. That sounds more daunting than it actually is. Buying a collection does not necessarily mean buying another collector's entire 40-volume assemblage it has taken a lifetime to accumulate. That can be expensive as well as overwhelming for the purchaser.

Collections such as these do come on the market, so if that is what you want to do, just peruse a few auction catalogs or contact your favorite dealers and have them look for you. Such collections, if they are in reasonably good condition, might be priced at thousands of dollars.

However, most of us don't want to buy 40 volumes all at once, or even half a dozen volumes all at once.

The desire to purchase a collection might be inspired by the vacuous appearance of the pages for Saar or Zanzibar in our own albums. It can be frustrating and expensive to go after stamps one at a time, or one set at a time, particularly if they are being mail-ordered and incur shipping and handling charges for each purchase.

The fastest and often least expensive method to fill in fast is to buy a single-subject packet, or a collection on album pages.

Figure 1 shows the contents of a packet that was advertised as "100 different early Liberia, mint and used, good condition." If most of the first several pages of Liberia in your album are empty, this would likely fill them up in a big hurry.

The description includes several key pieces of information that you want to know when you are buying a collection. You will want to know the country, the number of stamps you are purchasing, and whether or not they are 100 of the same stamp.

These are all different. That is important to maximize the filling of spaces. If you collect only mint stamps or only used stamps, this lot is not for you, because the description says it contains both mint and used stamps.

The "good condition" could mean anything. You cannot be too careful, so one option is to contact the person and find out what they mean by good condition. Some collectors and dealers confuse grade with condition, so perhaps they are using "good" to describe stamps that are mostly in grades of very good to fine. That description of "good" is not so good.

If "good condition" more correctly means that none of the stamps are damaged, that is great. If you can't personally see the lot you are considering, then ask questions.

Figure 2 shows a collection of Vatican City on album pages. This collection was described as "Vatican City collection from 1940 to 1958 on album pages, nearly complete. Most stamps are mint and in mounts."

This was purchased from an Internet auction site, and when the collection arrived, I found 160 different stamps nicely mounted on clean album pages. There were many complete sets, some attractively canceled used stamps and a few of the years within that 18-year range were complete. It filled up many spaces in an album sorely lacking in Vatican City stamps.

Finding nice collections such as these is, of course, easier to do if you can shop in person at a stamp store, bourse or stamp show. That way you can see what is in the collection and ascertain whether or not it will meet your needs.

Sadly, retail stamp stores are not as abundant as they once were. Bourses and stamp shows may not occur frequently where you live, but are always worth a journey when possible. For all those times in between, there are auctions, mail order and the Internet.

Check the advertisers in this issue of Linn's. Read the ads carefully and look for collections that will fill your album pages at a price you are willing to pay. Look for descriptions that will tell you important key information. Phrases such as "all different" or "no duplication" are good barometers that you will get the most bang for your buck. A good description will tell you approximately how many stamps you will receive. This can be done by an actual count of the stamps, or by giving a date range with a percentage of completion within that date range.

If you are purchasing stamps sight unseen, read and understand the terms of the sale. Most auctions will state that lots of multiple stamps are not returnable. If you get a lot that is nothing like the description, you may have a case for return, but you might be stuck. It is always good practice to read all of the terms of sale before you place a bid in an auction or mail sale.

Remember that these collections were made by collectors like you. Collections are broken up for sale by dealers. The best and most valuable stamps might be removed from a collection and offered for sale separately. This is called "cherry picking" and is a way for a dealer to maximize his investment in the original purchase of the collection.

You might receive a lot of stamps at one time, but they may not be the most desirable stamps. Also be aware that unless stated otherwise, the stamps will likely be in mixed grades. Remember: catalog value is heavily dependent on grade.

If you have doubts about what is being offered, ask questions. Start by buying a small single-country collection and find out if this method of filling up the albums will suit you.