The challenge of finding 'the right stuff' at the stamp show

Jul 8, 2013, 1 PM

By Janet Klug

When you are at a stamp show, it is fun to ask other attendees about new items they have added to their collection. Some will start showing you recently acquired stamps and covers.

This vicarious thrill is one reason why it is always worth asking the question.If what they have found is something they have been seeking for ages, then the excitement level will be very high and you get to go along for the ride and experience at least some of the joy with them.

However, sometimes when you ask the "what's new?" question, the answer will be a disgruntled response that goes something like this: "There was nothing to buy."

That answer generally means one of two things: There were things to buy but they were priced higher than the collector wanted to pay, or the collector has a narrow focus and a very nearly complete collection of that narrow focus.

If you are at a stamp show, there is always something to buy.

The dealers there depend on that, and the show depends on the dealers because they provide the income that makes the show possible.

If you like going to stamp shows, then it's important to support the dealers, because that's the only way there will continue to be shows to attend.

Finding stuff for your collection is a lot more difficult if you have a narrow focus.

If you are collecting only one thing – for example, North Borneo semipostals used on cover – you might have a lot of trouble finding what you need in the condition you require at a price that you are willing to pay.

North Borneo's 1916 semipostals were issued to raise money to benefit wounded veterans, but they were rarely used postally.

But, if you are lucky, you certainly can be one of those collectors who is beaming brightly when asked "what's new?"

If you have several interests, the odds are much better that you will always find something for your collections.

Can't come up with any new philatelic interests? Try adding local postal history to your want list the next time you visit a show. Think about the place you were born or where you have lived, and look for covers from those locations.

Who knows, you might even find some covers addressed to your ancestors (those with the letters still inside are a bonus). It happens more frequently than you know.

Often even stampless covers can be had very inexpensively, and you get the thrill of the successful hunt for a few dollars.

If local history fails to suit your taste, pick a topic, country, time period or some other aspect of the hobby that you find appealing, such as a certain type of postal marking or a common stamp used in many different ways.

Then start searching, and find out how true it is that the thrill often is in the hunt and not in bagging the prey.

Asking the person next to you at a stamp show dealer's booth what they collect is a great way to make friends.

Offer to keep an eye out for what they are seeking, and perhaps they can reciprocate. It happens sometimes that two collectors will stumble upon a "eureka!" item for each other. Everyone wins, and you might have a new friend for life.

You can help to guarantee that you will always find something to buy at a show by coming prepared with several copies of your want list, also bearing your name and contact information.

When a dealer asks you what you are looking for, hand over the list. If the dealer has nothing on the list to show you, ask him or her to keep you in mind.

Dealers on the stamp show circuit see more material than you could ever hope to see, and they will look for items for you if they know what you want.

Be willing to work with the dealer. When asked what you collect or what you would like to see, the least helpful response you can make is to say you are "just looking." That does not allow the dealer to help you, and it is far more likely that you will end up feeling that there was nothing to buy at the show. You didn't give the dealer a chance to sell.

Here is a trick that often brings happy surprises. If you have run out of things to look for at a stamp show, ask a few dealers if they have anything new on hand that they might show you.

Dealers buy and sell among one another at shows, and they buy from customers, so they often have new items on hand that haven't been formally added to their stock. You might be the first person to see them if you specifically inquire, and you never know what gems could turn up.

Collectors always want to buy things at the lowest prices possible. Dealers always want to sell at the highest prices possible. Remember, dealers' booth fees are paying most of the costs of producing the stamp show. Dealers also have overhead that includes travel to and from the show, food and lodging, acquisition of material, insurance, taxes, labor, supplies and all of the risks associated with operating a business.

That said, it does not mean that you shouldn't negotiate. If what you are purchasing is inexpensive, it makes no sense to bargain for a lower price, but if you are spending significant amounts of money, it does no harm to ask the dealer for his or her "best price."

But, while it doesn't hurt to ask the question, don't insult the dealer if he is unwilling to negotiate a downward price.

He knows what he paid for the item and how much he has to make to stay in business. In this case, if the asking price is more than you want to pay, the appropriate response from you is simply "no, thanks." Don't feel forced into buying something you don't really want or can't afford.

Often the problem at a stamp show is seeing too many things to buy, rather than too few. But having shows to attend is surely one of the best parts of our hobby.