Inheriting a philatelic collection


Inheriting a philatelic collection of rare stamps is a real lottery ticket that is why you should invent a special strategy to handle you newly received collection reasonably. But for a person who earlier wasn`t involved in this interesting hobby the precious present could become a really useless thing. A non-collector then has a dilemma in finding out the value of the new collection and the methods to turn it into cash.

This article will help you to choose the most convenient ways of handling your stamp collection after having acquired it so spontaneously.

We can suggest you three most reasonable decisions. These are the following:

  1. Become a collector

  2. Donate your collection

  3. Sell your collection

So let`s consider each of the choices in details.

Become a collector!

The first advice for a non-collector is to become a collector his or herself. If the hobby was good enough for your relative for such a long time, it might also serve you well. Remember that philately and stamp collecting can bring you a lot of experience as well as will open up a whole new and engaging world of historical and rare artifacts. 

Novelist Ayn Rand, herself a stamp collector, says in her essay, “Why I Like Stamp Collecting”: "The pleasure [of stamp collecting] lies in a certain special way of using one's mind. Stamp collecting is a hobby for busy, purposeful, ambitious people...because, in pattern, it has the essential elements of a career, but transposed to a clearly delimited, intensely private world...."

Stamp collecting can become a real passion: the more stamps you get the more you want. When one turns to stamps, one enters a special world by a process resembling a response to art: one deals with an isolated and stressed aspect of existence...and one experiences the sense of a clean, orderly, peaceful, sunlit world...

Stamp collecting can become the hobby of your life if you will really get involved in it. In this case, each stamp will be as one of your little children, beloved and cherished. If that happens, welcome to this wonderful hobby! But if you are not interested in philately, you may think about donating your stamp collection to a museum or a stamp club.

Donate your collection

Although in special philately museums you can contemplate very different rare and historical philately items, in most cases, it is NOT advisable to donate your stamps there. This fact is explained by several reasons:

  • Museums don`t have professional staff that can adequately store, handle and appreciate your stamp collection. Moreover, most of such museums don`t have enough facilities to make all the philatelic items available to the interested members of the public. Remember that once a stamp collection or even a single stamp is “incarcerated” in a museum, it is no longer available to philatelic researchers and is serving no useful purpose.

  • As a rule, philatelic museums are interested primarily in the rarest of rare items, so they could store other items in a place which is not visible for visitors. But if you still wish to pursue this avenue, it is advisable to contact the museum first to determine both its needs and its ability to make the collection accessible to philately lovers.

  • People will argue that museums will issue tax receipts, and while thatʼs true, there are philatelic societies and organizations that will also issue tax receipts, and they are in the position to ensure that donated collections remain in the hands of the people best qualified to appreciate their philatelic and historic significance.

Sell your collection

The other reasonable and at the same time profitable choice is to sell your stamp collection. To do this without being deceived you should know some basics of the philatelic marketplace.


The value of your stamps

Before selling your stamp collection it is necessary to estimate it with the help of a professional. It’s the fact that most stamps have little cash value but some precious items may bring you a lot of money. To determine whether your stamp collection is worth a fortune or not turn to a special philatelic sites or stamp experts.

The values that are assigned to stamps by catalogues such as the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue are wildly optimistic although in the real world, most stamp dealers discount their prices heavily from Scott values. Keep in mind that used stamps have greater value than mint copies of the same stamps. Thatʼs because the automated cancellation machines in use by many countries produce really ugly used stamps.

Stamp condition

The more damages a stamp has the less money you can get after selling it. Mint stamps that have been mounted in albums with hinges automatically lose as much as 50% of their value or even more. You should pay attention to the place where the stamps were stored, whether they were licked or attached to the albums or by other methods that can seriously damage their texture. If a used stamp has an ugly, messy cancellation, its value approaches zero, although its catalogue value may be high. For all stamps, short or damaged perforation teeth, thins, bad centering of images, creases, smudges of dirt, surface scuffs, or generally worn, ratty appearance will seriously compromise value. If such drawbacks appear to be on your inherited stamps they are absolutely worthless so you can save them in memory of your relatives.

So what is them a perfect stamp?

A perfect stamp should be characterized by the following features:

  • The design will be centered with nearly mathematical precision

  • The borders may be broad, depending on the particular issue

  • The perforation teeth will be crisp

  • The colors will look as fresh as the moment the stamps were printed

  • The gum, on mint stamps, will be flawless and unhinged

  • If the “perfect” stamp is used, the cancellation will not seriously deface the design of the stamp.

Speaking generally, a good and experienced stamp collector should take a great care of his or her stamps. In this case the collection will be worth much more than one built by a collector whose standards were low and who handled and stored his collection carelessly.

A note about covers

One shouldn`t avoid first day covers, in other words known collectively as “postal history,” while being involved in a fascinating hobby of stamp collecting. Sometimes these philatelic items could be more expensive than an ordinary stamp. Unless you happen to be very knowledgeable about cover collecting, do NOT, under ANY circumstances, cut or soak the stamps off covers. Complete covers are considered to be rare and precious items that can sometimes be worth hundreds or even thousands of times the value of the stamps alone.

After considering the facts mentioned about it is essential to speak about the reliable ways of selling your collection.

You can trust professional stamp dealers

Many people think that stamp dealers are unreliable stamp sellers that care only about their own profit. But, in fact, dishonest dealers are rare. The vast majority of them previously was stamp collectors themselves and knows a great deal about this hobby. To keep their business on a high level they should work really hard.

Most of them are supportive of the hobby of stamp collecting and belong to stamp clubs that demand their members to meet high standards of ethical behaviour. Stamp dealers will help not only in selling your stamp collection but also in provide you with essential information concerning each item.

But! Avoid business relationships with any dealers who cannot provide solid references and who show no evidence of a decent track record. It is also a good idea, if possible, to approach two or three dealers before selling.

Itʼs a rare dealer who will turn down the opportunity to look over a collection that he hasnʼt seen before. Then itʼs not too hard to know if a dealerʼs offer is reasonable. If he or she takes time to look at the collection, offers comments about what the collection contains, and seems genuinely interested at a personal level in what you are offering, and why, chances are that you will not be cheated.

Sell through a philatelic auction house

If you have enough time for selling a stamp collection and want to realize the cash value of it, it is better to sell the stamps through a philatelic auction house. The ASDA (American Stamp Dealers Association) and CSDA (Canadian Stamp Dealers Association) will help you in this question. There you will be able to find contact information for several companies that host regular auctions, perhaps in your area.

If your collection consists of only one album it will be sold as a one lot. The process of selling the collection consisting of more than one album and different kind of philately literature will be divided into several lots. Beware the dealer who says heʼll sell a large collection intact, as one lot: a collection sold in that manner probably will not realize its true market value. So keep it in mind!

All in all, there is an obvious downside of selling at auction: you might not get what was hoped for. All it takes to push auction bids to a high level is two bidders who want the material. If only one bid is made, then the lot will sell at the opening bid price (it can be even 10 dollars). That rarely happens with good material, but it is possible.

Remember that all services should be paid for. So if you have chosen to sell the stamps with the help of a stamp dealer he will probably charge a sales fee of 10% to 30% of the sale price for handling your stamps. But they do all the work. You just collect your share and go on with life. When a stamp dealer charge 10% it might mean that he would not spend a lot of time evaluating your collection. The collection without being appropriately estimated can bring you only a small part of its value. So do not be very greedy!

Donʼt sell on-line

Even if selling online seems to you the most convenient way it is not suitable for everyone. If you aren’t knowledgeable about philately and donʼt have a lot of spare time, donʼt even consider becoming a seller on eBay or other similar on-line auctions. To sell online one should be an experienced philatelist who can evaluate the stamps without any external help. Moreover, you also would have to dedicate yourself to a long period filled with the inevitable irritations and frustrations that result from buying and selling on-line. Then it is better to turn to on-line dealers who are active buyers of collections, and should be considered when you decide to sell your collection.

One more important fact that should be kept in mind while selling the stamps is their country of origin. It makes sense to sell Canadian stamps in Canada, American stamps in the U.S., British Commonwealth stamps in the British Commonwealth. But thatʼs not always practical, especially in case of large worldwide collections. In this case you have one solution to this problem. The stamp trade is international, and dealers often handle consignments from great distances and across international borders so they will be able to sell the stamps to representations of the corresponding countries.

Before selling your inherited stamp collection consider this issue twice. After some period of time you may feel pity about having done it as such a collection is a child of you gone relative. So, may be it is better to save and continue it and later bequeath already renewed collection to your nearest and dearest.

So handle your stamp collection wisely and don’t make hasty decisions!