One of our longtime customers recently passed away unexpectedly. He had purchased four different country albums from us, and every year subscribed to our automatic supplement service. There were not any instructions for the disposal of his collection, and we received a call from his wife wanting to know if we could look at his collection and determine a value, or possibly purchase it. Of course, we agreed to this and the next day she came in with about seven boxes of albums.
It did not take me very long to realize that just about everything was worth very little - we see this quite often. As a young collector I had made the same mistake: when selling my worldwide stamp collection after 20 years of collecting, all my hopes were dashed when I realized that what I had accumulated was extremely ordinary and worth very little. I learned the hard way, just as I am sure many collectors do.
So how can you prevent this from happening when it comes time to sell your collection? How can your stamps be worth so little when you have invested all that time and money? In my opinion, there are two factors contributing to the worth of a quality stamp collection.
First, is organization - or lack thereof. As in the aforementioned case, all seven boxes were extremely disorganized. There were USA stamps in 15 different places; and, oddly enough, no stamps in the USA album. There is nothing more aggravating to a dealer than having to go through mounds and mounds of disorganized material. With lack of patience, dealers tend to go through the collection quickly and do not take the time to see what is really there. And because of this, the purchase offer is oftentimes very low.
Conversely, if the material is organized chronologically in albums or stock books, it is much easier to see what is present. Clean, organized albums enable the examiner to see the percentage of completion. They do not necessarily need to be fancy albums; even homemade pages will do, so long as all is clearly marked.
The second contributing factor to a great collection is content. No matter how well organized, if the content is not quality, the collection will not be quality. As in the case above, the USA stamps were a mixture of mint and used. All stamps from the 1800s were of the common, inexpensive type and damaged. And as many of you may already know, any 20th century mint stamps can be purchased for under face value and used for postage. Many collectors are under the misconception that if a stamp is 50 years old, it is worth a lot of money. However, regarding USA collections, the opposite is true.
In our customer’s collections, I saw the albums that he had purchased from us, as well as all the yearly supplements he had subscribed to. I was shocked to realize that there were no stamps displayed in any of the supplement pages – seven years of empty supplements. As much as I would like to think that stamp albums are worth something, they are absolutely worthless if there are no stamps in them. After all, we are stamp collectors, not stamp album collectors. In addition, my customer had a smattering of various foreign stamps, many First Day covers and dozens of stamp articles that were well organized in binders. Unfortunately, organized articles also have no value.
If you would like to recoup at least some of the money you invest in your collection, collect in an area with a solid plan. Say you collect 20th century USA: you will need to know that you will never make much money as an investment. Therefore, collect all mint, or collect all used, in order to solidify your content. A mixture of the two looks sloppy and generally has no value for a more astute collector. If you collect 19th century, go for quality, not quantity. If it is too expensive for your budget, then either wait until you have the funds or collect something else.
Knowledge of what is in high demand helps. You may want to pay attention to what the trends are. For example, China is an extremely popular collecting area right now. Stamps are being sold for almost full Scott catalog value, sometimes more. If you’re savvy enough, you can sometimes guess what the next popular material may be.
Meanwhile, collecting worldwide does not have much value unless one was to collect every single country with each country at least 75% complete. To do so would amount to around 2000 stamp albums – how likely is that? Even collecting 30 different countries all at once would involve spreading your time and money too thin. Specializing in several individual countries, not too many at one time, is a smarter option. Concentrating on a few at a time and making sure they are accurate and of good quality would amount to a worthy investment. If a stamp costs more than you can afford right now, just wait a bit longer and get it later. I know this takes more time and money, but you’ll be thankful for this later.
So, what could I say to the unfortunate widow? How was I to tell her that there was nothing of value in the collection of her recently deceased partner in life? Gently, I told her that she was best off donating the collection and claiming a tax write-off. And, most importantly, I stressed that she could be consoled by the fact that her husband spent many enjoyable hours with his collecting. I am sure all of you can relate to this – a hobby is, first and foremost, a passion.
But for those of you looking to get something in return for your collection, take away this: poor quality material will never result in anything but heartache. Collecting with this in mind takes more time and money, but you will be happier for it in the end. And with whatever collection you finally decide upon, don’t just throw everything in boxes or envelopes – organize it!