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WHAT ARE STAMPS WORTH?

We are a Society whose Members collect stamps. We are not traders, or able to offer financial advice on buying or selling stamps. 

However, we are approached occasionally by people who wish to sell a stamp collection. Often after the sad loss of a relative. In such circumstances we are sometimes able to provide some guidance as to whether the collection is likely to have value on the philatelic market? As to how to approach the sale of such a collection? And some of the procedures that will need to be followed. 

In some circumstances for standard material we may be able to include items or collections in our local auction (held in partnership with Epsom and Ewell, Twickenham and Wimbledon Stamp Societies). In 'normal times' these are held three times a year but we have been unable to hold any auctions since the first Covid Pandemic Regulations came into force in March 2020. 

In the meantime people not familiar with stamp collecting may find the following brief notes useful? 

* For very rare or high catalogue value stamps, condition is paramount, as is a known provenance. So how the stamps have been kept (e.g. dry, in proper albums or stock-books, on acid free leaves, not hinged if unused etc.) is critical: whose collection or dealer they came, and certificates from experts, are also essential for rarities


* Catalogue values can be very misleading. These are the prices for which a major dealer will sell perfect copies. The prices reflect the overheads (production of the catalogues, shops and staffing, storage, assessment, transaction costs etc.) as well as an assessment of likely market demand. For stamps with a low catalogue value (as an example under £100) a seller would probably be fortunate to realise 10% to 20% of such a catalogue value: and then only if the collection includes items for which there is a current demand. This will vary by country and period of issue. Old stamps are not necessarily valuable as they may have been used in their millions. For modern bulk issued stamps the price may be even lower - if the stamps can be sold at all. 

* The value of stamps offered on E bay and similar sites may be misleading. For experienced collectors an assessment of the condition and perceived market value, of the stamps is possible but in addition to stamps that retail at a fair market price (or even at bargain prices) on such platforms here are others that are disappointing in terms of actual condition (and occasionally, fraud).

* Note that for modern mint stamps the major market is often a discount of face value (e.g. 50%) if there is a sufficient quantity to be useful for postage. 

* Andrew McGavin of Universal Postal Auctions regularly explains the stamp market in his advertisements which may be found in most of the stamp magazines or on his web-site. We do not have any commercial links with Andrew: it is just that his thoughts and explanations are readily available in the magazines or on-line. 

* Most established stamp dealers guard their reputations well, and are willing to offer objective professional advice. The demise of so many stamp shops (we have just heard that the last of our 'local' ones in Epson is to close) makes it more difficult to contact or visit them. If possible, sending a few scans or photographs of selected stamps and albums will prompt an objective reply as to whether they would be interested in examining the collection - and how this may be done at least cost to them and you. 

To end these brief notes the following extract from a detective novel which is based around stamp collecting may be informative 

"Father invested a quarter of a million dollars in his collection.. " said Lucia. "He looked on the stamps as an investment, just as other men look on stocks and bonds."

Larry shrugged. " A lot of people have that idea, Miss Warren. I am afraid it is usually a mistaken one. Stamps are primarily a hobby. The salvage value on a collection is rarely anything like its cost to the collector".

"What is a reasonable salvage value" asked Lucia. 

"On a shrewdly bought collection, perhaps 75%. If the buyer hasn't been smart it could be anything - 10% or even less". 

From "Cancelled in Red" by Hugh Pentecost. Published in 1939. This passage on 'salvage' (i.e. the residual value of a collection to a dealer) has not dated, however. 

NOTE. The block of the inverted Jenny shown at the top of this page is very valuable (if you find a genuine one!). Since it is believed that only one sheet of 100 stamps was ever printed with this error - and the location of most of these is now known - it is unlikely that you will find one - but nothing is impossible in the stamp world!. 

A genuine block of four was auctioned by Sotheby's in New York on 8 June and realized $4.9 million - and there are still some copies from the sheet whose whereabouts are unknown! (And a rather larger number of often very convincing fraudulent copies).