In this article I will give you a whole lot of different ways you can acquire stamps. And I will give you the benefits and drawbacks of each method.
What to think about as a collector
As with any pursuit you first have to ask yourself a few questions. Let's start with what is your goal with stamp collecting? Will you be collecting just for fun? Will you be collecting with a mind toward preserving the money you spend? Will you be collecting as an investor?
Furthermore you have to ask yourself how much money will you be spending on your collecting?
All of these are big questions. And they affect your approach.
From there you should also ask yourself smaller questions like Will you be collecting world stamps? Just a particular country? Just a particular type like commemoratives or air mail stamps.
If you are a beginner
Ok, if you are a beginner you might not be able to answer any of these questions. And that is ok! Feel free to explore stamp collecting in whatever way you are comfortable with. This article will give you lots of great advice on how to buy stamps.
I do have some specific advice for you if you are a beginner. Don't spend a lot of money. Keep your budget tight because it is very easy to make mistakes as a beginner. The world of stamp collecting can be complicated. There are many many stamps that look identical but are dramatically different in price and value.
If you are not a beginner and have an idea of what you want - this article will be of help in helping you to spend your dollars and your time more wisely
Ok! Let's look at the different ways you can get stamps for your collection
1. Friends and family - Yup, This is how I first got started. I put out the message to all my friends and family that I was starting up a stamp collection. I asked them all to keep an eye out for me. Within a month a friend handed me a big box full of stamps of all types. Her mother was a collector many years ago but the collection has been sitting in a closet for a decade. That was a nice find! A family member goes to flea markets and yard sales all the time. She found me a bag of stamps. So... this is a good way to start and to grow your collection. Tell people!
Pluses/minuses: Stamps have a reputation of being a treasure! They sure do. People think that they get an old collection and there is value in it. Chances are there is little or no value in it. Maybe a hundred dollars or less. So there is a chance that your family member is going to expect or hope you pay them well for the stamps! And on the other hand they may have a stamp collection worth money, thousands of dollars even. If you think this might be the case then I recommend you talk to the family member or friend and get a third party to appraise the collection. Then you can negotiate for it in a fair and open way.
2. The Big Stamp Companies like Kenmore and Mystic - I bought my stamp albums from a big company and before you know it I was getting (and still get) all kinds of fun stuff in the mail, catalogs, offers, flyers and a whole lot more. These guys are expensive. And this is the most expensive route per stamp. But... these companies are built on trust and their reputation is indisputable. You are paying more for your stamps but you can be sure of what you are getting. You are getting quality stamps that have passed rigorous grading standards and you are actually getting the stamps that you want.
Here is an example of what I mean by trust. See these two stamps. As a beginner they look the same right? Difficult to know if they are the same. But they are actually different issues. One is a Scott #462 and the other is a Scott #543! Yup. And that means they have different values!
So... if you are buying one or the other of these from say ebay you can't be sure if you are getting the one you want! Unless you are dealing with a reputable stamp dealer on ebay.
But when it comes to trust you can trust Kenmore and Mystic! It is going to be the stamp you expect it to be and it is going to be of the quality you expected. That is a big deal for a beginner.
And this is just a small example. This is a pattern that is repeated hundreds of times, throughout the whole spectrum of stamps. So my advice is that these companies are wonderful in that you can whole-heartedly trust them. But, you do pay a premium for that.
Pluses/minuses: You pay more but you get impeccable service and bank vault protection against mistakes and counterfeits!
3. eBay - My advice here about ebay is a bit limited. I have bought a lot of stamps from ebay and am extremely happy with it. I recommend you start with a limited list of lower value stamps and keep an eye on those stamps on ebay for a period of weeks. This way you can get a sense for how much they generally sell for. And you can then bargain hunt by swooping in and getting good bargains. But it can be tricky. You can get the wrong stamp or an almost right stamp and not even know it. My 462/543 image is a good example of how this could happen. And it could be intentional on the part of the seller or it could be unintentional.
So, in order to minimize this you can stick with the big sellers on ebay. They have good quality control and often expertly check stamps. But of course this brings the price up! Or you can also look for collections that lay people sell. You can often get a tremendous value this way. And I have done this too.
Overall I am extremely happy with my ebay purchases and I have made at least 50 stamp purchases on ebay. I have done single stamp purchases, set purchases and whole collection purchases.
Pluses/minuses - You can get good bargains if you are sharp and watch listings on a regular basis. But, you are buying stamps without actually seeing them up close. All you have to go on is pictures. And if you are dealing with inexperienced sellers you may get stamps of a quality you didn't want.
4. Stamp stores - Twenty years ago every city had a stamp store. And some department stores even had a counter where they sold stamps and coins. Today this is a different story. Stamp collector stores are now few and far between. But there still are some, particularly if you live in a big city. I got rather lucky in this respect in that the small city I live in still has one stamp and coin store. Do an online search of your city and cities near where you live. There may be a store that sells stamps and coins!
Pluses/minuses - These shops are now few and far between so you might have to travel. The prices tend to be on the more expensive side. But, you will get a better quality stamp overall.
5. Shows And exhibits - This is a terrific way to learn about stamps, meet other people that have the same interest and of course it is a good way to add to your stamp collection.
At a show you are probably going to find whatever it is you are looking for. They will probably have it. And more. And prices are usually negotiable. You can strike some bargains with dealers. Of course that depends on the dealer. But one of the risks you run is spending too much! So, try to maintain your discipline and if possible make a list ahead of time for what you want to buy and at roughly what prices.
Pluses/minuses - It is very easy to spend too much at a show and because they are not that common you may have to travel quite a bit to get to one. But as far as pluses go to the people are always terrific, you can actually see and closely examine the stamps and you can often negotiate the price.
6. Approvals - If you are not familiar with this it is a process where stamp companies send you actual selections of stamps to look at and examine. If you want any of the stamps you keep them and pay for them. Any stamps you don't want you just send back to the company. They will put you on a schedule and send you a selection as often as you desire, every week or every eight weeks or whatever frequency you like. I do like this because you get to look at and hold the actual stamps so you can examine them before deciding to buy.
7. Sales Circuits - This is a wonderful service by the American Philatelic Society. They send out booklets with stamps for sale and you can request them for examination. It is similar to approvals. But they do this only for chapters which means official stamp clubs. So.. you have to be a member of a stamp club that is a chapter of the APS. And good fortune is on me for this because the stamp club of my city is a chapter member of the APS. I have gotten the opportunity to do this and I like it! You get the physically see the stamps and the prices are pretty good.
8. Stamp Clubs - This is a great way to get your collection going in a few different ways. The other members can tell you about stores, and stamp shows, the club can order sales circuits and you can probably trade stamps with other members. A club is a terrific resource. Join one today!
9. Other ways - Flea markets, Yard sales, Craigslist, Pawn Shops etc. - Stamps and stamp collections will turn up in all kinds of places. Keep your eyes open for them.
10. Experience makes a big difference - Just like anything else it takes time to improve at buying stamps. When you go to shows you should talk to dealers. You can ask them about how they buy stamps. Do they have a rule of thumb? Some dealers have hard and fast rules. For example a dealer might only pay 1/4 of catalog value. Things like this.
My stamp club had a big expo with lots of dealers and lot f people coming in. We had an appraisal table. Throughout the day people brought their collections and our experts appraised their collections. I learned a lot by sitting along at that table.
One final note if you are a beginner looking to build up your stamp collection. Don't discount the power of buying collections or partial collections. This is often a great way to build your collection quickly and cheaply. This is how I quickly got my collection going.
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