Chapter 4: Finding out What Your Stamps Are Worth

When you’re wondering how to sell your stamp collection, you’re probably also curious about how much your stamps are worth. Learn how stamps are priced, and then find out about getting an appraisal for your collection.

Determinants of Price

The price of a stamp is determined by several factors:

  • Rarity: How common is the stamp? Were many issued originally? How many are available now?

  • Condition: Does the stamp look like it just came from the post office? If so, it’s in “superb” condition. Stamps that are torn, wrinkled, dirty or otherwise damaged lose value. However, for some collectors, worn stamps are interesting because they are evidence of postal history.

    Has the stamp been used on an envelope? Although you may be able to soak it off, it’s better to leave the stamp in place. The envelope — or “cover” — may contain historical information that some collectors find important, such as date, writer and recipient names, as well as geographical origin, destination and journey through which it traveled.

    A letter that’s been mailed will have a cancellation, or postmark, on the stamp. The ink should not block the stamp’s design. However, some unusual cancellations — such as pre-machine hand stamped marks — add value to a stamp. Stamps that have been “socked on the nose” are sought after. This feature — SON — refers to a cancellation that centers on the stamp. The value arises from its rarity.

    Other criteria that affect condition are color soundness, centering, gum, perforation and margins. Stamps are worth more if their colors have not faded due to sunlight, indoor lighting, dirt, pollution and human contact. The value is higher if a stamp’s design is centered inside its perforations.

    A hinge is a small, gummed paper rectangle that attaches the back-side of a stamp to an album page. Hinges sometimes leave marks on the back and can reduce a stamp’s value. Ideally, the stamp’s own gum should be as pristine as possible. Also, complete perforations around a stamp’s four edges are preferred. Margins that may contain printing plate numbers or other inscriptions are found with blocks of stamps.

  • Purchaser: Stamp storeowners, show dealers, individual collectors and sellers through auctions and mail sales often earn different amounts. Professionals who plan to resell stamps buy at prices that let them make profits.

  • Original purchase prices: If a knowledgeable collector spent a lot of money buying stamps, they probably have significant value.

    Age: Modern stamps have very limited value, usually just a small percentage of face value.

    Face value: Stamps with higher face value typically add to a collection’s value — of course, higher original price would add to the value.

    Number: Blocks, pairs or sheets of stamps can be worth more than single stamps. Never separate connected stamps.

    Storage: Store stamps in a cool, dry, dark area so they stay in peak condition. Heat, light and moisture cause damage. Stamps should be stored upright and never stacked, which causes them to stick together. If you have stamps that are attached, don’t try to peel them apart yourself. Seek expert assistance, or you can make matters worse.

Although some stamps have great innate value, collectors who take action to preserve their stamps retain — or increase — their value.

How Do I Find out What My Stamps Are Worth?

The more familiar you are with the hobby, the better you will be at estimating how much your stamps are worth.

If you’re a collector, you probably already have a sense of market value. You have an idea of which stamps — and which countries’ stamps — are most valuable. Keep an up-to-date inventory of your stamps to monitor market changes. That information serves as a guide to your collection’s value.

When you inherit a collection, you might also receive information that provides clues about the stamps’ worth. Consider these questions:

  • Does the will contain details about value?
  • Does the collection come with an insurance policy?
  • Are there invoices, bills of sale or canceled checks from dealers or auction houses? A significant amount spent on a collection often suggests a high value.
  • Did the collector keep an inventory? If so, are there indications of catalogue numbers? These can be used to look up values.

Whether you’re a collector or inheritor, you’re probably going to want to get an idea of your collection’s worth before you decide to sell. Start with Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogues, which are benchmark sources in the United States. The information is revised yearly. Each stamp has two list prices: one for used and one for mint or unused condition. Most libraries have copies of the catalogues.

It’s important to realize that the list prices are not usually what you’ll receive for your stamps. Condition is the primary factor and value is generally a percentage of the Scott Catalogue value.

Where and How to Get a Stamp Appraisal

Get an estimate of what your stamps are worth before selling them by seeking an appraisal. An appraiser can take different approaches when valuing a collection. For example, you can discover your stamps’:

  • Catalogue value
  • Replacement value (through insurance)
  • Potential auction price
  • Retail price if sold in a store
  • Wholesale value if purchased by a dealer

Appraisers typically focus on important stamps and may spend little or no time on common stamps in your collection.

Find a reputable dealer/appraiser through the American Stamp Dealers Association, National Stamp Dealers Association or the American Philatelic Society. Each group’s code of conduct requires members to provide honest, updated appraisals. You can also locate an expert based on dealer recommendations.

The cost of an appraisal generally falls between $50 and $100 per hour when appraising for insurance value — if not for a written insurance appraisal, Apfelbaum, Inc.’s appraisals are always free.

Appraisals take different forms:

    • Make an appointment, and bring your stamps personally to the appraiser.
    • Send your stamps through the mail to an appraiser.
    • Use an appraiser from an auction house for high-end collections.

Factors to Consider in Selling a Collection

When determining the best time or method for selling your stamp collection, keep these elements in mind:

  • The value of stamps fluctuates depending upon market conditions. You’ll get the best price when the market is strong and there’s demand for your stamps. This may mean delaying for a few years, but the wait could significantly increase profits.
  • Stamps require specific environmental conditions to retain their worth. If you decide to hold onto your collection until the market improves, be sure to maintain those standards. There’s no point in holding onto stamps if you let them devalue.
  • If your collection is incomplete, adding certain stamps could round it out and enhance its value. Consider this step when a collection features stamps from a specific country or historical era.
  • Stamp collections are typically categorized by value:
    • High (worth more than $3,000): Auction houses typically accept only high value collections.
    • Medium (worth $1,000-$3,000)
    • Low (worth up to $1,000)

Once you develop an accurate estimate of your collection’s value, you’ll be better able to reach potential buyers. There’s nothing wrong with shopping your stamps around, looking for the highest price. Even if you receive an offer, you don’t have to sell. A sales attempt may turn out to be a way to gather information for the future.

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