Determining Identity - Establishing Value - Methods of Sale

Things You Need To Find Out …before selling a stamp collection

Did the collector spend substantial sums on the collection?

Ask yourself the following questions to help determine the value of the collection to be sold. They are the same questions that a dealer asks himself before making any determination about the potential value of your collection

If the answer is yes, did the owner buy single items, packets, lots or collections?

Can you determine how much money he/she spent or how regularly the owner bought? Can you find any bills of sale, invoices or canceled checks from dealers or auction firms? Is there an insurance policy or a will with instructions?

These figures may be helpful, but one cannot depend on any of them. A collection which is made up on many low priced items is not worth as much for resale as a smaller collection with a few high priced quality items. The value of stamps, like the value of anything else, is what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller. This is never a fixed figure. The market fluctuates in varying degree and at unpredictable rates.

How is the collection stored?

Is it in albums, mounted on album sheets or stock cards, or is it loose in show boxes or cartons? Does it list the catalog value or original purchase price next to each item? Stamps should be stored with care in a dry place away from extreme temperatures, preferably in a bank vault or safe. See that the collection is handled as little as possible.

What is the condition?

Are the stamps mint or used? Are they attached to an envelope? If they are, leave them attached!

Mint (not canceled) stamps are those which have not been postmarked. Postally used stamps have gone through the mail and bear a cancellation mark. Envelopes (or covers as they are called in philately) can have value as postal history in addition to the value of the stamp(s) attached to them. Historical value considers the writer or recipient, the place of origin or destination, the date the cover was mailed. They can also bear a design (cachet) or be a “First Day Cover” – one which is issued to coincide with the first-day-of-issue of a specific stamp, and carries that stamp on it.

Are the stamps singles, pairs, blocks or sheets or are they a complete unit (set) as issued – a series starting with a low value, with each following a stamp increasing in value to a final high (i.e., 1 cent, 5 cents, 8 cents…25 cents…$5)? If they are larger multiples, do not detach or separate them, as stamps often have greater value as multiples.

The importance of condition cannot be emphasized. The tiniest tear, the most minute thin spot, the faintest crease, or the smallest stain can reduce a stamp to a fraction of the value it would have in perfect condition.

What determines the value of a stamp collection?

Catalog Value Versus Market Value Prices listed in a stamp catalog are revised yearly. A given stamp may be bought or sold above or below catalog prices, depending upon the condition of that particular stamp. Condition refers to freshness, color soundness, centering, gum perforation, and margins.

When selling stamps you must remember that a stamp dealer is in business and must buy at a price that allows him or her to make a fair profit when the stamps are sold.

Obtain a Professional Appraisal

A professional appraisal by a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association is recommended. ASDA members adhere to a strict Code of Conduct. They are responsible for reviewing your philatelic material and placing a fair value on the stamps, with regard to the quality and the current market price. Appraisal fees vary, depending on the appraiser and on the size of the collection. However, it is the practice of most dealers and auctioneers to waive the appraisal fee if the collection is subsequently sold to them or consigned to their auction.

An appraisal can be prepared based on several approaches:

1.Catalog Value

2. Insurance (replacement value)

Potential auction realization

4. Retail (over-the-counter) value

5. Wholesale value (what the dealer will pay on that day)

Make your own Inventory (Recommended only for those with stamp knowledge)

If you have some knowledge and experience in stamp collecting, you have an edge when selling a stamp collection. Start by preparing an inventory or list of your stamps. The most common method of preparing a collection for sale is by marking in pencil the catalog value (keeping in mind that the catalog value is a guide and may not represent the true market value) of each stamp or row of stamps in the margin of the album page, according to one of the current stamp catalogs. (If you can’t buy one most libraries have one available in their reference section). It is important to note that many U.S. and worldwide stamps feature the same design, and can be incorrectly identified unless the collector is familiar with perforation varieties, watermarks, or color shades.

Methods of sale

There are several methods of sale to be considered. The appropriate method depends on the nature of collection, the value of the material, the preference of the person selling the collection and sometimes the geographical location of the sale.

Direct Sale to a Dealer

Selling to a dealer has two advantages. The seller receives an agreed amount of money immediately and there is no fee.

Consignment to a Dealer

The seller can place the stamps with a dealer on consignment. The seller should ask for an itemized receipt, a minimum price should be set, and payout terms should be arranged before the collection is consigned. If possible, the seller should have photographs of any expensive stamps in the collection, and these should be made part of the receipt. A time limit, in writing, should be placed on the sale and on the payout.

Consignment to an Auction House

Auction offers the greatest potential for the highest sale price. The customary fee to the auction house is a percentage of the sale price. There may be a wait of a few months, between the time of consignment and the date of the next auction. On a consignment of sufficient value, most auction houses will, at the time of consignment, give a cash advance against the estimated sale price.

Outright Sale to an Auction House

This is the same as an outright sale to a dealer.

Placement in a Mail Sale

Consignment to a mail sale can be a way to dispose of a large number of items with a smaller selling price. Fees vary and the seller should inquire about all charges.

Private Treaty

Retail dealers and auction houses often act as agents to offer collections in their entirety for sale privately. Commission fees vary.

Sell at a Stamp Show

Take the collection to a local regional stamp show. There you can show it to several potential buyers at one time and obtain the highest price offered.

Where Should It Be Sold?

When the decision has been made as to the appropriate method of sale for the collection, the seller needs to have assurance of the sound reputation and financial responsibility if any dealer or auction house. The seller should ask for references, and should contact the American Stamp Dealers Association to ask whether the dealer is a member in good standing. Most members display the ASDA sign of membership in ads. All ASDA members take an oath to conduct business under a strict Code of Conduct.

Other Options

You might consider keeping the stamp collection. Throughout the years stamps have increased in value. You could try to add to the collection and enjoy the hobby. It is one which can be shared with children and grandchildren. You can also visit a local stamp club and make friends while you learn about stamp collecting and get to know your local ASDA stamp dealers.

Timing the sale of stamps

Probably the most overlooked aspect of selling one’s collection in timing whether or not the market is strong or weak. When the market is good, a collection will bring a higher price. When money is tight, it may be beneficial to wait to sell. Remember, the more knowledge the potential seller has, the more he/she can expect to receive for his/her collection or accumulation!

How to store your stamps… …until you decide to dispose of them

The condition of your stamp collection affects the final sale price because buyers all seek stamps in sound condition. Postage stamps do not bring top prices if they are torn, creased, mildewed, stuck together, pasted down or damaged by moisture. Therefore, during the time that you are determining the value of your collection, you should take the following precautions.


Keep your stamp collection at dry, moderate room temperature. Avoid attics or basements, since temperatures are both hot and cold, or dampness damages stamps. When storing stamp albums, place them in an upright position. Do not stack them one on top of another since the weight of other books will tend to make stamps stick.


If any of the stamps are stuck together, do not attempt to separate them because you may do damage in the process. Leave them stuck together until a professional stamp dealer can look at them and determine whether they can be separated safely. Do no remove any stamps that have been postally used on envelopes. If the stamps themselves have a value, they can have an even greater value when left on an envelope. Leave the stamps in multiples, whether cancelled or unused, intact, since they are sometimes more valuable as blocks or sheets that as singles.

In Short

Selling your stamp collection is like any other business decision; consider all of your options, always get multiple opinions, plan carefully and be sure to do business with stamp dealers that display the ASDA logo.