Selling a Stamp Collection


Selling a stamp collection is a natural part of the stamp collecting process.  Whether the collection is one that you yourself have assembled, or one you’ve inherited, your goal is primarily this; you want to receive the most money you can for the collection, with the least amount of aggravation.  This is a reasonable goal, and can be accomplished.  To do so, you’ll have to answer these questions:

  • How best can I describe this collection?
  • How best can I value this collection?
  • What method of sale will work best for this collection?


Describing the Stamp Collection

It’s easier to sell something if you can describe it properly.  Look in the used car classified advertisements in your local newspaper, and you will see something like, “2018 Chevrolet Tracker, blue, 4WD, auto, a/c, 80,000 miles, runs great, interior excellent, exterior good.”  There, in a few words, you have a clear idea of what is being sold, and at least some idea of the item’s condition.  Stamp collections aren’t as easy to describe as automobiles, but the task is not as difficult as it might first appear. 

Does the collection consist of worldwide stamps, stamps of only one country, or stamps of a few countries, which can be specified?  Are the stamps primarily from one period – say, mostly pre-1940, mostly 1970-1990, or early to modern?  Are the stamps used, or mint, or both?  If mint, are the stamps primarily in the “never hinged” category, or are they lightly hinged, or heavily hinged? 

Are the stamps in an album and, if so, what is the name of the stamp album?  Are the stamps in several albums?  Stockbooks?  Loose in boxes?  All of the above?  Does the collection consist of only stamps, or are there covers as well?

What is the condition of the collection?  Are the stamps in excellent condition, or torn and dirty?  Has the collection suffered from being exposed to water or high humidity?  (See Caring for Stamp Collections .)


Valuing the Stamp Collection

French postage stampValuing a stamp collection is not an easy task, but I can offer some guidelines.  The first is that, except in the case of some rare and valuable stamps, “catalogue value” is not very meaningful.  It is rare to meet a stamp collector who is willing to pay “full catalogue” for more common stamps.

Also understand that the value of a collection is at least partially determined by forecasting what someone else will pay for it in the future, not by what someone did pay for it in the past.  It’s like the stock market; you buy a stock based upon how you think it will perform.  What someone paid for the stock five years ago is pretty much irrelevant.

Many stamps – most stamps, in fact – have little value.  This is a simple matter of supply and demand.  For a lot of stamps, there is too great a supply and too small a demand.  For that reason, a ten-volume collection of fairly common stamps may be much less valuable than a slim stockbook containing a few rarities.  Stamps of some countries may be in high demand, while stamps of other countries may generate little interest.  And yes, like any other matter of taste, this can change over time.

If you are quite sure that the collection is one of considerable value, consider having a formal appraisal done before selling.  Appraisals can be expensive, so the decision is really a judgment call on your part.


Methods of Sale

At this point, you might be thoroughly convinced that you have no idea of what your collection is worth, and that you should just take a chance listing it on eBay and see what happens.  In some cases, this is not a bad idea; in other cases, you may be doing yourself a disservice.  Let me explain.

Your basic choices for selling are these: sell directly to a collector, consign the collection to an auction house, sell on e-Bay, or sell directly to a stamp dealer.

At first blush, selling directly to a collector sounds attractive.  Why not cut out the middle-man?  In practice, this is rarely the way stamp collections are sold, because: 1) You need to find the collector; 2) the collector has to be able to value your collection properly, and; 3) collectors generally aren’t going to want to pay you any more for a collection than a dealer will; in some cases, collectors will want to pay less, because, for them, this is a personal expense, not a business expense.

Auction houses like to work with big, prestigious collections.  If this is what you’ve got, then find a respected auction house, and discuss the matter with them.  If your collection is a bit more mundane, then auction houses are a mixed bag.  They may or may not want to handle your collection.  Some collectors have gotten good results from consigning to auction houses, others have not.  At the very least, do your homework and make sure that you are dealing with a reputable firm.

I like eBay as a company, and I think buying and selling on eBay works well for some things, and for some people.  I sometimes place bids on eBay for stamps, and I also sell on eBay.  It has been a largely positive experience.  From personal observation, it appears that eBay is a good venue to sell certain sorts of stamp collections.  If your collection consists of a big box of loose, unidentified stamps, then eBay is probably a good choice.  Topical (thematic) collections – e.g., Disney themes, trains on stamps, etc. – also seem to do well on eBay, perhaps because they are bid upon by people who aren’t necessarily stamp collectors.  Collections of modern stamps might also be candidates for the eBay route.  The thing to bear in mind with eBay is that it works very much like a huge flea market, where how much you make depends upon who shows up that day.  Also bear in mind that folks shop on eBay because they are looking for bargains.

For potentially valuable stamp collections with older stamps, my advice is to consider direct sale to a stamp dealer.  You might think this the equivalent of hiring the fox to baby-sit the hen house, but the truth is that stamp dealers make their living from buying stamp collections, and most are anxious to preserve their good reputations.  Here’s a simple bit of advice that anyone can follow, and that no one would disagree with: make sure the stamp dealer is a member of the American Philatelic Society.  Virtually all reputable stamp dealers in the United States belong to this organization.  In order to remain a member, a dealer has to abide by the organization’s Code of Ethics. 

I hope that you have found this information useful, and wish you the best in all your philatelic pursuits.