DOES THIS HELP?
I get enquiries from people who have inherited or been gifted some stamps and want to know how to get them valued or the best way to sell them. These notes are intended to help people wanting answers to these questions. You will also find at the end of these notes some other websites to visit which may also be of help.
DON'T EXPECT STAMPS TO BE VALUABLE!
For people who know nothing about stamps and have inherited a collection - a word of caution. Don't expect the collection to be worth a great deal. Take a look and pay particular attention to the condition of the stamps - are they damaged? Damaged stamps which are torn, or have been torn off the envelope making them thin in places have little or no value. Look at the face values of the stamps. If there are high valued stamps (in old money ten shillings or more and in decimal values one pound or over) they are more likely to have a reasonable value. Who formed the collection? Many collections are formed by children in printed albums with a page for each country, and put away in a cupboard for years. They will seldom have a value of more than a few pounds. If the stamps are neatly mounted in an album they are probably the collection of an experienced stamp collector and more likely to be of value (though not necessarily) and to be saleable.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The value of any collection is determined by the condition, rarity and marketability of the material. I've given some pointers above on the condition, but look to see if the stamps are nicely centred within the perforations (or in the case of older stamps with no perforations have good margins all round the stamp design). Are they cancelled with a light circular postmark? Heavily cancelled stamps, or stamps cancelled with wavy lines are considered by collectors to be inferior copies. Cancelled stamps which still have full gum are Cancelled to Order and avoided by many collectors, and so of less value. Unused stamps which have been mounted with stamp hinges will have some slight disturbance to the gum which some collectors consider reduces their value compared with a pristine stamp that has never been hinged. If the collection has mint-unmounted stamps shown in small protective pockets it is a good sign - the stamps have been displayed in the album to preserve their value.
The market in stamps is sometimes difficult to fathom. But the best prices will always be obtained for the most popular countries collected. Thus a collection of Great Britain is more likely to find a ready buyer than one of an obscure and little known country such as Andorra or Liechtenstein. Other popular countries are Commonwealth countries, notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If a collection has a good showing of a popular country it is more likely to sell. Some foreign countries are also popular such as France, United States and the Scandinavian countries.
Countries which are unpopular are those that have 'blotted their copy book' as far as collectors are concerned (see Note 1 below). A number of countries have sold their stamps as a means of revenue, producing vast numbers of colourful issues sold through an 'Agency'. These stamps never saw the country where they were supposed to have been on sale. Other countries issue long sets of stamps with one value printed in a small quantity making it sought after by collectors. The scarce stamp is then sold to dealers by the postal authority at a large premeium over its face value, giving them a nice profit over the cost of printing the stamps.
I hope this gives you some idea about the problem of setting a value on a stamp collection, and why the best way to discover its value is by testing the market by offering it to a few dealers for their best offer ... but never take the first offer; it may be the best, but the chances are there is a better offer down the line.
GETTING STAMPS VALUED
The first thing to decide is why you want a valuation. Is it for the purpose of insuring the stamps or is it for the purpose of sale? The value will be different for each. This is because generally speaking it costs more to buy a stamp than the price you will get for it if you sell it. Thus a valuation for insurance will be greater than a valuation for sale.
Valuations for insurance need to be provided by an experienced stamp valuer, for which a fee is normally charged. Many stamp auctioneers will provide a valuation for insurance and charge a fee. If you wish to sell the stamps they will value them free of charge provided you sell the stamps through their auction or private treaty department (this is a method of selling the stamps by offering them at a fixed price instead of by auction).
You can find advertisements by stamp auctioneers and dealers offering to buy stamps in the three main stamp magazines available at W H Smith and some other booksellers:
Gibbons Stamp Monthly
Stamp & Coin Mart
The golden rule is to never accept the first offer - the second offer may be more. Besides selling through auction (for which the auctioneer will usually not want to waste his time with low value collections of stamps), you can sell to a stamp dealer or to a collector. There are regular stamp fairs held in most large towns with a number of dealers having stands to sell and buy stamps. You will find these listed in the magazines above, (or for fairs in the Yorkshire area go to our Diary of Events page) and can take your stamps along and see what the dealers will offer for them. The advantage of this is that you get instant cash whereas if you sell through auction you may have to wait several weeks with no guarantee that your stamps will sell. There is also a commission to pay to the auctioneer.
If you look in the stamp magazines for a dealer or auctioneer to approach to sell your stamps, look for the trade organisation logo 'PTS' (for Philatelic Traders Society). This ensures that the dealer or auctioneer is subject to the Code of Practice laid down by the PTS and that you will have redress should anything go wrong with the transaction. There are, of course, many dealers who do not belong to the PTS who are honest and reliable.
Selling direct to a collector will normally give you the best price - provided you know what to ask for them. You can sell stamps over the internet on eBay, or advertise the collection for sale in your local paper. If there is a local stamp club in your area, contact them to see if they have a member who might be interested in buying the collection. Or they may run a club auction where they can sell the collection for you. But of course there will not be as many potential buyers at a local club auction than at a professionally run auction and the price obtained will reflect that.
Finally, if you discover the stamps are of little value don't consign them to the waste bin. Most charities are glad of donations of stamps. So, why not help out your favourite charity?
A stamp auctioneer offering a free valuation service based in Northleach, Gloucestershire, gives valuations on scans or photocopies of what you believe are the most valuable stamps in a collection. See details on their website: Universal Philatelic Auctions
Inheriting a Stamp Collection by Michael Generali (written primarily for an American audiance but with some general points worth considering).
What to do when you inherit stamps by Bob Ingraham (another American article with some useful pointers).
Note 1. The standard catalogue used in Great Britain is published by Stanley Gibbons. Included is the following explanation for the ommission of certain issues from their listings which will give an insight into the dangers which somebody with no knowledge of stamps may experience in trying to assess their value:
An example is the unrecognized stamps issued for the Cayes of Belize in 1984 and 1985. These are a chain of several hundred islands, coral atolls, reefs and sandbanks stretching along the eastern seaboard of Belize, an area largely uninhabitaed and with no regular postal services. These stamps served no postal use and were produced purely to sell to collectors.