Coney's Stamps

How much is my collection worth?

The short answer: "It depends..."

Index box

CollectionUsually, when people want to know how much their stamp collection is worth, it’s because they don’t know much about the collection, as in it was given to them or they don’t have the time and knowledge to figure this out on their own.

When a person asks that question, my immediate response is “it depends on what you have and why you are asking”. To break that down: "What you have" is obvious. What is in the collection and how well it's been maintained. The second part is a little more subjective: "Why you are asking" There are a few ways of measuring the value and the reason can change the method and outcome. Reasons can be that they want to sell it, insure it, donate it, and may want to give it away depending on the value.

They may also be asking to assess what kind of physical protection the collection needs. Do they want replacement cost or how much they could get for it? If they want to sell, another set of variables is how fast they want to move and how much time are they willing to put in.

Age is a matter of perception. Just because a stamp is old, or old to you does not mean that it is valuable. I actually had a co-worker who had been telling me about these “old stamps of his mothers”. I told him I’d let him know what they are worth if he brought them in. What he had was a brown letter sized envelope stuffed with used Scott’s # 1283 - no variants, nothing special. He was convinced they were worth something. In the nicest way possible, I told him what they were and showed him the issue in a two-year-old Scott’s specialized catalog.

Scott #1283

Just as it did then, Scott’s still rates this stamp at the catalog’s minimum value. He would not talk to me for a week. He seemed to think that a stamp from 1967, which was a couple years before he was even born was old and therefore had to be worth something. He even went so far as to suggest that I was using an old catalog to low ball the value… I had to remind him that I never offered to buy them nor would I have. It didn't make a difference. Every stamp collector or dealer that has been around for a while has experienced the same thing.

Before you get your hopes up:

Stamps don't automatically become more valuable as they get older. When looking at the valuable stamps and ordinary stamps; there is a little gray area in-between but that’s the truth of it. Generally speaking, high value stamps got there quickly and remain there; low value stamps never become anything more than that unless variants are identified. It's more about demand than age. Of course condition/grading is also very important. Clean, sharp, well centered stamps with no imperfections (such as thin spots, rips, short perfs, etc) will bring a better price. Counterfeits of valuable stamps also exist so accurate identification is also very important.

So just because you have a collection of what you perceive as ‘old stamps’ does not mean your collection is automatically valuable. There are many high-value or investment quality stamps out there. You may have some and then again you may not but age has less to do with it then might be imagined.

Per my example above age is also relative. A stamp from 1967 was OLD to my co-workers way of thinking but to a stamp collector that's not old at all.

Some collectors and dealers may disagree but to me, the following is a rough gauge:

  • Old stamps = ~Prior to 1912
  • Semi-old = ~1913-1938
  • Recent Issues~ (1939+) can be broken down into: / Mid-1900's = 1939-1979, / late 1900's = 1980-1999+ and / new = 2000+

Here’s a ‘rule of thumb’ or a trick to give you a first indication of what you might have. Sometimes a collections value can be evaluated quickly by looking at how the collection is presented and how it was cared for, or not. That is not to say there isn’t an inverted Jenny in that old shoe box. But chances are, if an old collector in the family had one it would have been protected. The more care that a collector put into displaying his (or her) collection, then the more likely that some of the stamps may be valuable.

Likewise, if your inheritance is an ordinary commercial album with lots of gaps or missing stamps, than chances are you probably don't have a valuable collection. Those gaps are usually where the expensive stamps live.

Now, let's look in some more detail at the valuation process:

Selling your collection as a single lot is probably to worst way to realize any value from it. So in this case the answer to their original question is "very little, and a lot less than you are hoping". Most stamps are worth very little, whether they are new or used. In some cases, you can buy 60-year-old mint US postage stamps for less than their face value! And used recent stamps are almost always worth even less than new ones.

The value of stamps in a collection when sold all at once is usually rock bottom. A nice album or display can add value under some circumstances but the average dealer is just looking at how he can split the collection up and resell it at a profit. The "catalog" value and the "street" value in this type of sale are very different. You may only realize 10-20% of the current catalog.

In general terms, a collection of 1000+ stamps can be expected to have a value somewhere between 2c-10c per stamp when sold in bulk. If the collection is composed of newer and used stamps, the bulk of which is less than 60 years old then you can expect a somewhere around 1c-4c each (or less).

Your best bet may be to sell such a collection on eBay. Describe it in as much detail as you can, show images of as many pages/stamps as possible. Explain that you know nothing about stamps, just inherited them and that it hasn't been "picked over". This method will take very little of your time, and may bring a better return. Good luck!

By breaking the collection down by country, a range of years or topics, your return will be a better price but this will require a bit more time. Selling the stamps this way, will enhance your chances of getting a decent price and not taking over your life.

This may increase the total cash that you get from selling the stamps, because it means that people can bid specifically on a group or the types of stamps they want or need rather than a large collection that they would have to pick through and sort. The potential bidder or buyer may feel that he can afford to bid on your “smaller” item rather than on large lot. In other words 10 packs would be more likely to sell at $50 each than the entire album would for $500 (just using round figure to illustrate the point)

By the same token, the ultimate way is to sell them set by set or year by year depending on the catalog value of each group, you may need to combine small and very low value sets together. Now apply my example used above but say you managed to break it into 80 sets at an average price of $8.50. Now you’ve made $680. (Again, I am using round figures for example only)

This can get you up to 25%-50% of the catalog value of the stamps, depending on the stamps and how well you display them. The time this takes much more time to accomplish. If you have plenty of time, than you’re not really out anything, but if you don’t than the time invested may not be worth the increased cash realized.

Lastly, depending on the actual items in the collection, return on some items may be best if sold separately. This takes the most time but it you have plenty of that and need to maximize your sales it may be worth the extra effort for any higher value stamps that you may have. For high value issues, individual sales will bring the best return from a percentage of catalog value perspective.

A note on selling: Keep your costs down. Many auction houses and sites have costs, including hidden fees and percentages. Know your costs going in.

Every dollar in costs, less money in your pocket when the day is done. If selling on-line keep associated costs in mind too such as PayPal fees (or whatever) and shipping fees. When possible shipping should be paid by the buyer, if not estimate shipping and figure that into your final sale price. Be wary of shipping overseas, in most cases there is no dependable package tracking and insurance may be impossible.

If you are thinking about insurance then its replacement cost that you are looking for and that is fairly easy. You can use any catalog as a basis to establish the value of the stamps, simply by adding up the catalog values of all the stamps you have. From first hand observation and experience, the current market value is never as high as catalog value, even though catalog value is “supposed” to be based on market price. I have never paid that much for any issue and I don’t think I ever will. So when you’re done calculating the total catalog value for your stamps you can bet that the actual cost would be 10-30% lower depending on your location and specific items in the collection.

Just a note on insurance: Homeowners insurance is worthless when it comes to a collection of a large size or value, and that is true for just about any collection of anything; coins, baseball cards, guns, or whatever. Seek out collector insurance. You can find it through Philatelic organizations such as the APS, by asking dealers that you buy from or by searching the internet for a reputable company.

No matter what your collections size or value, I always suggest a full inventory and photos or a video of the more expensive or high-end items. In this day of digital photography, it only cost you time and a little disk space to photograph everything. If you keep an inventory of your collection current, than it’s no problem. If I were to attempt to inventory my entire holdings now from scratch it would be a monumental task. The time required would be an investment too.

Don't forget to include the value of your collecting tools and supplies it’s easy to accumulate a small fortune in them too. This also brings me back to keeping logs; one for stamps or philatelic items, one for tools and one for supplies. At bare minimum keep the source (dealer) you got them from, condition/grade, price paid and date.

To sum things up: This is probably not what you hoped to hear but I hope it helps to put things into some perspective. The answer to the question “what is my stamp collection worth” is not easy nor is it black and white.

  • Age does not automatically = Higher Value
  • Worth = effort to some extent.
  • Speed and ease = lower value in other ways.

The chances of your collection containing a stamp worth thousands are less likely than that of winning the lottery. But, having said that, people do win the lottery and treasures do show up in the strangest places. Over all keep an open mind but go in knowing that the odds are against you.

Scott# 1053One part of the hobby I love is treasure hunting. I admit it, I'm a junk-box-junkie. While looking through junk boxes at stamp shows, yard sales, general auctions, etc. I have made some very nice finds over the years. Not as often as I'd like but they do happen occasionally. Even recently, I was at a show in Maryland and came across an album in a junk box that had a few nice items in it, it was marked $35.00 and after talking to the seller, we both looked it over and I bought it for $20.00. When going through it in detail a few weeks later, I realized that some pages that were stuck together. Carefully separating them only to find two pages loaded with 1053's (issued in: 1956) most were mint in singles and blocks. I missed them when looking through the album at the show and so did the person I bought them from. That find alone turned my $20.00 investment into over a $1,200.00 find (in catalog value at the time).

Oh, and if you ask someone how much a stamp worth, don’t get mad at him for telling you the truth. If he explains it and even shows you the catalogs than accept his input for what it’s worth. If he just tells you it’s worth nothing than offers you a couple bucks and makes an excuse why he can’t show you proof of what it is, thank him for the advice, tell him you were just wondering what it was and go someplace else and for a second opinion.