What to do when you inherit a collection of stamps?

Stamp collections are best in books
Stamp collections are best in books

Updated August 01st, 2018

About a year ago, my husband inherited a giant collection of stamps. For those of you, like us, that are new to stamp collecting and philately, you'll find that it's overwhelming. You can consult catalogs, like the Scott Standard Postage Stamp catalog, which is the bible for categorizing your collection of stamps.

But if only I knew then what I know now, I'd know that this is the least effective way to evaluate the collection of stamps. The catalog value is often a generous take on what you might get for the stamps. We definitely thought we had a fortune's worth of stamps!

I found it really interesting to try to work out which of the stamps were worth anything and really got into my research zone. In the end, we didn't decide to sell the full collection of stamps because, for the amount of time and effort that we were putting into it, it didn't seem totally worth it.

Also, there was the sentimental side of wanting to make sure that we respected my husband's relative. The nicest thing about the collection of stamps was seeing the time and effort that they had put into lovingly collecting these stamps over the years. It's impossible not to respect that!

Why a collection of stamps might not be as valuable as you first thought
collection of stamps

I'll say it again, although I don't mean to depress you: a collection of stamps might not be as valuable as you first thought, particularly if you're new to research. That's because when it comes to stamp collecting, the prices in catalogs show what a dealer would be likely to charge you if you wanted to buy that stamp.

This means it's a selling price, not a buying price, and it'd be totally unlikely to apply to a full collection of stamps.

When it comes to stamps that have a higher catalog value, a dealer's offering price will be closer to the catalog value, simply because their catalog value is due more to their rarity than for recouping the dealer's overhead.

So when we thought that we had a collection of stamps that was full of rare and valuable stamps, the truth is that not all of them were like that! Still, extremely rare stamps in great condition can and do yield a premium value over the catalog value.

Another thing that works someone trying to sell a stamp collection is that stamp collecting as a hobby just isn't as popular as it used to be. It'll be really interesting to see how, as letters become more special again thanks to email and all of that, if a collection of stamps becomes more valuable but right now the market is over-saturated with stamp sellers and under-saturated with stamp buyers.

Some ideas that we then took into consideration meant that with our own collection of stamps, we split it up into a few different routes.

Start stamp collecting yourself

My husband decided that he'd keep the stamps that looked most interesting and perhaps start his own collection of stamps. While stamp collecting isn't something that I've ever been interested in, he thought he'd like to give it a go.

It helps to have a collection you already think is interesting, and it was something that had a sentimental value and connected him to his family. There's plenty of sites on the internet to help the budding philatelist!

Do your Research about stamp collecting

Like with just about everything in life, the biggest thing to be aware of when trying to sell a collection of stamps is knowing that you've done your research enough to know what to expect.

I'd try to get quotes from at least two sources before picking a seller since you might just happen upon one of the few unscrupulous dealers in the business.

If you think the collection of stamps has one or more rare stamps. For instance, one that catalog over $250 or so, you can send them off to be expertized. Expertizing is the process in which a philatelic expert will evaluate the stamp by determining if it is a genuine stamp.

There are many forgeries in the history of stamp collecting, so this is an important step. Some services will also grade the stamp by evaluating key aspects of the stamp: is it centered on the paper, is the paper in good condition, are the colors bold, etc. Most will not give an estimate of its value, just its condition and whether it is a forgery or not.

There are sometimes substantial fees for this process so you would have to determine which stamps you can afford to have expertized and graded. Typically, it is only justified for higher-valued stamps. But once you are armed with a grade and condition of a stamp, it would be a simple matter to e-mail some dealers, see if they are interested, and try to sell the entire collection to them.

Stamp Auction Sites
stamp auction

Sell the collection of stamps on a stamp auction site, or even look on eBay. It might be a good thing for you to do, or it might be something that you can consign someone to do for you. However, non-collectors have to be careful in this venue. Having a poor description or an improperly labeled stamp will just result in missed opportunities, frustrated buyers, and a generally negative experience.

Charitable donations

Consider donating them to a charity. We found that in the back of the stamp magazines we bought for research that there were a few ads from recognized charities that request donations of stamps.

Be sure to check with a tax consultant as to tax implications of such a donation. Some donations are tax-deductible, some are not, and some may trigger additional taxes; it all depends on your individual tax situation.

Whatever you decide to do, take your time to make the right choice for you and your individual collection of stamps. You might find, like my husband, that you've found your brand new hobby!

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