Chapter 08
Selling Material to a Local Stamp Dealer

Read this chapter if you are considering selling a collection or individual items to a local stamp dealer.

Note: the term "local stamp dealer" is used loosely. If you live in the country as I do, the nearest stamp dealer may be hundreds of miles away in a large city. By local stamp dealer, I am referring to a dealer who operates a retail business from a storefront.


8.1 General Issues

1. You should look for a dealer who is a member of the American Philatelic Society or the American Stamp Dealers Association. If looking in the yellow pages, these terms will usually be in a display ad. If not, do not hesitate to ask. Also do not hesitate to go on to another dealer if the first one is not affiliated with APS or ASDA. See chapter 4 for how to obtain dealers’ names directly from ASDA and APS.

2. There are fewer local stamp stores today than in years past. You may have to travel to the nearest big city to find one.

3. Be careful in utilizing stores such as “Joe’s Baseball Card, Comic Book, Gun, Coin and Stamp Emporium.” Joe may well be an expert on stamps. But he may not be. Stores that handle all kinds of different collectibles may not be able to offer you enough expertise to handle your stamps.

4. Find out how long the store has been in business. Check references and the Better Business Bureau if you can.

5. The advantage in dealing with a stamp dealer is speed. You may be able to walk in with a box of philatelic material and walk out a few minutes later with some cash. Most sales to a dealer are handled with a cash or check payment on the spot.

6. It is to your advantage to have some idea of the value of your collection before visiting a dealer. If you don’t have the time nor the inclination to do this, you might want to at least contact several dealers.



8.2 The Stereotypical Local Stamp Dealer

Stereotypes are dangerous. Some may not agree with what I am going to say. Some may feel that this is not the “norm” at all. I have not interviewed thousands of dealers, so I can’t say for sure how typical this is. However, I do meet this kind of dealer from time to time and include this section to let you know they exist.

Many local stamp dealers are family and/or informal operations. They have been in business for 30 years or more, and they love stamps. They probably collect stamps themselves. They have a small store where they have always been.

Over the years, their clients have gotten older. They don’t see a lot of young kids coming into the store to buy stamps. Their rent, taxes and utilities keep going up. They are not rich, and they never will be. Crime is becoming a problem. They had to have a burglar alarm installed, and they put bars on the windows. Maybe the door is locked, and you have to push a button to be admitted.

They have also noted that their customers are getting more picky. The customers now want MNH stamps, perfectly centered, finger-print free. The customers also do not want to pay full price. After all, nobody pays retail anymore.

There are also more and more stamps to deal with. The Scott catalog lists over 400,000 different stamps. And about 8,000 new ones are being added every year. Governments of the world are flooding the stamp market trying to extract every dollar they can from collectors around the world.

People occasionally wander in wanting to sell granddad’s stamp collection. These people assume they will be able to pay off their house mortgage. Too often, they have to be told those 3-cent stamps from the 1940s are worth less than face value. The dealer sees the disappointment on the faces of the sellers. The sellers may think the shopowners are dishonest. If the person has selected a dealer properly, chances are the dealer is being perfectly honest. The problem is simply that the seller’s perceived value of the material may not be close to a realistic value.

Many people will tell you that the stamp-collecting hobby is in great shape today. There are more collectors than ever. This may be true on a world-wide basis. (Many Chinese are taking up stamp collecting, and there are a lot of Chinese. I read recently that the reason the prices of Chinese stamps have doubled recently is that dealers are exporting the stamps back to China, and the Chinese are willingly paying 200% SCV.) Stamp collecting is on the decline in the USA among children/youth. It is still quite healthy among adults, but many of the collecting patterns are changing.

Anyway, consider these facts when you go into a stamp dealer’s shop. It may help you make some sense out of what you might see.



8.3 Reasons to go to a stamp dealer

For the purposes of this book, there are three reasons to go to a stamp dealer:

1. To get an appraisal.
2. To sell an entire collection.
3. To sell only certain items.

If you are going to get an appraisal or sell the entire collection, you should see chapter 18 before continuing.



8.4 Selling certain items

If you enter the stamp dealership with the intention of selling certain items, here are a few general tips:

1. Expect to be paid in cash or with a check.

2. If you are willing to accept sheets of “common” stamps, you can sometimes get a little more in face value than you would in cash. (See chapter 14 for a discussion of what to do with these stamps.)

3. Expect to be asked for identification and to see the details recorded in the store’s log book. Some local police departments ask stamp stores to record information on each seller. Stolen stamps, after all, will probably be taken to a stamp store for quick sale.

4. When you visit the first time, take some items that you have a reasonable guess as to their value. For example, if you know you have a sheet of “premium” USA stamps, try selling that first. (How to determine if you have a sheet of premium stamps is discussed in chapter 14.)

5. Don’t be surprised if you are asked, “How much do you want for that?” This is a common question posed by many dealers. Some will give the first offer, but more and more want you to do it. If you have something you know has a $10 SCV, try $3.50 as an answer, just to see what happens. Chances are the next statement will be, “Will you accept $2.00?” in which case you say, “How about $2.50?” If you have ever been to a flea market (especially overseas), you get the idea.

6. Don’t be surprised if the dealer does not want what you have. He/she may really not need any more of that item. Most dealers, however, will buy at some price as they can always sell what they buy to another dealer who may need it. (Dealers keep track of these things.) There are even wholesalers, dealers behind the scenes who do nothing but buy from and sell to retail dealers. Some dealers may not want to buy the material at all, but they may refer you to another dealer they think might be interested.

7. Some dealers may come right out and give you an offer and not want to bargain at all. That’s fine. You are dealing with a person, and each person operates in different ways.

8. After you have left (either with some money or with your original stamps), form an opinion of what happened. Was the dealer nice? Did he/she come up with a reasonable offer? Were you satisfied that the information and advice given were honest and accurate? Was the offer in line with some of the guidelines discussed in chapter 5? Do you think the dealer can be trusted with a whole collection? What was your “gut feeling?”



8.5 Other options

One of the options you have is to leave things with a dealer on a consignment basis. The dealer will pay you for the item (less a commission) after the item is sold. Again, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships, trust, years in business, etc. You have to evaluate the individual situation. If you do leave items, make sure they are covered by the dealer’s insurance policy and obtain a receipt specifying each stamp or set and the dealer’s terms: percent of commission, method of sale (auction versus retail) and date of return of unsold lots.



8.6 What a dealer wants to see

Dealers have clients who want certain kinds of philatelic items. These clients can be individuals or other dealers. (It’s not uncommon for a dealer to buy a collection, add 10% to the price, and sell it to a second dealer.) The dealer knows what his/her clients want. That’s what he/she wants to buy. The problem is that you don’t know. So ask!

Most dealers will be happy to buy MNH USA stamps. They’ll buy common ones at 80% of face value. The older, rarer ones they’ll buy at about 25% of SCV. Most dealers usually want strong countries (Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Great Britain, France, Germany, etc.) Figure selling at about 25% SCV. Some dealers will pay a little more, and some will pay a little less.

Dealers do not want common African, Central American, Latin American, Middle Eastern and Eastern European stamps as these stamps are very difficult to retail.

Dealers do not want MH USA stamps after 1940. Most dealers do not want used USA stamps after 1940.

If you are looking for a ball-park figure, here is about what you can expect to sell stamps for: “good” stamps, 25% SCV; other stamps, 1/4 of a cent per stamp.


Be aware that summer is the slow season for stamp dealers. Stamp collecting is an indoor hobby, and many of the customers are outdoors during the summer. Many dealers try to lower their inventory in late spring, then rebuild it in time for Christmas.


Most dealers and firms who are members of APS and/or ASDA live by a very strict code of ethics and are not out to rip you off.

However, if you walk into any dealer with a mess, you can expect:

1. The dealer to take a quick look through it to see if he/she can quickly find any valuable groups of material (e.g., a pile of MNH sheets). If so, you can normally get a fair price for these as described above.

2. A relatively low offer for the rest of the material. The offer may be low in your estimation, but it is probably a fair offer based on the condition of what you brought in.

3. If there are “hidden” valuable items in the box, expect to get nothing in particular for them. The dealer does not have time to open every envelope and inspect every stamp in the box. If you want that done, you need to pay for that service. If you sell a “bulk” lot, it will sell for bulk prices.

Once again, only you can decide if you have the time to try to organize some or all of the material. It may, of course, be a total waste of effort if all the material is common. Then again, it may not be. Hopefully, by looking through some of the previous chapters, you will have a guess as to which way to go.

Because of time constraints or other reasons, you may be forced to sell material this way. If you do, keep these four things in mind:

1. APS and/or ASDA stamp dealers are normally very reputable.

2. It is not very likely that there would have been an Inverted Jenny in that box of 10,000 loose stamps you sold for $25. The chances of finding a stamp like that in a box of loose stamps is approximately the same as your chances of winning the lottery.

3. If you got $25 at one dealer, you probably would have gotten about the same at another dealer.

4. That $25 is $25 more than you had before!