What are these stamps worth?

So, you have found or inherited a stamp collection, or maybe you bought them at an estate auction, and now you want to know how much they’re worth? Well I have some bad news for you: contrary to popular belief and almost every movie ever made, most stamps are sold for a couple of dollars per pound. A pound contains about three – to six thousand stamps. That is fantastic news if you’re looking to start a stamp collection, but not so good if you were hoping to pay off your mortgage by selling your windfall. Here’s a list of frequently asked questions:

  • Aren’t there any valuable stamps? Yes, there most certainly are valuable stamps, but they’re far and between, and the chance that you have some is very small. The majority of stamps can be bought for little money and they sell for even less.
  • How do I recognize valuable stamps? I’m afraid that becoming an expert is the only way to do that. The price of a collectible mass product like stamps is set by supply and demand, and you have to understand the stamps and the market.
  • How do I recognize stamps that are not valuable? The tell-tale sign of a cheap collection are disorganization: worn albums, boxes, envelopes, or folders to house the stamps. Also, if the collection was put together by a kid, or by someone that never spend any real money on their hobby, it’s probably not worth anything today. Large, colorful stamps from Eastern Europe, Russia, and Africa have all been made to extract money from collectors and, as a general rule, are pretty much worthless.

    This is not how grandpa would have housed his $100,000 stamp collection.

  • Don’t stamps get more valuable as they get older? No, they don’t. It’s true that many stamps issued during the first couple of decades after the invention of stamps (1840-1890) are difficult to find and expensive, but they’ve been sought after from the start. You can’t buy stamps at the post office today, hide them under your mattress for the next 50 years, and expect them to be worth anything (otherwise everyone would do just that).
  • Is there any correlation between age and price? In general, high-quality stamps issued before the second world war have a better chance of being worth something than those issued after the war. If you have a lot of stamps like that and they’re high-quality, it might make sense to see an expert of dealer to take a look at them.
  • What do you mean with high-quality stamps? This generally means: no cancellations or pen scribblings on the front, no brown spots (fungus or rust), no holes, tears, or thin spots in the paper, full original and undisturbed gum on the back (no paper hinges or traces thereof, no fingerprints), good centering of the picture relative to the sides of the stamp, presence of all little teeth on the sides (perforation), and no color fading of the ink.
  • How do I see if my stamps are high quality? If you don’t know what you’re doing, avoid handling stamps as much as possible. They’re just little pieces of paper, and it’s easy to damage them. The natural oils coming from your fingers for example, will promote fungus growth over time, and make any stamp worthless. If you suspect your stamps could be worth something, go to an expert.

    The first postage stamp, the penny black issued by Great Britain in 1840, can be bought for as litte as $20 today (for a low-quality copy). More than 68 million copies were printed at the time of which many survived. If it wasn’t so famous with many collectors wanting one, it would go for even less.

  • I saw this stamp on eBay listed for $600, I think have 16 of them just like that in my collection! No, you don’t, it’s highly unlikely. I hear this story all the time. There are many stamps that look alike to the untrained eye. Small details and stamp quality make all the difference in price.
  • I took my collection to the library to see the stamp catalogues. Like you said, my stamps aren’t worth that much, but I do have 5,200 stamps that catalogue for 25 cents each. Where can I collect my $1,300? Eh, you can’t because 25 cents is the minimum price set by the catalogue commission. This is not the price of the stamp, but the costs of a stamp dealer running a business, handling the stamp, and stocking it so that you can order it from him. That same stamp will be worth less than a cent if you buy it unsorted in an envelope from eBay.
  • I have found a genuine rare stamp that catalogs for $100, and it’s of great quality! Fantastic! Depending on which stamp it is, expect the market value to be anywhere between 15 and 40 dollars. Catalogs prices are set by dealers, and collectors expect to only pay a percentage of the catalog value. If you sell to a dealer, expect even less. They have to keep the lights on as well.
  • My stamps are from the second world war and have Hitler and swastikas on them! They’re almost guaranteed to be worthless. A ridiculous amount of these stamps were printed and sold all over the world. On the bright side, you can own an authentic piece of history for very little money. Isn’t that exciting?

    A typical page in a kids collection.

  • My stamps are GOLD PLATED! These are not real stamps, but “made-up” collectible items marketed to a broad audience by shady postbox companies in the 60s and 70s. They are not rare, they are not sought after, and they contain very, very little thin gold foil. Not even enough to make it worth your while to extract it.
  • Mine could be valuable, I just know it because gramps told me so. Valuable stamps come with receipts of purchase, certificates of authenticity, and are carefully housed in expensive albums. They usually do not come in cigar boxes, badly damaged paper books (kiddy albums), or envelopes.
  • I still don’t believe you and want a second, third, and fourth opinion. You’re welcome to create some images, upload them to imgur, and create a post on www.reddit.com/r/askStampCollectors asking for the value of your stamps.
  • How do I sell my stamps? If you’ve got time, and they have some value, put them on ebay. Otherwise, go to a dealer or a local stamp club.
  • What else can I do with my stamps? Come and join us, stamp collecting is a very rewarding hobby, and we’re all friendly people. If this is not for you, then give them to a kid, or donate them to a charity.

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