Dealing With A Stamp Collection

“What’s It Worth” Antique Minute

September 16, 2022

When someone mentions stamps at my “What’s It Worth” appraisal program, I often joke with them by saying I can show them the “Fountain of Youth” and make them feel young again. All they have to do is attend a stamp auction with me (I’m 70), and we’ll be the youngest ones in the room. I’m exaggerating (slightly), but unfortunately few in today’s younger generation are interested in collecting stamps. That doesn’t mean that all stamps are valueless, however.
Philately is the collecting of stamps, and Philatilists are “stamp collectors.” Back in the early 20th century, prior to television, computers, video games, and cell phones, many boys and girls in America were philatelists at some point in their life. Therefore, just because your stamps are 100 years old doesn’t automatically make them valuable. Value will usually depend on factors other than age.
Stamp collections will usually consist of items such as postage stamps, blocks and plate blocks, sheets, coils, booklets, postal cards, first day covers, stock books, commemoratives, non-United States Postal Service-issued limited editions, among others. Stamps can be classified as U.S. vs. foreign, used (cancelled) vs. un-used (non-cancelled, and will fall into the good-better-best categories based on rarity, condition, and desirability).
Here are a few thoughts on dealing with a personal or inherited stamp collection:
• A stamp collection consists of postal items that have been nicely organized and arranged, usually in stamp albums.
• A quantity of stamps thrown into a box or container in a disorganized manner is not a collection but rather an accumulation. Collections will almost always sell better than accumulations, yet I see far more accumulations than collections.
• The best and rarest stamps, in the best condition, such as some early 19th century issues and Zeppelin Air Mail stamps, will still command premium prices from serious collectors. Your job is to identify those valuable stamps yourself or sell them through a reliable individual or company who can identify and sell them for you.
• You can try to sell them to a stamp collector or dealer who will pay you a fair price for what you have.
• You should understand, however, that most stamps have little or no financial value, and they won’t put much money in your pocket. Remember those ads from 1950s comic books offering 1001 stamps for one dime?
• Stamps that are un-used (non-cancelled) can still be used for valid postage today, regardless of age. However, I’d much rather put two 29 cent stamps on a 1st class envelope rather than 19 three-cent stamps to cover today’s 55-cent postage rate. Hence, you can still use most stamps for postage today, and you may never have to purchase postage again.
• If you don’t want to use them, un-used stamps can usually be sold as “discount postage” for some fraction of face value.
• Evaluating condition based upon factors such as color, centering, original gum, partial gum, hinge marks, perfs, watermarks, faults, and other variables is often best left to the experts.
• You can generally obtain more for your stamp collection by selling through a specialty stamp auction, on eBay, or directly to stamp collectors and dealers, rather than at a general auction that has few knowledgeable stamp buyers in attendance.
• Your chances of finding an extremely valuable stamp like the “Inverted Jenny” that sold for nearly $1,600,000 in 2018 are probably less likely than you winning the lottery.
• Moisture can be a stamp collection’s worst enemy.

What’s it worth? Occasionally I see a major stamp collection that has some significant value, and those I usually recommend be sold at a specialty stamp auction, where it can be sorted by stamp experts, and then sold to stamp collectors and dealers. Unfortunately, most collections I see are not serious collections but rather accumulations or albums of common stamps started by children or amateur collectors long ago. So unless the collection is a serious investment-grade collection, don’t expect much value. However, anything is better than leaving a stamp collection in the hot attic, or damp basement, for many years, where the stamps stick together, deteriorate, or basically become valueless. There is one school of thought today that suggests that stamps will continue to diminish in value due to the growth of email and

Mike Ivankovich is an auctioneer, appraiser, home downsizing expert, and host of the "What's It Worth? Ask Mike the Appraiser" radio show. Now in its eighth year, “What’s It Worth” airs live in the Philadelphia area on Friday mornings from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. EST on WBCB 1490 AM and on the internet at Mike offers house and estate contents appraisals nationally through his website, and he has presented his “What’s It Worth” Zoom Appraisal Program in 24 states. Further details can also be found at


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