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Stamps' Romance and Reality

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I keep thinking that there has to be some sort of middle ground, between Marc Russo and Joe Stamp Dealer, where one can truly get people interested in collecting as an investment. The old timers like Minkus were pretty sly about this. People would ask if stamps were in fact a good investment. They would say something like, it's a great hobby that can afford one much pleasure, and when you are ready to sell your collection, if you make a profit, all the better.

Can a profit be made in stamps? Well of course, if you're a dealer. I made a decent profit on my air mail, and most people -- if they study the area or their area long enough -- have the tools to make a profit if they so desire. The simple fact remains, if you become something of an authority, people will be happy to pay you for your material, knowing that it is worthwhile. Another way to get the most possible while still making a fair sale is to have a story behind your stamp. What's its history? Is there any intrigue surrounding its issuance?

Philatelic scholar and journalist Ken Lawrence has pointed out that modern items often have no intrinsic value - it is the stories surrounding items that make them desirable and therefore valuable. That is, sexy stamps sell better than the wallflowers at the philatelic dance.

Believe Some Stamp Stories, Not the Hype

The question of "what a good investment is" plagues the intermediate collector, who hasn't looked into the auction world and what sells there. On the other end of auction grade material that is in fact a good investment is the mass marketed stuff, described as heirloom, historic and the like.

There is also the heartstring tugging add copy that tells you the product will be a marvelous thing to hand down to your children. But if the buyer doesn't see through the hype and that the value of such material will turn out to be sentimental (a hard lesson that will be learned when one goes to sell the collection to a legitimate stamp dealer) he will be throwing his money away.

Sellers of stamps are the same as sellers of any other product: they will do their best to make it sound as attractive as possible to the potential buyer. This is why the buyer must look behind the hype, to see what the real value of philatelic items are.

Collect Stamps Your Way

It would be wonderful if new stamp collectors could put together a collection from the start that contained stamps that would have resale value at a later date. But that is not possible, as the buying of quality stamps is a skill that develops over time. Of course if an adult collector is serious about putting together a quality collection from the beginning he can put his trust in a dealer/adviser, but that is not the idea of stamp collecting that most newbie collectors have in mind.

In fact one of the great satisfactions of stamp collecting is the self-made aspect of it. This also carries over into self-teaching. After all, the greatest philatelic dealers started with the purchase of stamps that they had the good fortune to be able to resell. But those were the early days, when competition wasn't so intense, and the focus on high quality wasn't so marked. Stanley Gibbons started this way. Herman Herst, one of the greatest independent dealers of the 20th century started with stamps he purchased for himself and found could be resold at a profit.

The US Post Office: Money Pit or Gold Mine?

But knowing which stamps are the right ones to buy does not come naturally to the new collector. It used to be that collectors would buy stamps from the post office, believing that if they held them long enough they would be salable at a profit. Hotshot investment guru Joe Granville believed he could advise collectors on the right stamps to buy, so during the fifties the post office sold millions of stamps to would-be investors who wound up with stamps that even today sell for a discount from face value.

Currently there are those who believe that buying stamps from the post office is a good idea for future resale. One might call this a type of investing, though it may be stretching the term. The reason for this turnaround from earlier accepted knowledge that it is a very bad idea to buy current issues is based on the fact that the post office is issuing fewer stamps. And it is true that if future demand exceeds supply that those who hold these issues will realize a profit when they go to sell. But like any investment there is a risk. How long it may take for demand to develop - if it occurs at all - is something today's buyers must seriously consider.

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