Buying stamps is not as simple a matter as walking into a stamp shop and walking out with the stamp you want. Those new to the hobby are sometimes shocked to find that the stamp dealer they visit -- either online or in the real world -- doesn't have the stamp they seek. They may be looking for the scarce inverted umbrella stamp of Upper West Oblivia, yet don't understand that what they seek is not a stock item.
Dealers Don't Stock All the World's Stamps
Other than new issues and other areas where stamps are plentiful -- German WWII era inflation stamps or three cent U.S. purple commemoratives from the hoarding era of the fifties, for example -- there is no such thing as a stock item in stamp collecting. There is no one stamp shop to go to and walk out with every stamp you wanted. In fact, the shop you walk into may not have the most plentiful stamp in the world, simply because it is not in the dealer's interest to sell that particular item. After all, if you're the only collector to seek one in a decade, what is the point of the dealer stocking multiple copies of it?
So it is important to find a dealer who stocks the areas you specialize in. And of course, even he won't be able to supply every last item you seek: with over a half a million stamps out there, what stamp dealer could even stock a significant fraction of them?
How to Find the Right Stamp Dealer for You
Finding a stamp dealer who has a good stock of the type of material you collect is your primary goal. If you collect a particular country, it is a simple task to find your supplier -- dealers in specific countries are probably the most common advertisers.
Topical collectors might have to do a bit more exploring. Of course serious topical dealers advertise well, weather with the general topical label, or more pointedly, with specifics like "butterflies" "flowers" or any of the great number of topics that are available for stamp collectors to pursue.
Use the Internet to Find the Right Stamp Dealer
It was once true that the collector was somewhat limited by geography. In the days when dealers would send out unillustrated text price lists and newsletters there was always the chance that what was sent to collectors would be of lesser quality than expected. Now, with the Internet and the possibility of illustrating all items such pitfalls are mostly eliminated.
Another of your top considerations is to find a dealer who is honest. A casual Google check is an advantage today's collectors have over earlier generations. Things to look for include memberships in societies and groups like the ASDA that tell you the dealer is accepted and trusted by his peers.
Dealers of specific areas, country, or topic will advertise in publications of clubs made up of those who collect a specific area. If you are not at the point of actually joining a club, send for a sample copy of their publication and take advantage of such ads.
Word of mouth was always a good way to find trustworthy dealers. The Internet now provides a super-powered word of mouth situation. Contact other collectors for a recommendation if you're not sure of a dealer you're considering throwing your business to.
Dealers of the Philatelically Odd and Unusual
If you want to add unusual items to your collection to spice it up you'll have to do a bit more searching. Imperforate stamps, souvenir cards, covers and ephemera related to your collecting area may be offered by your dealer of choice, but there are also dealers who specifically stock such material.
In the philatelic press you may check out news of winning exhibits and contact their owners, who have made their exhibits more interesting through including offbeat stamps and covers. Chances are good that they will share their sources of such material with you.
Your Stamp Dealer
A go-to dealer will make your collecting life easier as he will be aware of your needs and do his best to serve them as he buys new items to add to his stock and contacts you with offers. It is a long term relationship that can last until your collection is complete.