A 200 percent markup.
I kid. The hobby wouldn't survive without stamp dealers. It would be like driving a car in a world without gas stations -- you wouldn't get too far.
Of course, collectors feeling that the dealer is charging too much for a desired stamp has been going on since the man who became the first stamp dealer looked at his incoming mail, saw a tiny piece of paper, stained by black ink and picturing a (usually dead) politician he probably hated and said to himself: “Hey I wonder if I could sell that thing to somebody.”
Well, there are a lot of those somebodies around today and like buyers of anything else, they want a good price. So, then, what follows are a few tricks to get that price. (Disclaimer: If you try any of these and meet real resistance, pay his price or move on. The effect you're going for is civilized bargaining, not the best two falls out of three.)
It can be as simple as the question “Is this your best price?” Or, you can enter into serious -- and polite -- negotiations by pointing out you’re aware of better deals, but would like to purchase from the seller if he’ll “meet me half way,” “come down a bit” or “reconsider.” All of which of course mean “lower your price,” words that are never actually spoken because they are a bit too crass for our genteel hobby. One of my regrets in working at a stamp counter in a department store was that there was no possibility of negotiation. The price was the price, no exceptions. This did not sit too well with many collectors, as you might imagine.
Buy more stamps
Many dealers will give you an incrementally higher percentage discount, based on the amount you are purchasing. If what you are buying is also offered by other dealers who you might patronize, think of consolidating your buying plan and throw your business to one dealer. Depending upon how much you spend, you could save 10% and more.
Get personal with your stamp dealer
I once overheard a dealer tell a customer who was interested in beginning a collection of a particular area that he should establish a relationship with another dealer, who offered that material. His choice of words was interesting -- certainly, stamp collecting is a business first. But don’t kid yourself and believe that dealers don’t have their favorites. There is nothing wrong with this, and in most cases, yes, money talks. But some of the best collections have been put together through a dealer-as-mentor relationship with the collector. So by all means, establish a relationship with trusted dealers.
Trade your stamps
This isn’t a trick, really, it’s a basic operating procedure to the hobby. But many collectors either forget about this option or are uncomfortable taking what they consider is less than what the stamps are worth from the trading-amenable dealer. But if you’re tired of a collection you’ve had for years, say goodbye and let it help you buy new items. Just remember, what it’s worth to you and what it’s worth to the dealer are two different things. Of course you can haggle, but unlike the situation I mentioned above, the dealer has the advantage and your options for push back are limited.
If you’re going to a stamp show, go late
Late and on the final day can be a good time to visit a stamp show. Not because it's fashionable, but because that's when bargains can appear. This may take a little research on your part, but if you find out from friends who have already attended the show that business has been less than great, you might find some dealers offering their stock at discount prices. They must pay show organizers for table space and perhaps other services: if they haven’t made their nut you may be able to walk out with some nice items at fire sale prices. (Hopefully 1,000 other collectors won't have the same idea.)
Buy on the Internet and use tech's tools
Contrary to the wait and see stamp show trick, if you’re buying on the Internet, there is very little lag time online. There, the hundreds of people at a show you are vying with for the stamps you want become millions.
On eBay, set up alerts so that you know when items of interest are being listed. (Speaking of eBay, they have a decent negotiating system established within their Buy It Now or Best Offer template. If a dealer has enabled Best Offer it’s clear he does want to negotiate a price, so please do. If your offer is reasonable, a single back and forth should do the trick.)
Consolidate your search by bundling dealers into groups
Sure you only have to click a few times to get to dealers on the Internet, but why not have a suite of dealers in one place? Of course, this is the theory behind eBay, but for stamps specifically I recommend you check out Stamp Auction Network.
At SAN you can bid and buy from fine philatelic auction houses such as Siegel, Apfelbaum and Cherrystone under one cyber-roof. In some cases these auctions aren’t actually over when they’re over, with dealers making unsold auction items available at rock bottom prices. Others lower prices in net price lists as days pass, so that those with patience might score an item at a more desirable price. But don’t wait too long, or you might lose it.
Just be nice to your stamp dealer
Work with your dealer. Make sure you are on any mailing list they offer, whether snail mail or email. Be proactive and send your dealer a copy of your want list as soon as it is updated. When you go to a show let the dealer know that they are one of the main reasons you came out.
After a particularly good sale at my stamp counter of old, the manager wistfully watched the collector disappear around the corner and said “I wish I had a thousand like him.” In truth, we were usually lucky if we had ten like him, willing to pay the marked price without question. In the real world of collecting dealers are always ready to make a deal. That fact is one of the first pieces of information a new collector should receive, along with tongs, catalog and stock book.