Although the neighborhood stamp shop is becoming a thing of the past there are still some around for the new collector to patronize. There are advantages there to other places of purchase -- you don't really want to go through eBay's "auctions" for a $3 packet or a recently issued plate block -- among them being able to simply take the money out of your wallet, pay for the stamp and take it home. But new collectors unfamiliar with the face to face dealer experience should keep a few things in mind. What follows are typical new stamp collector misconceptions about dealers.
1. The dealer has every stamp that a collector needs.
When I worked at a stamp counter in a large department store every so often a customer would be aghast that I didn't have the 1878 spiny fish issue from Mooba Tooba, or some other philatelic obscurity. Very simply, there are so many stamps by now -- they've been pumped out since 1840, you know -- that no dealer is even close to having everything. Not even one in a huge department store.
2. The stamp dealer "doesn't want to show you" the stamps you are looking for
I have seen this occur several times. A collector will accuse the dealer of not showing him items because, according to the collector the dealer doesn't like him; the dealer is afraid of the collectors expertise and fears he will cherry pick (i.e., buy a number of items underpriced by the dealer); he is saving it for a "better customer." Newsflash: Your money is as good as anyone's. If the dealer won't show you his stock of your stamps of interest he doesn't have them, not because he doesn't like the cut of your jib or the pattern of your shirt.
3. The dealer must get the price for the stamp as marked
Those new to collecting may be unaware of the joys of price negotiation. I like to think of buying stamps from an independent dealer as similar to buying a chicken on the streets of Myanmar vs your local grocery. You can't barter at your local grocery as you can't barter with many big online stamp dealers. Your local stamp shop is a different story. Don't be chicken -- negotiate!
4. Every old stamp is rare or valuable
New collectors are routinely shocked that used stamps from the 19th century can still be had for less than a dime. The answer of course is simple and comes down to supply and demand. When many millions of a stamp are issued and used on mail, there's no way they'll ever be valuable. This is particularly shocking to newcomers who try to sell an old family stamp collection and receive an offer that is many dollars less than expected.
5. The dealer is an investment advisor
Chances are the dealer will be happy to tell you what countries and topics are good for collecting -- i.e., a good purchase. But only in the general sense, as in "You can't go wrong with U.S. classics, but I would stay away from Trucial States material." As far as your dealer is concerned your purchase is always a good investment...in his business.
6. The dealer knows everything about stamps
See above, "there are too many stamps to have them all." There are so many ins and outs: one of the reasons the collector specializes. Most dealers have a specialty as well with the specific knowledge that accompanies the area. Many dealers are also savvy to market trends -- what's hot and what's not.
7. The dealer is useless -- all they want to do is make money
Know that most dealers were once collectors, so they can largely sympathise with whatever philatelic plight you may be in. The best position for a collector is to have a dealer that once collected the material the collector is interested in. (Hint: There is probably one out there -- search him out. He will make collecting of your material easier and naturally help you build a better collection.)
It is best to consider a stamp dealer as a mentor, not an adversary out to get your money. After all, it is a classic symbiotic relationship: one wouldn’t exist without the other. I’ve always found that mutual respect works great and isn’t hard to find, as in the end the collector and the dealer aren’t so different after all.