Evaluating your stamp collection can be difficult, especially because many factors affect individual stamp prices. However, with a little practice and experience, you can learn to evaluate your stamp collection on your own or use a little help. Here’s everything you’ll need to know about appraising a stamp collection professionally and on your own.
The most important factor affecting stamp prices is the condition because if you have a rare mint that’s of poor quality, the final price can decrease. You can evaluate your stamp collection for free, using the internet for research and stamp catalogs, or have a stamp dealer do it professionally.
When it comes to evaluating your stamp collection, this article has it all. I’ll discuss everything from different places to appraise your collection to various factors affecting stamp prices. I’ll also include some tips on how to appraise your collection for free.
Where To Appraise Stamps
You have a few options to choose from for appraising your stamps, depending on how much you’re willing to spend and your collection’s quality. Moreover, it depends on where you live.
You won’t be able to find some of these places if there aren’t anywhere you come from.
You should also evaluate your collection more than once because the market changes, as do the prices for many collectible stamps. Even if you gain experience evaluating your collection, you should always visit some of these places for a professional evaluation before selling your collection.
And finally, always bring your entire stamp collection, even if you want to evaluate several stamps. The collection can sometimes affect the price of some stamps, and professionals know which stamps are worthless, so you don’t have to remove them before the evaluation process.
By the way, if you’re thinking about selling your collection, I have you covered. Read my article to see when it’s the best time to sell your stamps: Is It a Good Time to Sell Stamps? Here’s How to Know
Let’s discuss the four places that can offer a professional appraisal of your stamp collection.
Auction Houses Dealing In Stamps
One of the best places to appraise your stamps is at auction houses, as they have experts who can give you an objective and realistic price point. However, not all auction houses deal in stamps for various reasons.
So, you should find the following:
- Auction houses that deal in stamps, among other things
- Philatelic auction houses that deal specifically in stamps
One good example is Sotheby’s, which deals in many items, including stamps. Opposite to that is philatelic auction houses, such as Cherrystone Auctions, which deal only in individual stamps and collections.
As you can imagine, philatelic auction houses will provide you with better insight and evaluation processes simply because they have more experienced staff who know everything about stamps.
However, the main problem many collectors have with auction houses is they’re pretty expensive in their appraisal. Add to that the fact that auction houses aren’t that common everywhere, as it’s unlikely that you’ll find one in every city. So, you’ll need to send some pictures or an entire collection by mail, only if they’re valuable.
This leads us to another problem, which is that many auction houses won’t evaluate your collection if it isn’t valuable.
This is usually the case with famous auction houses, but certainly not all. In any case, you should always check with a particular auction house if it’s willing to evaluate your collection. Don’t forget to ask how much it costs!
Collectors often go to stamp dealers to appraise their stamp collections, which are easier to find than auction houses. On top of that, they’re cheaper and willing to evaluate every collection.
You don’t have to spend additional money for shipment or gas to go to an auction house for an appraisal. You should always be careful with stamp dealers, though, as there are many cases where dealers stole the most valuable stamps from somebody’s collection, thinking the collector won’t notice.
According to BBC, that happened to one family in Scotland when a dealer stole a stamp worth £5,000 ($6,000) from their collection!
To avoid this, always take pictures of your collection as proof. Better still, you can scan your entire collection with a scanner and save images to your computer.
Advice: Before going to any stamp dealer for stamp-collection evaluation, you should always try to find out what the online community thinks about that dealer. Online reviews can be a great help in this respect. If a stamp dealer has good reviews and a high rating on some sites, it’s probably safe to visit them. Avoid those with bad reviews.
Various Stamp Organizations
Part of the charm of being a stamp collector is being a part of a community of other stamp enthusiasts. Over the years, some of these enthusiasts have decided to form stamp organizations.
They aim to bring stamp collectors together through the following:
- Stamp shows and fairs
- Stamp blogs offering advice and information
- Stamp magazines
- Stamp exhibitions
- Seminars and educational programs
To access many of these fantastic features, a collector needs to become a member of a stamp organization. Many countries, especially in the West, have these organizations, which are like a spiritual place for many collectors.
Regarding the larger Western countries with many philatelists, in the US, the main organization’s the American Philatelic Society. The UK has the Philatelic Traders’ Society, while Canada has the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada.
While these organizations don’t deal in professional stamp appraisal themselves, they’re still important in this respect. That’s because stamp organizations usually help their member find the best stamp dealers or auction houses for stamp appraisals.
Moreover, they often connect their members with other collectors who can appraise your collection.
How Collectors Can Appraise Your Stamps
It’s common for stamp collectors to turn to their fellow collectors for stamp appraisal.
However, this should only be done if those collectors are experts with years of experience. There’s no point in asking younger collectors to appraise your collection if they haven’t spent decades in the stamp-collecting world.
Older collectors are great for stamp evaluation because they usually don’t charge like professional stamp dealers or auction houses would.
Maybe some would do it for free if you’re good friends.
You should always accept their evaluation with a grain of salt, though, and consider many factors when another collector evaluates your stamp collection, which might include:
- Their subjective opinion about the market.
- Their lack of expertise in specific types of stamps.
- You can’t read reviews about them to see if they’re good at appraising.
- They’re not keeping up with the current trends in stamp collecting.
However, you shouldn’t throw stamp appraisal by other collectors out the door just yet.
Besides being cheaper, it’s sometimes easier to find a collector than a stamp dealer, which depends on where you live. Plus, if you want to evaluate your collection for your interest, experienced collectors are a great choice.
If you’re planning on selling your collection, bringing it to a stamp dealer or auction house is always better than having a collector appraise it.
The main focus of many of these places, especially stamp dealers and auction houses, is to sell stamps. If you’re considering selling your collection, check my other article to discover the most suitable places, from auction houses to e-commerce sites: 13 Best Places to Sell a Stamp Collection
Factors To Consider When Evaluating Your Stamps
Countless factors affect the final price of a stamp collection. What’s frustrating for some people is that you can have many complete collections with valuable stamps, but they’re not worth that much in the end.
That’s because a few factors from the list below play a role in decreasing its value.
It’s important collectors know these factors because they’ll be able to avoid some of them in time. With some factors, there’s nothing you can do, but at least you’ll know better than to buy those stamps that’ll just decrease the value of your entire collection.
This is relevant even more if you’re evaluating your collection by yourself, so you’ll need to consider all of these factors before adding-up stamp prices.
What’s the Condition Of the Stamps?
The condition of your stamps, and in turn, a collection, is one of the most important factors that affect the final price. Many collectors are only interested in finding rare stamps, and they don’t pay attention to the condition of those stamps. Then they’re surprised to find those stamps aren’t worth that much because they’re damaged.
For instance, a Penny Black stamp on Stanley Gibbons‘s site can be worth anywhere from around $450 (£375) to about $1,000 (£850) based on its condition and cancellation mark.
Stamps in excellent condition have:
- Undamaged margins and perforations
- Original color
- Original gum
- The backside that isn’t thinned or the glue wasn’t removed
- No or minimal curls or tears
- Cancellation marks that don’t cover the original design or no cancellation at all (mint)
Ideally, you’d want all your stamps to be in excellent condition. However, that’s, in most cases, almost impossible. The most important thing is to have stamps with original colors and good perforations.
What Does the Market Say?
The market affects every aspect of our daily lives, including our hobbies. Collectors looking to sell their collections need to face and follow the market.
However, even if you don’t collect stamps as investment potential, you’re still affected by the market. The price you pay for a stamp depends largely on the current market, as well as all the other factors.
So, the market reflects the following:
- The economic situation of a country and world
- The number of items available on the market
- Various events like wars, crises, natural disasters, and other world events
The market also reflects the trends of buying and selling in other places. Regarding stamp collecting, for example, it became popular in some countries, like China, to collect stamps. This positively affects the stamp market because there’s a higher demand for stamps.
When you notice trends like that, the value of stamps increases.
What Are the Experts’ Opinions?
Before you start fretting that your collection’s worth less than you expected, just remember that stamp dealers’ and experts’ evaluations are subjective, even though they’re based on analysis and expertise.
It often happens that collectors simply accept the first price for the collection they get.
However, if you were to appraise the same collection with multiple dealers, you’d probably have different prices cited. Indirectly, then, these experts affect your collection’s worth.
Stamp dealers and experts in auction houses do basically what any collector would. They form their opinions through detailed research and years of experience. They don’t possess some secret knowledge that is unreachable to stamp collectors.
Moreover, many dealers have limited knowledge regarding some stamps because they’re not in their “area of expertise.” Like collectors, stamp dealers are better at appraising some stamps than others.
For instance, a dealer might be an expert in USA stamps, and when you bring them Chinese stamps, they might be out of their depth.
Advice: If you can afford it, try to have your collection appraised by more than one stamp dealer. Apart from that, you could appraise your collection with one expert, but make sure they’re known for their expertise and high-quality evaluation process.
How Rare Are Your Stamps?
Stamp rarity is probably the most important factor affecting the final price of a stamp or a collection. One rare stamp can be worth more than all the remaining stamps in your collection combined, though these are extremely hard to find.
Collectors investing in stamps are constantly “prowling” for these stamps because they make the most money.
Stamps become rare over time because many of them get destroyed. Also, stamps produced in low numbers originally, usually because of a unique error, are rare. One example is the Inverted Jenny that was first made with the plane placed upside-down.
The Type Of a Stamp Can Greatly Affect the Price
To inexperienced eyes, a stamp is a stamp, and that’s it. However, as all collectors know, that’s far from the truth. Just like you can’t use every stamp for all mail, you can’t collect all stamps equally. The type of stamps also affects a collection’s price tag.
Different types of stamps include:
- Forever stamps
Definitive stamps are the most numerous because they’re used for everyday mail. Collectors like to collect old definitive stamps because of their rarity (for some stamps). Modern definitive stamps aren’t considered collectible because they’re mass-produced and easy to buy, as a walk to a post office is all it takes.
Do You Have Some Stamps Still Attached To Envelopes?
Although collectors’ stamp albums are filled with stamps and nothing else, those that come on envelopes are more valuable. That’s because envelopes provide additional context, like dates or names of people.
Those pieces of information can locate stamps in time and help evaluate them.
Remember those Penny Blacks, which reach around $1,000? Well, those same stamps glued to original envelopes can reach prices of about $10,000 (£9,000).
Paradoxically, used stamps automatically decrease in value in most cases, but vintage stamps on original envelopes are usually more valuable if the envelope offers additional information.
That’s why collectors prefer to remove stamps from envelopes themselves.
The Higher the Face Value, the Higher the Price
Since the 1930s, stamps have appeared with a face value, which is the price written on the stamp itself. If the tiny number on the stamp says $1, you’d have to pay $1 for it in the year it was made.
Due to inflation over the years, face value changes. For instance, if you bought a stamp in 1950 for $0.05, today, you’d pay around $0.60. To avoid these changes in pricing, USPS introduced Forever stamps in 2007.
So, if you bought a Forever stamp for $1 in 2007 and haven’t used it yet, it’d still be worth $1.
Regarding older face-value stamps, the higher the face value, the more a stamp’s worth today, which is especially true if you have a vintage stamp dating back to the mid-20th century.
The common misconception is that you can’t sell a stamp for more than face value. That’s not at all true. In fact, some stamps sell for far more than their face value. These are typically rare, old, and hard to find.
When Were Your Stamps Made?
Another factor closely tied to a stamp’s rarity is the year it was made, as the older a stamp, the higher in price it gets. It’s often difficult to pinpoint when a stamp was produced, which is why collectors turn to the internet and do their research.
If you’re collecting US stamps and have stamps without face value, they were made before the 1930s, making them valuable, if they’re rare. Sometimes, cancelation marks can tell you when a stamp was canceled, which isn’t exactly the date a stamp was made, but you get some estimate at least.
Appraising Your Stamps for Free: Is It Possible?
In the past, it was almost impossible to appraise a stamp collection for free. You’d be lucky to have a generous friend who knew how to do it. There were also stamp catalogs, which are a go-to for many collectors even today.
However, as we know by now, appraising an entire collection takes time and energy, not to mention expertise. That’s why stamp appraisals can reach unbelievably high prices. In the age of technology, an increasing number of collectors are starting to appraise their collections independently.
After all, it’s completely free. However, can you do a good job of it?
The Online World Can Help You Evaluate Your Stamps For Free
Today, we’re lucky to be able to use technology to our advantage. Although stamp collecting is considered an old-people or outdated hobby, it’s slowly finding its way to digital platforms. For starters, many collectors now digitally scan their stamps to sell them.
That’s right, selling stamps has largely moved to online space on numerous e-commerce sites.
More importantly, however, thousands of blogs, forums, and websites dedicated to stamps have appeared over the years. Almost all social media sites have stamp-related social groups where philatelists gather to:
- Post pictures of their stamps and entire collections.
- Discuss various aspects of the stamp-collecting process.
- Share important news and articles about stamps.
On forums and groups like these, you can find a few collectors willing to appraise your collection for free. Remember, however, that you don’t personally know these people, so their evaluation’s more informal and amateur. I’m not saying they’ll be eager to skim through hundreds or even thousands of stamps in your collection free of charge.
However, some are willing to evaluate a few stamps, and over time you can find enough people to appraise a whole collection when combined.
Take Matters Into Your Own Hands
A better option might be to rely on yourself for this one. Of course, that means you’ll need to spend a lot of time gaining experience in stamp collecting if you’re new at this.
Thanks to the internet, looking for and researching stamps was never easier. You’re just a few clicks away from finding hundreds of pages of information about each stamp individually, so why not use that?
Many collectors choose to do their research and even evaluation. After all, researching the history and market of different stamps won’t be difficult if you’re a stamp collector. Most collectors enjoy that.
When researching stamps on your own, you should:
- Use only reliable sources.
- Follow various stamp-related websites and blogs from different countries.
- Subscribe to some stamp magazines, including digital versions.
- Join various stamp-related forums and groups.
- Follow stamp auctions to see the prices for certain stamps.
- Subscribe to stamp-related YouTube channels.
Regarding the last point, many collectors and stamp dealers have started their YouTube channels offering amazing advice related to stamp collecting. Research doesn’t just mean reading all those articles and blogs from dusk until dawn, as you can find fantastic YouTube videos about the stamp market or pricing.
Over time, you’ll develop a sharp sense of the stamp market to tell roughly how much a specific stamp’s worth. At that point, you’ll be able to appraise your collection for free.
Consult Different Stamp Catalogs
Moving away from the internet for a second now—stamp catalogs are a nice way to appraise your collection for free.
Now, if you’re looking for a high-quality stamp catalog, you’ll need to pay for the actual catalog. However, there are some free versions of those on the internet. Just pay attention to the volume and year of the catalog.
That’s because prices change, and new editions of stamp catalogs reflect that, leaving some amateur collectors angry that prices keep changing. Catalogs need to follow the current stamp market, which constantly fluctuates.
The most used stamp catalog in the US is Scott’s Stamp Catalog.
Although stamp catalogs are a nice way to evaluate stamps, it’s not the best. These catalogs offer prices for stamps in perfect condition, which arguably don’t exist in the real world. Your stamps, especially used ones, will usually have some type of damage.
That instantly makes them slightly cheaper than their catalog price.
So, you should consult a stamp catalog, or more than one, but don’t rely too much on the prices provided there. Always take into consideration certain damages your stamp might have.
How Much Does It Cost To Have a Stamp Collection Appraised?
This is the most important question for many collectors. These days stamp appraisals aren’t just rarer but also more expensive. So, how much does a stamp collection appraisal cost?
Prices for professional stamp appraisals vary depending on the country, stamp dealer, or auction house. The price for a stamp appraisal’s measured in hours and can cost anywhere from around $70 to $200 per hour. Also, some auction houses offer free evaluations.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific price for a stamp appraisal, as there are too many factors that affect that. However, the process is similar everywhere, as an appraisal is always done in person.
Stamp dealers and experts can come to you, or you to them, but a digital version of your collection won’t do, for the final estimate, at least.
Regarding the price, in one of their articles, the American Philatelic Society leaves a big window between the minimal and the maximal appraisal fee, which is $75 to $250 per hour. Northern Philatelic Society mentions in their article that Golden Valley Stamp Auctions will professionally evaluate your collection for $75 per hour.
Therefore, we can say that a professional stamp appraisal by a stamp dealer or an expert will cost you minimally around $70/hour. However, that price can jump depending on dealers’ quality and subjective pricing.
Many prestigious auction houses offer stamp appraisals for free, though.
For instance, Warwick & Warwick in the UK will evaluate your collection free of charge. However, they do mention it’s “fast.” So, you should take the quality of the evaluation with a grain of salt.
Sotheby’s is another auction house that offers to appraise your collection for free, but there’s a catch. They require you to send them pictures of your collection. If they think your collection’s worth a pretty penny, they’ll ask you to send them the collection for evaluation.
In other words, if they think your collection is not worth much, they won’t appraise it.
Note: You should always remember that a professional stamp appraisal for an entire collection will usually take more than an hour. Also, you’ll want to discuss the fees with a dealer beforehand. Once you know the hourly price, always calculate the possibility you’ll need to pay for multiple hours.
How To Build a Valuable Collection
Building a valuable stamp collection is a strategic game that takes years to master and complete. Nonetheless, it is a process of building it.
Many people think it depends on luck to have a valuable collection.
If we’ve learned anything from the various factors above, it isn’t something you can’t control, except for the market, which is precisely why it takes years to build a valuable collection. You can always buy a bunch of stamps, stick them to any old album, and be done with it.
True collectors wait for perfect opportunities and the best deals to buy and sell their collections. Like with those factors, there are a few tips on how to build a valuable stamp collection, either from scratch or after you inherit one.
All you need to do is follow the tips below.
Collect Mostly Rare Stamps
The ultimate dream of every stamp collector’s to own only rare stamps in their collection. They bring the most money precisely because there aren’t many in the world.
Some of these stamps were produced in larger numbers, but over time, they got destroyed. We’re talking about the first 19th-century stamps. Others were intentionally made in limited numbers.
A great example of those old and rare stamps is The British Guiana 1c Magenta, which sold for $8.3 million.
Since not many of us have $8 million lying around, it’ll be hard to buy those super-rare stamps. However, there are other rare stamps on the market that cost less, but the prices are usually hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Look at your collection as an investment.
You’ll need to lose some stamps to win some, so try to sell some stamps which aren’t that rare. When you have enough money, look for a rare stamp to put in your collection. Then, repeat the process.
Pick a Theme To Collect Stamps Around
Stamps dealers and other collectors are mostly interested in specifically organized collections. That’s to say, a collection based on a specific theme. Collections organized like that can be more valuable than your everyday anything-goes collection.
This sometimes leaves newer collectors confused, asking: “Do I have to choose just one theme?” The short answer is no, as you can collect stamps based on as many themes as you want if you have time and energy.
The most popular stamp themes include:
- Historical figures
- Historical events or objects
- Cities and countries
However, you should always think strategically if you want to build a truly valuable collection. Basing it around the theme of animals is great if you’re interested in that, but it might not be the best choice for a financially-rewarding collection.
Instead, consider opting for such themes as:
Countries are especially popular among stamp collectors. There are two ways you can collect stamps based on the country of origin:
- Only collecting stamps from one country
- Collecting stamps from various countries
So, for instance, you can have a USA collection based on stamps from the US alone.
Another popular choice is the “Commonwealth” collection with stamps from various former British colonies. These collections usually result in more complete collections because you would focus on only one country or kingdom.
Complete Collections Are Worth More
The previous discussion leads us to this tip—always try to complete a collection before starting a new one. Sometimes, it’s just so difficult to find every stamp for one particular theme, and this process takes years, but it’s worth it in the end.
Many collectors simply lose hope and abandon their project only to start a new collection with a different theme.
Incomplete collections are worth less, except if you have a truly rare stamp that can be worth more than an entire collection. Most collections aren’t completely finished anyway. However, it’s important to have it as complete as possible, which is crucial if you want to sell your collection.
This is also why you’ll need to bring your entire collection for appraisal, even when you want to evaluate a few stamps from a collection. When a stamp dealer or expert sees the level of completeness of your collection, that can increase or decrease its price.
Collect Mint Stamps
Only a few stamps are worth more when canceled (or used) than in some form of a mint condition (unused). That’s why Madam Joseph used to forge mint stamps and turn them into canceled ones to make more money.
However, dealers, auction houses, and most collectors prefer mint stamps to used ones.
Of course, some collectors decide to collect only canceled stamps or used and unused regardless, but they’re small in number. As collecting is a personal hobby, it’s really all up to the collector what kind of stamps they choose to collect.
So, to build a valuable stamp collection, collect mint stamps. But this doesn’t mean you can go to your local post office and buy a bunch of new stamps, though. Truly valuable mint stamps are vintage pieces that nobody ever used.
That’s the point of them being so valuable.
It’s quite difficult to find a few decades-old stamp that no one used. Now, add to that that a stamp was produced in a limited number and is now rare. You hit gold with that one.
Another type of mint stamp you should avoid is commemorative stamps for specific occasions. They’re there to celebrate certain aspects of a country’s culture or event.
For example, there are commemorative stamps for the late Queen Elizabeth II in the UK. The US also pays some tributes through commemorative stamps. For instance, in 2015, there was a Flannery O’Connor, as well as a Maya Angelou stamp, issued.
Commemorative stamps usually hold no or little value as collectible pieces. You can always buy them for pleasure, but they shouldn’t be a part of your valuable collection.
Organize Your Collection Meticulously
Another important factor that will undoubtedly make your collection more valuable from an aesthetic point’s the way you organize it. Don’t be one of those collectors who buy thousands of stamps and just place them in envelopes and boxes to collect the dust.
Stamp albums are there for a reason.
When you buy an entire stamp collection, those valued the most are almost always meticulously organized. Those collectors weren’t just perfectionists who couldn’t look at the disorganized collection. They understood the importance of the presentation of their collection.
Older stamp albums had designated places for each stamp depending on the theme. If you can find one, all you need to do is follow the outline. Modern albums have sheets with glassine strips where you just place your stamps without needing to glue them.
To organize your stamp collection meticulously, you should:
- Arrange stamps in a neat line.
- Have enough space between stamps so as not to damage them.
- Pick an order to arrange your stamps, such as according to colors, prices, and dates.
- Arrange stamps based on the condition, such as mint, canceled, or overprints.
Consider Insuring Your Collection
If you own a valuable stamp collection worth over a few thousand dollars or more, consider insuring your collection for good measure. However, you should check with your homeowner insurance if they cover collectible items, such as stamps.
If not, you’ll need to find collectible insurance providers. And guess what? You’ll need to professionally appraise your collection for insurance purposes.
Insurance companies usually insure collectibles against:
- Fire or flood damages
- Loss of the collection
- Accidental damage
The price of a specific insurance plan depends on individual insurance companies, but they usually rely on the following:
- The collection’s condition
- How rare a collection is
- The market value
For these reasons, insurance companies ask you to evaluate your collection. They have to know the following:
- How much your collection is worth
- Which insurance plan to offer you
You shouldn’t accept the first insurance company you find. Look for multiple options because the fees and what these companies cover vary wildly sometimes. Here are a few insurance companies in the US you might consider for your stamp collection:
Moreover, some insurance companies will have their requirements. Most companies will ask you to keep your collection in a safe to reduce the possibility of any damage or theft. You’ll always have to comply with these requirements to avoid breaching the insurance plan.
If you want to have your stamp collection professionally appraised, the best places to go to include:
- Auction houses
- Stamp dealers
- Stamp organizations
- Other collectors
You can also try to evaluate your collection for free.
The internet can help you immensely here. You can visit various forums and groups dedicated to stamp collecting. Collectors can give you their evaluation if they’re willing. You can also consult a stamp catalog. Although they’re not always as reliable.
To build a valuable collection, collect mint and rare stamps according to one theme and organize your collection nicely in stamp albums.