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Monday, April 07, 2014

eBay and "Shipping Shenanigans"

Like most stamp collectors in the 21st century, I use eBay to buy and sell stamps on a pretty regular basis. In many ways, the online auction giant has been a great help to stamp collectors in the way it has enabled us to connect with each other and with stamps we want for our collections, from all over the world.

Whatever you might think about eBay (some people love it, some people hate it), one thing is certain: It's very important to pay attention to what you are doing. Never assume anything!

Just this morning, I was checking eBay to see if there was anything new and interesting from Denmark, one of my major collecting areas. Because I look for cancels, plate flaws and varieties, I am often in the market for "lots and accumulations."

Indeed, I did find a couple of duplicated collections that seemed quite interesting-- as well as quite reasonably priced. That is, until I checked the seller's shipping terms. $12.00 to ship about 50 stamps from the UK to the US? Huh?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of the "cheapskates" who try to nickel-and-dime sellers and leave negative feedback because they were charged 50 cents for a letter that cost 49 cents to send. I understand we all have expenses when we sell stamps... personally, I charge 75 cents when I sell on eBay, because it covers the cost of the stamp (49c) plus an envelope, a glassine and the possibility that I will have to pay for a "second rate" after I've put a cardboard stiffener in the envelope. I feel that's fair, and if anyone wants to "argue" with me about that, I'd prefer they just buy their stamps from someone else.

But that's a really long way from charging US $12.00 for a letter that might cost £1.50 to mail (or about $2.50). To me, that loosely falls under the broader heading of "shenanigans" and "deceptive practices." Of course, that's just my opinion-- some professional stamp dealers may disagree with me.

Of course we always have the option to "move on by" if we don't like someone's postage rates, and that's precisely what I did. And so... the point of this article is primarily to remind people to READ the so-called "fine print" before you click on the "bid" or "buy now" buttons... and be sure you understand what the "real" cost of that stamp is.

In general, I have found that "discussing rates" with people who charge uncommonly high shipping rates is a waste of time. Why? Well, because they are typically in the business of "selling cheap stamps and making their profit on shipping" and so they are really not interested in hearing what you-- as a collector-- have to say about it. Sad... but true.

Overall, though, I continue to recommend eBay as a place to buy stamps... because the positive experiences FAR outweigh the negative ones.

What's YOUR opinion? Do you think sellers often "overcharge" for sending stamps? Do you fee that it's "fair" if stamp sellers cover their basic expenses to send stamps-- like envelopes, glassines and so forth? Do you ever try to "argue" with people who are charging high shipping fees, because you really WANT a stamp they have for sale? If you feel this topic merits discussion, please consider sharing to your Facebook page or favorite stamp forum!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Writing on Stamps: It's selfish!

As a life long collector-- and a fairly active trader on eBay and other sites-- I have looked at a lot of stamps.

I am also well aware of the fact that there is no "right way" to collect stamps, but that doesn't mean I am exempt from having a few pet peeves, when it comes to philately. One of my pet peeves is "writing on the backs of stamps."

Among "serious" stamp collectors, there is some debate about whether or not something written in pencil on the back of a stamp reduces its value, or is "neutral." Personally, I don't mind if there is a small lightly penciled number on the back of a stamp, if someone feels compelled to add one.

There was also a day gone by when experts would sign the back of a stamp-- in pencil-- and it actually added to the value of the stamp.

That, however, is a far cry from the backs of some (surprisingly many!) stamps I have seen... where a collector (or series of collectors) have attempted to document the entire history of the stamp and its catalogue value on the back surface. To me, that is a complete no-no.

You might ponder why it's a bad idea to write on stamps, since we don't generally see the back, in the first place. I see a number of reasons-- based on experience-- why the practice should be avoided.

For one, pencils can be pretty sharp, and most people don't have a "light hand" when they write. I have seen some really good stamps rendered valueless because the pencil point actually damaged the paper.

Two, some collectors are "purists" and will be sufficiently annoyed by a pencil note that they will try to erase it. Unless you are extraordinarily careful and gentle (and skilled!) odds are you'll actually damage the stamp by trying to erase pencil marks-- causing a shallow thin, or at least unwanted bends/creases, which in turn will reduce the value of the stamp.

Three, most who write on the backs of stamps are doing so for identification purposes... and a large percentage of the numbers I see are just plain "wrong." Why? Sometimes because the collector really didn't know what he or she was doing and wrote a number down that never was right, to begin with. This then misleads the next owner of the stamp. Alternately, the writer might have lived in a different country, and the Michel number they wrote looks "wrong" compared to the Scott number we're trying to establish for the stamp.

Which leads me to the deeper "why" writing on the back of stamps really annoys me: It's selfish, in the sense that it disregards the next owner of the stamp. A simple number may only be useful to the original writer, while a more useful complete sentence like "Michel 83, 2007 value 300 Euros" is truthful and helpful, but simply too much writing to put on a stamp.

My advice? Don't write on the backs of stamps!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's Called "Show and TELL!"-- Meaningless Photos in Philatelic Groups

I get much enjoyment of our stamp collecting hobby from interacting with other collectors and seeing/hearing about their collecting interests and adventures. As a result, I belong to many online forums and groups for stamp collectors. There are literally hundreds of them out there... something to fit almost every collecting interest, as well as "general" groups for people who are simply "interested in stamps," in the broadest sense of the world.

Although I mostly collect Scandinavia, I have also had
a small collection of Australia, for many years, because
my godmother was Australian
At the risk of sounding "curmudgeonly," I am somewhat baffled-- and a little annoyed-- by the common practice by many people of posting dozens and even hundreds of photos of (seemingly random) stamps with never a word of descriptive text about the stamp. Basically, we are "treated" to what amounts a seemingly endless parade of "meaningless" images. This practice seems particularly prevalent in groups on social media sites like Facebook and Google+.

"WHY bother?" I ask myself.

Back when I was in school, we had something called "show and tell." This was when you had to bring something to school, get up in front of the class to show it off and talk a bit about what it was and what it did, and why you were interested in it. I expect many people experienced "show and tell," when they were in school.

All these years later, online stamp groups largely work as a "show and tell" for (by now adult) stamp collectors.

So why do I consider these "blank" images posted to stamp groups "meaningless" and even annoying?

Well, here's just a random picture of a stamp. OK. Fine. What am I supposed to do with that? Are you expecting me to go find a catalog and look up what it is? WHY did you post it? Do you particularly LIKE it? Do you HAVE it in your collection? Or are you LOOKING for it? Are you wanting to TRADE it? Are you asking others to help you IDENTIFY it?

The "Posthorn" definitive series from Norway is widely regarded as the
world's longest continually running stamp series. Introduced in 1872,
the basic design remains in use today.
It's really not rocket science to write a small comment about an image-- like the captions under the images on this page.

Obviously, people who post hundreds of images to stamp group surely must have some kind of "objective." Presumably, they are "showing" their stamps with the hope people will look at them. But if you don't care enough to provide at least a tiny bit of information about the stamp, why should I "care enough" to look at them, let alone "like" or "comment" on them?

Now, you might be wondering what "the big deal" is here, and why I am even bothering to comment on this particular trend. Why not just "ignore them and let it go?"

I guess the "big deal" for me is that I (and quite a few other people) am interested in the social aspect of online stamp groups... and when someone posts one "meaningless photo" after another, the actual stamp discussions pretty much get pushed out of the way... and I find myself spending a lot of (not particularly enjoyable) time sifting through mountains of photos of common definitives from "Upper Slobodnia" or "Philamondobondistan" I don't care about. I might care if you gave me a reason to... but you don't.

Is it really "a problem?"

Iceland became the 3rd country I started collecting
after learning about volcanoes and geothermal
geography in school.
You might well wonder just how much of an "issue" a few collectors posting "blank" pictures can be. For curiosity's sake, I perused some of the online profiles of the posters... and at least a couple of them had posted more than 50,000 (yes, fifty thousand!) images each. That's more pictures of stamps than there are in many collections.

Really makes me want to shake these folks and say "How about a little QUALITATIVE editing?"

Don't get me wrong-- I honor the fact that different people approach stamp collecting from different perspectives... and I also honor the idea that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to collect stamps. That said, there is the broader issue (outSIDE your stamp collection) of a little awareness of others and how your actions impact those around you. If your actions-- however innocent they may be-- result in your monoplozing a philatelic group's space, you may be taking away from others' enjoyment of the group, even though your root intentions may be the exact opposite!

The other issue that comes to my mind concerns the general future of stamp collecting. Will an endless "encyclopedia" of stamp images with no explanation attached inspire potential new collectors to join our hobby.... or just confuse them? I lean towards the latter, thinking they'll just see some of ALL those pictures and think "pretty cool, but I feel so lost. This is very complicated and I'm afraid I'll never figure it out." Or worse still, they'll think philately is some kind of "private club" where if you don't know what something is, you "don't belong." And then they'll move on.

What do YOU think? If you are reading these words, you're obviously a stamp collector online. Do you belong to stamp collecting groups? Do you notice people doing this sort of "empty image posting?" How do YOU feel about it? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Danish "Bicoloured" Stamps of 1870-1903

Being born and raised in Denmark, it was only natural that my primary stamp collecting interests included Danish stamps. After all, they came in the mail, and it was what most of my school friends collected. Back then (mid- to late 1960's) lots of kids collected stamps.

My first "really old" stamp
My first ever "very old" stamp was the 8 øre value from the "Bicolours" series, issued between 1870 and 1903. I clearly remember how exciting it was to discover (with the Danish AFA catalogue, at the local library) that I actually had a stamp from 1875! It didn't matter to me that it was actually very common-- an estimated 754 million of these stamps were printed in three different series-- to me it was "ancient treasure."

Many many years passed. Although I was an active collector of Danish stamps, my collection was mostly "general" in nature-- that is, I was collecting "one of each" by the main stamp catalogue numbers. However, in my late 20's, I had reached a point where "filling the next empty space" in my Denmark collection had become more costly than I could afford, on my limited income.

Although I was now a resident of the US, I would still return to Denmark at least once a year to visit family. One of my favorite things to do while "home" was to get in touch with my cousin Ib-- and we'd see if we could have a "date" to either go to a stamp show or to a public stamp auction. Ib-- who was actually some 20 years my senior-- was also a keen Denmark collector, and he'd taught me a lot about stamps. On this particular occasion, we discovered we'd be able to attend a large stamp auction in Copenhagen, over a two-day period.

In the course of our conversation, I explained to Ib that I really wasn't sure what I was going to bid on-- if anything-- because I couldn't really afford any of the stamps I was missing in my Denmark collection, but since I'd also taken up Sweden and France (and had much smaller collections of these) I might look for something there... although all "the really good stuff" was from Denmark, given where the auction was being held.

My first interest in the Bicoloured stamps
was actually related to numeral cancels
"Maybe you should consider some kind of specialty collection," Ib suggested.

I wasn't too sure about that. I'd seen "specialized" collections at stamp exhibitions, and it seemed to me that those collectors had invested thousands and thousands in rarities I couldn't even hope to own one of. I also had this "image" of specialized philatelists being mostly "grumpy old cigar-smoking men who isolated themselves in their offices."

However, I'd seen Ib's recently started collection of the Danish "Wavy Lines" issue, and his enthusiasm was considerable. "Suddenly every box of stamps is a treasure hunt," he explained, "you just never know what you might find, and usually the stamps only cost a few kroner each!"

And so, my first "adventure" with specialized stamp collecting became an interest in Danish numeral cancels. Since I was quite little, I'd always thought it was interesting how "old stamps" were often canceled with a number, instead of a place name. And finding nice upright and readable number cancels seemed like it could be a challenge, but without costing a fortune... after all, there were millions and millions of 4 øre and 8 øre bicoloured stamps with numeral cancels.

So one thing led to another, and I ended up bidding on-- and winning-- a "messy stock of mostly common classic period stamps" in a shoe box. I think I paid the princely sum of 1500,- Danish kroner (about $175.00 US, at the time), when all was said and done. And I suddenly had thousands of stamps to look at-- a very large number of which (as expected) were 4 and 8 øre Bicolours.

A 100 øre Bicolour from the 1st printing, with the
scarce "RM2B" frame type
Also in the box was a copy of the 1981-82 "AFA Specialkatalog" which included an extensive specialist section about the Bicoloured issues, showing lots of varieties and plate flaws. Which, of course, I found extremely interesting, given that I had just become owner of several thousand of these stamps. At the time, I had no idea that this was possibly the single most popular stamp issue with specialist collectors in Denmark.

The rest, as they say, "is history."

I've been collecting the Bicolours for about 25 years now. I wouldn't call myself a fanatic or "flyspecker" exactly, but I have built a pretty nice collection of notable plate varieties across the many printings. My primary interest is in the "fine perforated" (first øre set) issues, and I also have quite a few of the skilling stamps. And I still continue to look for really nice numeral cancels-- which was, of course, what I originally set out to do.

So what is the appeal of these stamps? And why are they so popular with specialist collectors?

As classic stamps go, the Bicoloured stamps are attractive and colorful. In the course of 33 years, four separate series were released: First came a set of stamps denominated in skilling; then came the first øre set in 1875, after monetary reform in Denmark. A second øre set started in 1895, this one perforated 12 3/4 instead of the original 14 by 13 1/2. Finally, a third øre set started in 1902, this time with watermark large crown III. Although other other stamps were in use concurrently with the Bicolours (the "Arms" types), the design remained effectively in use until the introduction of the "Wavy Lines" type and Christian IX type in 1904-05.

A 5 øre stamp with a so-called "pearl flaw," one
of the most sought after frame varieties 
The design elements are fairly detailed-- especially the outer frame. This created an opportunity for lots of varieties to be discovered-- both in the original plates, as well as in subsequent plate damage from use. In addition, because the stamps were printed from two passes through the printing press-- one for the frame, and one for the oval-- a number of stamps ended up having "inverted frames." The frames look "similar enough" right way up and inverted that they would routinely be printed oriented in either direction. Thus, inverted frames were not "major errors" (although some are quite rare), merely varieties that help collectors identify stamps by printing and position within each sheet.

Part of the appeal lies in the relatively low cost to start a specialized collection of truly "classic period" stamps. The 4 and 8 øre values both had more than 100 printings, each of which can be identified by a skilled specialist... with the implication that the majority of these stamps have low catalogue values, yet it is possible to form a specialized collection (definitely the work of a lifetime!) of thousands of distinct stamps... all without "breaking the bank."

Another nice aspect of these stamps-- today, in 2014-- is that they have been studied by thousands of collectors for well over 100 years, so there's lots of information available to the aspiring specialist, from small handbooks, to an impressive 6-volume reference work by expert Lasse Nielsen detailing virtually every known variety discovered. That said, there were so many of the stamps printed-- and they were in use for so many years-- that you can still find varieties in collections and duplicates stocks that have not been through the hands of a specialist.

The above all figure into my own interest in the Bicolours. However, as much as anything, they evoke a memory of stamp collecting in my childhood and youth-- and of that first "really, really old" stamp in my collection.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Memories: Childhood Stamp Collecting

The end of the year has always been the time of the year when I end up "taking inventory" of life, and where I am, and what I hope to do in the year ahead. I don't really do formal "New Year's resolutions" as I have a nasty habit of never making these goals.

One of the common Danish stamps from my childhood. It is even
(faintly) postmarked RUNGSTED KYST where we lived.
Putting away the Christmas decorations brought up some childhood memories, reminding me of my beginnings as a stamps collector. My parents had traveled extensively before they returned to Denmark to start a family, and they had made friends all over the world. And part of "keeping in touch" with this global group of friends involved the annual ritual sending of Christmas cards.

As a result, December was the time of the year when lots of mail would arrive from all over the world, in envelopes carrying stamps from many exotic places. And I got to keep all the stamps from the Christmas cards, which was very exciting.

Meanwhile, my dad would also bring home large numbers of stamps from the office. His company traded extensively with other companies and clients all over the globe, and there was usually an extra load of mail during December. That mail was particularly interesting because some companies and people would send gifts of various kinds, and those gifts would arrive in boxes actually franked with postage stamps from their countries of origin. This was the mid- to late 1960s, so stamps were still widely used on parcels. I didn't have a real concept of "high values" as a 7-year old-- I was just aware that the stamps were significantly "different" from the ones my dad brought home during the rest of the year

The 8 øre stamp from the 1875 "Bicolour" set was one of
the first "really old" stamps in my childhood collection.
Although I don't remember the exact way I "got started," I do remember my first stamp "album," which was a 16-page stock book with "picture cover" that was a collage of stamps from around the world. In fact, I still have it somewhere. I also remember getting old newspapers and "pressing" stamps in our phone books after soaking them off paper. I was impatient, so sometimes a stamp had to be soaked 2-3 times before it finally let go of all the glue and no longer stuck itself back to the newspaper.

Stamp collecting was pretty simple back then. My friends and I simply collected "stamps." That said, it was not long before we discovered that most of our stamps were from Denmark-- since that's where we lived-- so "collecting Denmark" seemed to make more sense than "collecting the whole world."

I remember buying my second stock book with my own lawn mowing money, because I wanted my Danish stamps to be in a book by themselves. I'd heard that that was what "serious" collectors did, and I wanted people to see that I was "serious" about stamps.

Stamp collecting-- back then-- was also a pretty common hobby for kids (and adults), although it seems that in my native Denmark there were far more stamp collectors than anywhere else I have lived, subsequently. At least 7-8 people in my grade school class of some 25 had stamp collections, and to the best of my knowledge, at least half of them went on to be collectors, as adults. There were also several stamp collectors in my extended family, and nobody thought that "collecting stamps" was even the slightest bit "odd," as something to do. It wasn't until I moved to Texas as a 20-year old to go to college that I first ran into people who'd look at me "strangely" and say things like "How weird. I thought that was just something cranky old retired guys do."

The fact that being a stamp collector has sometimes gotten me perceived as a bit of a "strange nerd" has never put me off the hobby... and now that I have been collecting for over 45 years, I still actively promote philately as something interesting to do, in your spare time.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Part 5 of a European Accumulation of Classic US Stamps

As regular readers of this blog may have noticed, I sometimes use these pages to talk about my late stepfather's extensive accumulation of classic and older US stamps. As part of organizing for the new year, I'm selling off another group of these.

(If you want to go directly and look at the stamps without reading the story, you can also click on this link, which opens in a new browser tab)

4c Columbian from 1893, part of this month's offerings
My stepdad was basically a "hoarder" who'd buy loose album pages, cigar box lots, stock sheet lots and so on, all with a focus on US stamps from the beginning to about 1930.

I know it was his intention to "eventually" build a real collection of US... but as he aged (he died at age 92) the project seemed to just become more and more overwhelming for him. And yet? He'd keep buying these "odd lots," look at them for a while and then store them away for the future.

Since I was "the stamp expert in the family," I ended up with this chaotic accumulation, assembled over a period from about 1982 till his passing in 2010. Two large moving boxes' worth, filled to overflowing.

Although I may be somewhat of an "expert" on Danish and Swedish philetely, I actually don't know the first thing about US stamps... at least not beyond what a somewhat experienced collector can figure out with the help of a Scott catalogue. As I have written previously, I was very tempted to just sell the whole thing as a "bulk lot," but got some rather lowball offers for what seemed like a good number of stamps with some decent value. So I decided to sell the stamps, myself.

Of course, much of what I am finding IS basically "common junk" not worth talking about. But it seems like pretty much every folder or wad of album pages I examine has something "of value" to be found.

An early US "high value." $5.00 was a LOT of
money when this stamp was issued!
I just finished my 5th stack of album pages (and some stock sheets), which has only taken me about 1/3 of the way into the first box... if even that.

This time, I came up with about 150 individual stamps worth listing. The vast majority are in the $10.00 to $35.00 catalogue value range, although there are some as high as $75.00. In other words, a lot of decent "mid-range" stamps. Some are in perfect condition, some are "presentable."

This go around (thanks to some encouragement from collectors) I've also included some lower value stamps in "gem" quality-- something that seems important to a number of US collectors.

When I first started the massive task of sorting through all this material-- and discovered there were a good number of better stamps-- I decided that I was going to put any proceeds from sales into the grandkids' college funds. Of course, it may not be much more than a drop in the bucket towards a college education by the time they get to be young adults (they are four and one, respectively), but I figured it would be better than nothing, and I'd like to think that my stepdad would have been pleased, too. He never actually got to meet our grandkids, but I think the thought that his stamps would help with "something useful" would have appealed to him.

Anyway, this week's selection is one of the largest (151 lots) I've assembled so far, which means multiple lot winners can reasonably save with combined shipping. I've done my best to identify everything correctly, but where there was any doubt between two stamps, I've identified each as "the cheapest version."

Perhaps not rare-- but exceptionally nice quality.
In any case, these stamps are now up for auction on eBay with my "usual terms:" ALL stamps have the bidding start at ONE CENT, regardless of value... I'm just going to trust collectors and "the market" to come up with what's a fair price... aware that some stamps may sell for $0.01.

As previously, I am using my "personal" eBay account, rather than the one I used to trade Scandinavian stamps.

Someone recently asked me-- or rather, commented: "I could go into your auctions and just bid five cents on every single item, and end up with some perfectly good stamps I could trade or resell for 100x more than that?"

Yes. Yes, you could. At both of my previous sales from this accumulation, several people walked away with $25.00 stamps they only paid one cent for! The point is that I want to sell the stamps, not "collect" them or save them for later. So there will be some extraordinary bargains to be had.

Anyway, the stamps are now open for bidding. Bidding remains open till 7:00pm Eastern/10:00pm Pacific time, on Sunday January 12th, 2014. As always, there is reduced shipping when you win multiple lots. Here's a link to the auction listing; go have a look, and I hope you find something useful!

Are there more like this? Well, maybe not like this, but I'm barely 20% into the whole thing, so there are many more to come, and it will probably take me several years to finish sorting through everything.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Never Hinged?"

Sometimes, I find stamp collectors to be curious and confusing creatures.

Take the term "Never Hinged." Now, I can perfectly well understand the importance of "never hinged" if you are a collector of mint stamps. On older issues (especially!) the "never hinged" part can make a huge difference in the value of the stamp.

This stamp has at least 3 old hinge remnants... but will soaking
it REALLY make it "Never Hinged?"
However, over the past couple of years I've noticed a growing trend for sellers of stamps (on eBay, BidStart, Stamps2Go, the APS Stampstore and more) to use the expression "never hinged" when describing used stamps.

I'm sorry.... WHAT???

As a concept-- and from a logical perspective, the idea of a "used, never hinged" stamp makes absolutely no sense to me. For starters, "never hinged" is a GUM condition, not a STAMP condition. Aside from that, it makes no sense. If I have a used stamp with hinges on the back, I can simply soak them off, and suddenly my stamp becomes "never hinged." Basically... there is no way to tell whether or not a used stamp is "never hinged" or not. Maybe I'm cynical... but even if "it mattered," I doubt never hinged could exist for used stamps, on "the honors system."

Of course, "reading between the lines," I can (sort of) understand how the idea came about. European collectors (especially) tend to be concerned about the back of (especially) older/classic stamps... where a thick layer of multiple hinges may be hiding small thins or tears, or even writing. A messy back with lots of adhesions can hide a million sins... I know this well, from my years of buying stamps online, where you don't always get a chance to look at the back of stamps.

But from a semantics perspective, what we're really talking about here is a "clean back," rather than a "never hinged" back. Then again, maybe I am simply being too picky.

In the meantime, I can't help but having a chuckle, every time I see "never hinged" in the description of a used stamp.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Selling Stamps Online: It's NOT Rocket Science!

Recently, I "celebrated" my 15th year of using eBay as a marketplace-- both to find new items for my stamp collections, as well as a venue to sell duplicate stamps.

I think it's pretty safe to say that online marketplaces like eBay, Delcampe, BidStart, Stamps2Go and others have changed the face of how stamp collectors trade and build collections.

Even after all this time, it amazes me how little common sense many sellers use, when it comes to presenting their "wares" to the world. And then they become all surprised and affronted when they end up with mediocre-- or no-- results.

A clear scan showing details of stamp. Click for larger size.
Selling on line is really not "rocket science!"

Fundamentally, the first thing you need to do is think of selling your stamps (and attracting buyers, and a fair price) a bit like you would think of a job interview. Would you go to a job interview wearing your dirty sweats you just mowed the lawn in, with your hair looking like you just rolled out of bed and hadn't shaved in three days? No? That's just a case of "presenting yourself well" in order to make a "sale" (i.e. "get the job")-- so why wouldn't you take the same care when it comes to selling your stamps?

Let's start with the image. That's probably THE single most important part of an online stamp listing... many collectors buy stamps purely "by appearance." Since I can't go to your house (or your stamp store, if you have one) and look at and "touch" the stamp, I expect you to give me the "next best thing."

Have a large clear scan/photo for people to look at, preferably on a black background, which offers maximum contrast to show the condition of the stamp's perfs. Crop the image to have small borders. There's nothing more annoying than a small out-of-focus image on a non-contrasting background, with lots of "blank space" around the stamp.

And don't even get me started on listing stamps for sale with NO image! Fortunately, most sites don't permit listings without images anymore. I don't want to hear the "it's too time consuming, and you can send it back if you don't like it" excuse... my reply to that is "it's too time consuming for ME to get a stamp I don't like, contact you because I want to send it back, find supplies to mail it and wait for a credit to my account AND I'm out the cost of mailing."

Lastly, a word about listing stamps for sale with the message "email me if you want a scan."

That word is "no."

How NOT to do images: The sort of images I often see in sales
listings online. And this is not even the worst of it! 
I am not going to take the time to email you for 47 scans of stamps I might be interested in-- it's a hassle. If you're willing to scan "after the fact," just save us BOTH some time and effort and scan "before the fact" and create a proper listing, to begin with. Similar story with the phrase "email me if you want a bigger scan," when your original listing has a little tiny scan. If you already know how to make a bigger scan, just use it!

And yes, I know some of you are "secretly" thinking "yes, but that's how I harvest names for my mailing list."

I'll say "Caveat Venditor" (seller beware), because I personally believe that strategy is more effective as a way to irritate potential buyers.

Creating a good image is NOT rocket science!

The next part of "decent presentation" involves examining the back of the stamp-- this applies particularly to used stamps. If the stamp has 47 layers of old hinges, a bit of the original envelope and some old album page adhesions still on the back, clean it up! It takes only a couple of minutes in lukewarm water to get rid of that stuff, and removing all that old garbage takes the guesswork out of whether the stamp has thins, tears or other problems, as well as enabling you to correctly identify potential watermarks. And who knows... you might discover you have a more valuable stamp than you thought!

Now, let's get to the actual description. You don't have to write anything "fancy" but at least make an effort to come up with a semblance of the correct identity of the stamp. That would involve (at a minimum) doing the following:

Perforation gauge. You need one. This one was
actually FREE, printed in my AFA catalogue.
Don't assume that the first picture you see in the catalogue (Scott, or otherwise) is "your stamp." Especially true when you're selling older stamps, where multiple variations (perfs and watermarks and shades) of the same design typically exist. Especially learn to pay attention to the little "notes" at the end of a listing of a set of stamps that might read something like "Also see no. 234-241, 301-311." That's a not-so-subtle hint that maybe you should see those numbers and make sure you have the right listing. Assume nothing, especially if you are trying to sell stamps from a country you are not that familiar with.

Speaking of perfs and watermarks-- If you don't have a perf gauge, GET one! And whether you do, or need to buy one-- learn how to use it, and then use it! As a buyer, it will do nothing but irritate me when I get the "perf 13" stamp (worth $0.80) when your listing identified it as the "perf 14" version (worth $50.00)... and usually because you didn't even check what perfs the stamp had.

The same goes for watermarks... if you don't have a watermark tray and fluid, GET them! And whether you do, or need to buy them-- learn how to use them, and then use them! There are often huge differences in values between different watermarks on stamps that look very similar. Just earlier today, I identified a stamp by its watermark... the "cheap" version listing for $0.25 in the Scott catalogue, the "expensive" version listing for $200.00. Needless to say, I was very happy to find a VF $200 stamp!

Now, I recognize that there are some people who are simply going to say "too much work" and "I can't be bothered." I will try to be open-minded and understanding of that approach... but I will issue the caveat that if YOU "can't be bothered" with your sales listings-- and it does show, in very obvious ways-- don't count on potential buyers to "be bothered" with your listings. Choices have consequences!

Last-- but certainly not least-- let's talk about "truthfulness of condition."

This can be a slippery slope, because most stamp transactions are essentially a "dance" between a seller who wants a stamp to be "better than it is" and a buyer who sees it as "worse than it is." A sale happens when these two perceptions have enough overlap that the buyer takes action.

Watermark fluid and tray. A small investment that might
help you get a LOT more for your stamps!
Personally, I have always believed in the "full disclosure" approach. On the balance, I have gotten happier buyers AND better sales as a result of saying "Looks super nice, but unfortunately has a tiny thin" as opposed to saying "XF stamp, no faults" and then hoping it will "skate by" someone who doesn't bother to take a closer look. By trying the latter approach, not only do you set yourself up for a lot of returns, you soon enough build a reputation for having "dodgy" material, and buyers will actively avoid you. And that can even apply on a "large" scale, with major "name" dealers. There are a couple of "famous" stamp auction houses I actively avoid because of the way they "gloss over" faulty material. Maybe the $3000.00 a year I might spend with them is "no big deal" but multiply that by a few hundred collectors... and you're turning away a LOT of money!

Now, some may read this and think "yes, but I'm not that serious about selling stamps online." Be that as it may, you're "serious" enough that you're trying to sell stamps online. Which means you're a "serious" enough collector that you care about getting money for your stamps, rather than just "giving them away to kids" or putting them in your next garage sale. That being the case, shouldn't you be "serious" enough to give your stamps the best possible shot at selling for a decent price?

Buying and selling stamps online can be a lot of fun... and also quite rewarding, if you take the time to do things "properly," which really doesn't take a lot more time or effort than doing a slipshod job!