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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where to Buy Stamps: APS StampStore

The American Philatelic Society (APS, for short) is the primary organization for stamp collectors in the USA, but has a large worldwide membership.

Denmark 4RBS brown, Thiele printing
One of the services for APS members is the online "Stamp Store" where collectors can browse and add to their collections from among thousands and thousands of stamps listed for sale by other stamp collectors. As of the last time I checked in, there were over a quarter million philatelic items for sale!

Although the underlying idea is "stamp collectors selling to other stamp collectors," the APS StampStore is different from sites like eBay, Delcampe or Stamps2Go. Aside from the fact that you have to be an APS member to buy stamps (anyone can browse), the APS acts as an active intermediary between buyers and sellers.

What this effectively means is that listings are standardized, all have photos, and "the handling of money" is all done by the APS, rather than the buying and selling individuals. This makes the StampStore a very attractive option for those collectors who are concerned about the trustworthiness of individual online sellers. In addition, it allows for a uniform "return policy" to exist, so you can get your money back, if a stamp you buy turns out to be faulty or "not as described."

What kind of material can you expect to find? Well, the range is pretty broad, with almost every stamp issuing entity in the world represented. The value of the items tend to start at around a couple of US dollars-- mostly because of the minimum fees per item the APS charges to sellers. On the upside, I have seen items priced in excess of $1000.

Denmark 4RBS blackish-brown, Thiele II printing
Are there any downsides to using the APS StampStore as a place to add to your collection? Some might argue that the required Society membership (currently US $48.00 per year) is a "downside," but I really don't share that point of view as I believe membership in an organization that promotes awareness of stamp collecting as a hobby is a positive investment, no matter what.

For me, the primary downsides (pretty minor) are that the scans/photos are not always of the best quality, stamps in sets are scanned "as received" so not all stamps are necessarily visible in the photo, and sellers are not always very meticulous in accurately pointing out "problems" in their descriptions. The system may also be more challenging to use for non-US based collectors, due to the reliance on the US Scott catalogue numbering system. For example, if you live in Germany and depend on Michel, it might take a little detective work to figure out the stamps you're looking at.

As is often true with multi-seller marketplaces, pricing is inconsistent, but that's not the fault of the sales venue. You can find some excellent bargains, and you can also find a number of items listed by "dreamers" who seem to think 75% of catalogue value is "realistic" for a seriously defective stamp.

Denmark 4RBS yellow-brown, Thiele III printing
Overall, I have had positive experiences using the APS StampStore to add to my collections. On the few occasions where I've had to return stamps, the refunds have been prompt. I've been a buyer (but not a seller) for almost 10 years, and have added many nice stamps to my albums. The selections from the Scandinavian countries are usually fairly good, and new material seems to trickle in every month, although not in great volumes. Since I only collect used stamps, I don't actually see every new listing on the site, so your results might be quite different from mine.

The photos in this article are some classic Danish stamps that arrived in the APS StampStore this month, and promptly found their way to my office! The site is well worth checking out, and I hope you also decide to become an APS member.

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