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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Stamps, Valuations, Knowledge and "Fairness"

As stamp collectors, we tend to think of the primary "commodity" we spend our time with as "stamps" and things that relate to stamps.

We buy stamps; we swap stamps, and sometimes we sell stamps. At the foundation of our ability to make these trades-- with each other, and with dealers-- lies our core belief that any given stamp has a certain relative value.

After 45-odd years of involvement in philately, I increasingly have come to realize that much the foundation for trade-ability is-- as often as not-- knowledge, rather than "stamps."

20ø blackish blue. Value $20+ rather than 75c
For many of us, new stamps are added to our collections as part of a process of "treasure hunting;" that is, we go looking for (or at least are open to finding) the unexpected to fill gaps in our collections. And everybody loves a bargain!

From time to time, I attend stamp shows and bourses. Several times a month I will spend a few hours perusing eBay or one of the other online sales venues for stamps. Sometimes I visit dealers in the area; sometimes I buy lots from brick-and-mortar auctions; sometimes I am poring over a box of circuit books from the American Philatelic Society.

As often as not, new "treasures" come to me not simply because "there's a gap in my collection," but because I "found something" among the stamps offered for sale; something unexpected; something of value. For me, it is usually a rare postmark or a shade/printing of a classic stamp, or a variety/plate flaw of some kind. Whatever it may be, it tends to have a "value" that by far exceeds the marked sales price.

The "making a find" part came into play purely because I recognized something the seller did not. In other words, I was in the knowledge business.

This, in turn, invites consideration of the question of whether or not that makes me rather "mercenary" and whether or not it is "fair" to the seller that I am going to buy an item marked at $2.00, when I know it's worth $200.00. Let's pause and examine some different ways of looking at what might be considered "fair."

For one, the seller marked the item at $2.00, in the belief it was a "fair price," given his knowledge of the situation.

The HILLE postmark adds $500.00+ in value
For maybe 99% of his or her potential buyers, that stamp is "worth" $2.00... because they see the stamp as exactly what the dealer thinks he's selling.

My "other 1%" knowledge was not "free." Behind my ability to pick out a $200.00 variety lies not only 25 years of study, but probably a $1000+ investment in specialized literature.

What's more, if I were to turn around and "profit" by selling the stamp rather than keeping it it in my collection, unlike the original seller, I also have spent 25 years building the connections within the hobby the results in my being able to contact a collector who will pay me $200.00. The original seller doesn't have those connections.

So where does the notion of "fairness" lie, in these situations?

Just like a stamp has a "catalogue value," expertise has a "value." And expert knowledge typically "costs extra," regardless of your field. Your country doctor might-- or might not-- be able to heal some esoteric illness you have. A specialist-- for five times the price-- heals it in short order-- because he or she "invested" years and money in becoming a specialist. Is it "unfair" to your country doctor that he only gets $150.00 for an office visit, when the specialist gets to charge $800.00?

Is if "fair" to YOU, that you have to pay more? You could argue that it's not-- because you are "short the money"-- but in the end we all tend to get what we pay for.

My point here being that while our finding "a $200.00 stamp for $2.00" may look opportunistic and like we're getting "something for nothing," we typically have paid "a price of admission" (learning, time, experience, reference books) in order to get to a place where the transaction was even possible. Rather than viewing the situation as "unfairly taking advantage" of the seller, we can view it as "our fair reward for years of study."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spring Stamp Auctions: Better Denmark on eBay, ONE CENT starts!

On occasion, I round up some of the better "odds and ends" from my duplicate stamp books, and then put them up for auction on eBay.

Denmark no. 6, catalogue $190.00
This week, it is stamps from Denmark that are up for grabs. As with all auctions I list, every lot is listed with good photos, and all items have a starting price of just ONE CENT, regardless of the stamp's value. For example, in the current group (48 auctions, in all) you can-- at least at the moment-- bid one cent on a presentable classic Danish stamp with a US $190.00 catalogue value, or a lot of older stamps with a combined value of over US $250.00.

Auctions end Sunday, May 20th, at around 22:00 Central European Time, 4:00pm US Eastern/1:00pm US Pacific time. 

Some folks think I'm a bit crazy for offering "perfectly good stamps" in such a way... after all "What if you end up having to sell a $100.00 stamp for 1 cent?" I suppose I just believe the stamp market to be intelligent enough to set a fair price for worthwhile philatelic material. I also don't believe that listing items on eBay at something that looks like a retail price has anything to do with running "auctions."  But that's just me. And yes, I have ended up selling a few stamps for one cent, in the course of my 14 years on eBay.

And yes, technically speaking, you could go place a minimum bid on every item and potentially end up with hundreds of dollars worth of stamps for less than a dollar.

AFA Postfærge 28x
Anyway, to return to what's up for grabs-- the focus is Denmark, there are 48 lots at auction, and the material runs from classic to newer. There are a few items from the Bicoloured issue, and then a nice group of constant varieties (plate flaws)-- some of which are quite scarce, and finally a nice group of Postfærge stamps.

Detail of AFA 28x, showing the plate flaw
The Postfærge stamps are in particularly nice condition and include a used copy of a scarcer variety. The 5 øre wine red "Wavy Lines" stamp is among Denmark's most common stamps, and even with the Postfærge overprint, it is still quite common. One of the better known "modern" stamp varieties in Danish stamp collecting is the "right lion with lump foot" plate flaw. Although tricky to find, it's not that rare, on the "plain" version of the 5 øre stamp. However, this variety is very difficult to find on stamps with the overprint, and there's a very nice copy available in this sale. This is the variety that also has colour in the bottom of the "K" of DANMARK. With a current AFA Specialized catalogue value of 400,- DKK (about 54.00 Euro/$69.50) this major variety is missing from most collections.

As with all my eBay offerings, there's reduced postage when you win multiple lots.

Bidding for these items is currently OPEN, but don't wait too long to go have a look at what's available. The auctions close on Sunday, May 20th at about 22:00hrs, European time; 4:00pm US Eastern/1:00pm US Pacific time. Here's a link to all the auctions, listed together. I hope you'll find a few moments to look at my listings and add an item or two to your Denmark collection!

Finally, I'd like to take a moment to wish everyone in the US a very Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Taking my Stamp Collection "On the Road."

When I was a kid, stamp collecting was mostly quite seasonal.

Growing up in Denmark-- which is far north and has dark wet winters and bright clear summers-- I'd spend lots of time indoors from October through April, and working on my stamp collection was one way to pass time when it seemed like it was going to rain for three weeks in a row. As the days got longer and April gave way to May and June, we kids would spend more and more time outside, building tree forts, riding our bikes or playing football ("soccer") in the roundabout at the end of our street. Although we didn't exactly "put away" our stamp collections, the albums ended up spending more and more time on the shelf.

When school let out for the summer-- in mid- to late June-- we'd often head off to spend some time at the "summer house" (basically an overgrown cabin, away from the city). However, even though there might be rainy days where we couldn't be outside, I don't remember ever bringing my stamps. Most of the time, however, the weather was "too nice" to be sitting inside with stamps, and we'd end up going to the beach. And since it would usually stay light past 9:00pm, there really wasn't such a thing as working on the stamp collection "after dark."

It wasn't until my early 30's, when I started traveling quite a bit for work, and to attend workshops and conferences, that I started bringing some of my stamp collection along. I realized that on those occasions where I might stuck in a hotel room, or in some remote location, I preferred to occupy myself philatelically, as opposed to watching mindless TV or surfing the Internet.

I'm about to enter a period-- until late July-- where I will be gone quite often. As I thought about that, I realized that I will probably get more stamp "work" done while I'm on the road, as I will be spending quite a few days in hotels and at conference centers. I have lots to catch up on, and stamps from this winter that I want to get listed for sale online-- stamps are small, light, and easy to bring along; the only thing that will weigh me down would be stamp catalogues, but I will focus on one area for each trip.

Stay tuned for reports "from the road!"