Usually when people want to know
how much their stamp collection is worth, there is an implied issue that they
don't want to spend a lot of time or trouble to find out the answer
themselves. The interesting reality is that the more time you invest in
valuing your stamps, the higher the value you can establish for them.
What Value are you Looking For
When you want to know how much
your stamps are "worth", that depends on whether you want to know
replacement cost - how much it would cost you to replace the stamps - that is,
an insurance valuation, or the resale value of the stamps - how much you could
get if you sold them. But, before we get to the details of the valuing
process, here first is a quick rule of thumb approach to give you at least a
first indication of what you might have.
Quick Rule of Thumb
Some people seem to think that
old stamps become more valuable as they get older, and I get lots of emails from
excited people talking about having just inherited an old collection of stamps,
perhaps from a grandparent. Time for two reality checks :
Firstly, stamps don't
automatically become more valuable as they get older. Valuable stamps -
that is, stamps that have always had a high value - may tend to increase in
value, but ordinary stamps of low to no value will stay, sadly, at low value
points, probably for ever! So just because you have a collection of old
stamps does not mean your collection is automatically valuable.
Secondly, and it is really a
repeat of the first rule, only collections of stamps that have always been
valuable will be valuable today. In other words, if the original collector
was buying stamps, while actively collecting, that were 'expensive' and
'valuable', then you are in luck, but if that collector was buying cheap
inexpensive stamps, they are probably still cheap and inexpensive today.
Now, for a 'trick' - you can often times tell what type of stamps are in the
collection just by quickly looking at how the collection is presented. The
more care that that collector put into displaying his (her) collection, then the
more likely that some of the stamps are to be valuable. So if you have a
few ordinary commercial albums of stamps with lots of gaps missing on the pages,
you probably don't have a valuable collection, but if you have lovely albums
with crafted pages and lots of complete sets and duplicates with minor
variations, etc etc, then you're more likely to have some good valuable stamps
in among them.
Now, let's look in some more
detail at the valuation process, starting first with the replacement or
insurance value determination for the collection.
If you are not thinking of
selling the stamps, but just want to get a value for insurance purposes, then
that is fairly easy. You can use any catalog as a basis to establish the
value of the stamps, simply by adding up the catalog values of all the stamps
you have. After you have done that, you may possibly want to adjust this
final total figure downwards to reflect the general marketplace reality that
most stamps can be conveniently purchased for less than full catalog
price. Generally if you add up the catalog values and then reduce by
perhaps 20%, you'll probably have established a fair replacement value
figure. If you have specially valuable stamps, you might want to list
these separately and calculate their values one by one (some might even be worth
more than catalog price).
For insurance purposes (note I
have no specific experience here, so if this is an important consideration for
you I strongly suggest you speak with your insurance broker) you will probably
find that your regular householder's insurance policy has very limited coverage
for stamps, and you will need either to buy a special extra policy for your
stamps or get a specific "rider" added to your main policy. In
my case, I found the insurance offered through APS to be much better value than
adding a rider to my regular insurance policy.
If you have a fairly high value
of stamps, so as to make sure you have no insurance problems if you have a
claim, I'd recommend you to videotape some of your collection - film yourself
slowly turning through the pages of your albums, and you can speak out loud and
point to specific stamps as you do so - saying things like "this is a rare
stamp, Scott number 9999. which is worth $55" and so on and so on.
That way you have at least generally established the size and nature of your
collection; of course, if you have a very valuable collection with lots of
individual high value stamps, you probably should get a photographic record of
these individual stamps. Whatever you do to document your collection, be
sure that you don't store the documentation with the stamps! That way, if
your stamps are stolen/destroyed, your documentation to support your insurance
claim will hopefully be safe somewhere else.
Don't forget to include the value
of your albums as well in any such calculation - the cost of albums, pages,
mounts, etc, can sometimes end up being nearly as much as the low value stamps
Resale Value - Sold as a single lot
Maybe you inherited a collection
of stamps and have no interest in them and know nothing about them and just want
to sell them. What is your collection worth in such a case?
The sad answer to that is
"very little, and a lot less than you would think". Most stamps
(certainly Russian stamps, and probably true for most stamps of most countries)
are worth very little, whether they are new or used. Indeed, you can buy
very old mint, unused, US postage stamps for less than their face value!
Used stamps are usually worth even less than new ones (although nice clear
postmarks on very old stamps can sometimes add to their value).
The value of stamps in a
collection when sold all at once can sometimes also depend on how they are
currently stored and displayed. If they are all neatly in albums with each
stamp clearly given a catalog number, then it is easy for someone who buys the
collection to know what they have and to either resell it or mix it into their
own collection. If the stamps are just loose, and with some of them still
on pieces of envelopes, then they are worth a very great deal less.
In general terms, a collection of
1000+ stamps can be expected to have a value somewhere between 2c-10c a stamp
when sold in bulk. If the collection is predominantly newer and used
stamps (ie stamps from about 1960 onwards) then you can expect a value of
probably between 1c-4c (for a sale on eBay); if the stamps are nicely displayed
or organised, and if there are more older ones, then you can expect a value to
be closer to 5c-10c each.
You probably can best sell such a
collection on eBay. Describe it in as much detail as you can, show images
of lots of the pages of the stamps, and explain that you know nothing about
stamps and just inherited or whatever the collection and that it hasn't been
"picked over" (ie an expert hasn't gone through it and pulled out the
occasional really valuable stamp already). This method will take very
little of your time, and may bring a good return. Good luck!
Resale Value - Partially Broken Down
If you have a bit more time, you
could sell the collection in a series of smaller lots. For example, you
could sell one part as all Tsarist era Imperial Russia, another part as,
perhaps, pre-World War 2, another part as WW2-1960, another part as 1960-1991
(the end of the Soviet Union) and another part as newly independent Russia and
the other CIS countries. This may increase the total value that you get
from selling the stamps, because it means that people can bid specifically on
the types of stamps they most want, and also, by breaking down what might be a
very large collection into a series of smaller lots, you make it more affordable
for more people to bid on various parts of it.
Resale Value - More Fully Broken Down
The ultimate in breaking down
stamps is to sell them set by set. This is probably not sensible for low
value sets - the cost of an eBay listing fee, the postage costs, and everything
else, mean that for a set worth 50c you would end up getting next to nothing net
back to you, and the buyer would end up potentially paying 50c + 34c postage to
you + 34c your postage fee to send the stamps to him - he would end up paying
twice what they are worth. But for higher value sets, this makes sense,
and also even some of the lower value sets can be grouped into two sets per lot
This can get you up to 25%-50% of
the catalog value of the stamps, depending on the particular stamps, how well
you display them, etc. But the time it all takes is massive, and your
hourly rate actually will go down compated to the earlier two sales
strategies! If your time has little value (eg if you are retired) then
this makes sense, but otherwise, if you are busy, it probably does not.
Time Costs of Valuing - Is it Worth It?
Which leads to the strange
circumstance - the stamps are probably worth less than the cost of determining
exactly what they are worth! How much is your time worth per hour?
The chances are it will "cost" you more hours of your time trying to
maximise the value and sales value of your stamps than you "earn" in
extra return from selling in a more detailed manner.
Especially if you are unfamiliar
with the stamps to start with, and have to buy a catalog and then carefully
research each stamp, you'll be spending huge amounts of time to make trivially
small amounts of money over and above what you'd get if you simply sold the
entire collection in one single lot on eBay.
A Fast and Simple Valuation Method
If you want to just quickly guess
at what your stamps might be worth, count your stamps in these categories :
and then set some arbitrary
values for what an "average" stamp in each category is worth - for
example, using the seven categories above, you might set values of
10c/7c/8c/5c/7c/3c/50c and use that as a quick guesstimate.
Other Information on this Website
I discuss other aspects of stamp
valuing on the following pages that might add to your understanding some more :
Stamp Dealers - explains how you can't realistically ever hope to make a
living from buying and selling stamps!
Valuation Issues - some more specific thoughts on the wide range of
different values that can be given to a single stamp.
for Buyers and Sellers - some ideas on how to best buy and sell stamps.
to Store Your Stamps - If you've just acquired a large collection of stamps,
this gives some pointers on how to catalog, preserve, and store them
To answer your question "How
much is your collection worth" the sad answer is "not very much, and a
whole lot less than you thought/hoped"!
You can increase the accuracy of
this valuation method, but the extra time (or money) you spend to work on the
valuation in more detail is probably not going to be time well spent.
The chances of finding a very
valuable (= very rare!) stamp in a general ordinary collection are close to
zero. Sorry. But you probably have better chance of winning the
lottery than you do of finding a very valuable stamp in an ordinary collection,
and even a "very valuable" stamp is probably only going to be worth
You can improve the money you can
realise when selling stamps, but to do this you'll be spending a huge amount of
extra time, and, again, the time is not going to bring you a good "hourly
I hope this rather brutal
assessment is - while not what you hoped for - at least of some
assistance. Please feel free to email
if you have additional comments or questions.