Buying and Selling Stamps

Internet Auctions


Wow.  Who would have imagined, even a mere five or four or even three years ago, the revolution that online auctions would cause.  Online auctions have empowered every collector to become both a much more informed buyer and also an entrepeneurial seller of philatelic material, and have brought a continually changing flood of material for sale into all our homes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  No matter what/when/where, you can always turn to the computer and find some stamps to buy, and similarly, you can any time turn to your computer and list some stamps for sale!

In my opinion, the internet is a very wonderful and positive force for stamp collecting.  While I suspect it has some negative impact on other methods of selling stamps, for the hobbyist who primarily buys stamps, it is vastly reducing the "spread" between buying and selling prices, making it easier to trade stamps in and out of your collection without losing so much on the margin between what you pay to buy stamps and the lower price you receive to sell stamps.

In considering Internet Auctions, I'm defining these as being auction sites that offer continual auctions of stamps offered for sale by many different people, with whom you end up dealing directly, rather than the internet auctions arranged by some of the "traditional" dealers and auction houses who offer occasional auctions of material that they have compiled and collated - these are more akin to "regular" auctions and a higher tech way of conducting a postal auction - see the section on regular auctions for more comments on this type of buying and selling.

The leading internet auction site is eBay.  It has a specialised section for Russian stamps, and you can also find additional Russian material in other parts of the site - the section for collections and mixtures usually has some Russian material, and you can usually find Russian material in the sections on covers, postal history, some of the topical areas, and sometimes sprinkled around other areas as well.  However, with, at any given time, more than 1000 items for sale in the dedicated Russia section alone, there is little need to have to search too far out of this section alone.

I don't know of any other philatelic auction sites that have as much material as eBay.  However, Yahoo comes a fairly close second - on the day (14 May 2000) that eBay reported 1079 items for sale in their Russia section, Yahoo reported 848 in their Russia section.  Interestingly, very few of the items for sale had any bids on them at all - it seems to me that Yahoo would be an excellent place for buyers, but a disaster for sellers!

However, offset against that is the fact that, at least at present (14 May 2000) Yahoo does not appear to charge any fees to either buyer or seller.  While this is a great idea from the seller's point of view, I wonder if, from the buyer's point of view, the fact that anyone can list anything for free doesn't remove a subtle element of "quality control" that is otherwise present on eBay.  On eBay, it costs money to list an item, so the seller will tend to only list items at sensible prices, and which they think they can realistically sell, so as not to waste the cost of the listing fee.  It gets worse - Yahoo will even automatically relist items that don't sell, which makes it even easier for sellers to fill Yahoo up with high priced junk, just hoping/waiting for a "sucker" to come along and "make their day".  For this reason, time spent browsing through the Yahoo auction items is probably not well spent.

Indeed, eBay seems to have increased the fees they charge every time I check!  With eBay the seller is charged a listing fee whether the item sells or not, plus an additional percentage of the value of the item if it does sell.  The listing fee cost can become substantial if you have a lot of items not selling, or if you are selling low value items where the listing fee itself (25c minimum and increasing upwards depending on the value of the item being listed) is an appreciable percentage of the selling price (eg, on a $5 item, the listing fee is 5%, then the selling fee is an extra 5%, the total cost of selling through eBay is 10%!

Indeed, the free aspect of Yahoo would really encourage me to put some auctions up - if they sell, then great, and if they don't, then the only loss is the time it took to post them!

Continuing this review of auction sites, a check of Amazon.com's auction site shows disappointingly that they don't have a separate Russia stamp category, and the reason for this becomes plain.  Searching for the keyword Russia through their European section of stamps reveals only 35 Russian listings.  I'm not even bothering to include a link, as it is clearly a total waste of time to visit.

The enticing sounding website www.stampauctions.com also fails to impress.  I found two lots of Russian stamps as part of the group of Eastern European stamps (which comprised in total only 12 lots!); indeed their entire worldwide listings of 1223 different items is comparable to eBay's listings for Russia alone!  This website appears to be a subsidiary of the boxlot.com website.

Both eBay and Yahoo include a rating system whereby people can rate each other based on their experiences - are the stamps sold as described, do people pay quickly, etc etc.  This is a great idea in theory; in practice it isn't tremendously valuable.  There is a huge reluctance on most people's part to give negative scores (I think for fear that the person they have negatively scored will then reciprocate and "tit for tat" give a negative score back again) and most of the positive feedback comments are meaninglessly hyper-positive.

Summary

It seems to be a no question result, with eBay the clear winner.  It appears to have the largest community of buyers and sellers with the most amount of active trading, the greatest selection, and an easy to navigate structure making it easy to review a large number of lots quickly and bid on what you wish and then manage your bidding.


This page last modified on May 15, 2010