Buying and Selling Stamps

Stamp Trading

Introduction - Quickly Building a Russian Collection

Most people find that, to start with, the quickest and cheapest way to build up a basic collection of Russian stamps is to buy some bulk lots, either mail order or via the Internet.

You should be able to pick up 1000 stamps for $30-60 or so, although note that the price per stamp goes up with larger quantities!  While you might think that you should get an increased level of "bulk discount" the reality is that the first thousand stamps includes all the very cheapest stamps that the seller has the most of, but the next thousand starts to move up into slightly higher value stamps, and by the time you are into the third thousand stamps (remember that there is only about 6500 Russian stamps in total!) then you're definitely getting a mix that includes some stamps of appreciable value).

Another "quick and easy" way is to buy year-sets - collections containing every stamp issued in any given year.  Year-sets are an easy way of "filling every space" in a collection, but tend to be sold at a premium because of the time that it takes for the seller to build the year sets.  Year sets are commonly available for all recent years, going back into perhaps the 1960s or so.

However, after you've maybe bought some bulk lots and maybe some year sets, you'll start to find that if you are continuing to buy bulk lots, you are getting an increasing number of duplicates, and that you have some partial sets with only one or two stamps missing, and now you'll want to start to concentrate on buying selected specific stamps to fill your collection.  Most of the rest of the pages in the "Buying and Selling Stamps" section discuss how best to do this.

Stamp Trading

The specific subject of this page is trading stamps.  This is where you swap stamps with another collector.  There is nothing new about this idea - stamp clubs have been encouraging it for years, but the internet makes it even easier than ever before to swap stamps with people all around the world.

If you are swapping stamps in person, it is easy.  You look through the other person's spares, while he looks through yours, and you both select what you want.

To swap stamps remotely, you need a slightly more managed approach to make it easy and efficient for you both.  There are two key things.

You need a "want list" that lists the stamps that you are currently looking for that you can send by email to other collectors, so they can find out what they might have to trade with you.

Secondly, you need a reasonably convenient way of being able to search through your own spare stamps so that you can find stamps that you might have which your swapping partner is seeking.

Once you have both worked through each other's want lists, you then need to work out a basis for trading.  The chances are that one of you will have a greater quantity of - and/or value of - stamps than the other person.

How to Calculate a Fair Trade

What basis of valuation for the stamps will you use - are you going to swap on a simple method of "one of my stamps for one of yours" or are you going to make it a bit more scientific, perhaps "one of my mint stamps for one of your mint stamps, and one of my used for one of your used", or even "one of my pre-1950 stamps for one of your pre-1950 stamps", etc.  Of course, you don't need to only trade on a one for one basis - you might say "one of my mint for two of your used" or some other arrangement (note that I'm not suggesting a one for two basis!).

It might seem that the most unambiguously fair way to trade stamps is to total up the catalog value of all your stamps and all of your partner's stamps and go by catalog value.  Even this approach has pluses and minuses - while some of the higher value stamps have a "real world" value close to their catalog value, many of the low value 15c stamps have a "real world" value much lower than their catalog value.  In other words, ten 15c stamps are probably, in the real world, worth less than one single $1.50 valued stamp.

There are essentially two issues that need to be considered here - the first is how to end up with an equivalent number of stamps being traded by each of you that you each feel is fair, and which is easy to understand and calculate.

The second issue may be how to handle a situation whereby one of you has a lot more stamps - or a lot higher value of stamps - than the other.  There are several ways this can be handled.  The easiest is to only trade an equivalent amount of stamps, but many times the other person might like to agree with you as to how they can get the other stamps which, after all, they want/need and you don't want/don't need!

We've seen this done a couple of ways - first of all, on a non-monetary basis, by swapping the valuable stamps that you have for a larger number of stamps from the other person.  The rationale for this approach is simple - most people would willingly agree to swap two or three stamps that they don't want/need to get one stamp that they do need, and for the person with the "valuable" stamp - he doesn't need it anyway, so he is swapping one stamp he doesn't need for two or three other stamps that he also doesn't need, but it has increased his total number/value of stamps and may help him in a future swapping situation.

When Money Changes Hands as well as Stamps

The other approach involves simply buying the surplus stamps on some agreed method.  I've done this happily on a "50% of Scott" basis - while you can generally get stamps for less than this on eBay, the buyer has the convenience of buying only exactly the stamps he wants, and getting them all at once, rather than the hassle and time factors of bidding on many different eBay lots, sometimes getting good values, sometimes not, and sometimes having to buy a whole set of five or six stamps just to get the one stamp that he does want.  Of course, the other way of buying stamps individually is through a regular stamp dealer, but they will generally ask for close to full catalog value for small orders.  So - in my opinion - using a half-price basis is fair for everyone.  For the seller, hopefully the half price is more than he paid for the stamps in the first place, so he is making a little bit of profit (but not much!) which he can then use to buy some more stamps that he does want/need, and for the buyer, he is probably not paying much more than he would on eBay and with none of the hassle, and he is definitely paying less than he would from a dealer.

One important suggestion about this - don't get too hung up with micro-managing the financial calculation!  The chances are that whether the final deal is 20% more or 20% less than what you first thought of, it is still a good deal for you, and the whole idea of both collecting stamps and swapping them is not to treat it as a "business" but instead as a friendly way of pursuing your hobby, and in this case, of swapping stamps that - let's admit it - you don't need at all (!) - for stamps that you are desperately trying to get!!!

Finding People to Trade With

Okay.  The first thing to do - please - is look at my own want list!  Maybe you can trade some stamps with me.  :)

The next thing to do is to go and have a look at Phil Guptill's Stamp Trader List.  This is a huge listing of hundreds of people and their areas of philatelic interest that they would like to trade in.

You can also try posting your wants and trading interests on the WSRP message board, and on the rec.collecting.stamps.marketplace newsgroup.


I just love trading stamps.  These days, with a fairly complete collection, it is very difficult to get the few missing stamps that I have, and it is just "magic" to be able to swap duplicate stamps that I don't need for new stamps that I do need.  Most people I've traded with have been polite and pleasant and honest, and it is always interesting to interact with a fellow collector.  Trading really is a "win-win" that benefits both people.  Try it - you'll like it!

If you have experiences or suggestions about the best way to trade stamps, please share them with me by sending me an email and I'll add your comments to this page.


This page last modified on May 15, 2010