Selling Stamps for Profit

I’ve made a living selling stamps for over 30 years and, while mine is no Horatio Alger story, I’ve never failed to at least make ends meet and have a little left over for beer and skittles. Now that I’m no longer running a stamp store, I keep my hand in by buying and selling through mail order and through other dealers. Because of the way I do it now, I don’t tie up large sums of money in inventory or advertising, I just buy and sell. And I still make money at it.

There’s no trick involved, just legwork and knowing your market. I subscribe to several stamp magazines but I pay less attention to the articles than I do to the advertisements, particularly the buy ads. You can tell what’s hot in stamps by the lists of what the dealers are buying. One year it might be Europa issues. The next it could be Portugal or Thailand. You can tell what’s not hot too. There won’t be any buy ads for it.

Most dealers have neither the time nor the inclination to keep abreast of market trends but sooner or later the information will filter down to them and they’ll change their prices. I try to buy from them before this happens. I haunt the stores and stamp shows with my want-lists and look for these bargains. In the past I used to clip the lists and keep them handy for reference. This had some decided advantages. I did not have to rely on my sometimes-faulty memory for one thing. There was one big disadvantage though. If a dealer saw that I was buying based on a published buy list, he sometimes got the idea that I was taking advantage of his ignorance, which I was, and become uncooperative.

These days, this is less of a concern. Most of the dealers who put buy ads in the stamp magazines, also put them on their web sites. I regularly download them to a database and print out an anonymous, and therefore more innocuous-looking want-list which I take with me when I’m looking for stamps. When I accumulate enough material, I ship it off to whichever of these dealers is paying the most for what I have, then sit back and wait for the check to arrive.

Ebay and other online auction houses have broadened my hunting ground. I do a lot more buying then selling on them because, oddly enough, collectors are rarely willing to pay as much as what I can get from the dealers who publish buy lists. I’ve even had the experience of having my lots purchased on eBay by some of these dealers for less than what they would have paid if I’d shipped it to them directly!

There are some other dangers associated with eBay and other places where you can’t examine the material yourself before purchasing. The worst of these is having the condition of the stamps be less than what you were led to expect. Real estate has its three L’s: Location, location, location. Stamp collecting has the three C’s: Condition, condition, condition. This concern with condition can’t be over-emphasized. Buy-list publishers are very finicky because their clients are too. Most eBay sellers will stand by their merchandise and refund your money when you return something but I resent the waste of time and effort. I still buy on eBay but I try to be careful.

Let’s recapitulate:

1) Keep abreast of trends in stamp collecting by paying attention to dealer buy ads.

2) Use those ads to make your purchases.

3) Take the time to carefully check the condition of what you wish to purchase.

4) Ship the merchandise to the dealer who’s paying the most.

5) Sit back and wait for your check.


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