Number 1 tip: Never look at collecting new issues as an investment. (that goes for coins as well) The purpose of collecting is fun!
Wish I had a dollar for the every time I have been asked this question! "How much is my stamp worth?". Well most of the time you can have fun finding out the answer yourself. Most LIBRARIES ALL carry STAMP CATALOGUES (see the section about stamp catalogues on this site). In these catalogues you will find all the stamps of the world listed and priced. For example the USA SCOTT catalogues list all the stamps and give them a unique number. Michel And Stanley Gibbons are other popular catalogues do the same, all having their own unique number system. THESE SHOULD BE A GUIDE ONLY. You will need some down to the heart advice to go with the catalogue values. THE BLUNT TRUTH! & the BOTTOM LINE! Carry on reading
Stanley Gibbons catalogues as an example have always priced the stamps in their catalogues at THEIR OWN SELLING PRICE. That's why you will find dealers selling below catalogue price!. The most difficult thing to learn is SUPPLY & DEMAND. If a stamp is from a Country that no body collects, the catalogue value is no guide, because nobody wants them! Same if there are thousands of sheets of the same stamp out there, the catalogue value is no guide. Remember the old phrase "something is only worth what someone will pay for it".
Two good examples of what I mean, Because of High inflation in Great Britain in the 1970's, as stamps where issued people brought sheets at the time to try and beat inflation. Consequently everybody and their cat has a sheets of stamps from this period they wish to sell now! Most stamp dealers will buy these at 50% of what you paid for it, they have plenty of stock so why do they need more? (IT IS STILL VALUED FOR POSTAGE). So use it as postage yourself. The same can be applied to most of the commemoratives of the USA after the 1950's. NOTE: This does not apply to ALL the issues. but about 99.5% of them.
What about used stamps? Well, if like many I collected all the stamps from envelopes sent to my home and all the neighbors, I would end up with 1,000's of the stamps that are the letter rate (at present 37c). The catalogue says they are worth 25c each, So I could become a millionaire!!! Wrong, try selling your 10,000 to anybody, they have done just the same next door. SUPPLY & DEMAND.
So how much is my stamp really worth? The best place to look is Stamp dealers selling prices. Most will be priced below catalogue and some of the scarcer stamps will be listed ABOVE the catalogue price! Some of the higher selling prices especially apply to some of the scarcer Countries, and especially with thematic issues. I once had many sets of Bolivian parrot stamps. Catalogued by Stanley Gibbons at £1.20. The last set fetched £20 in an auction!! SUPPLY & DEMAND. Why is this? Because the stamps have TWO TYPES of collectors searching for the same stamps, The collector who collects the Country and the collector that collects birds. The catalogue value was low because Bolivia is not a popular Country to collect and Bolivia did not issue many sets of these stamps. But all the Bird stamp collectors want a set.
I think the worst case of SUPPLY & DEMAND. is First Day Covers. Some collectors and GRANDMAS (sorry Gran') collect the Royal mail issued First Day Covers. They can pay anything up to £2 a cover from the Post Office for each issue. They build into a wonderful collection depicting some of the history of the UK. But value!!! Visit any stamp dealers and you will find 1,000's of these in the 10p tub! Non of the FDC collectors collectors nowdays collects this type of cover. They all want special postmarked undressed First Day Covers now. SUPPLY & DEMAND. I think this can be applied to the USA First Day Cover market as well. But please do not stop collecting Gran, as I said the fun is in the collecting. But do not expect it to be an inheritance.
WHAT IS MORE VALUABLE MINT OR USED? This is an easy one to tackle. If a stamp was issued in the USA their is going to be millions of used ones. If it was issued in South Georgia and used for the proper postage, a few 100. SUPPLY & DEMAND. So if a stamp had very little chance to be used on letters then you can say it should be of higher value as a used stamp. Another good example is the 1923 inflation issues of Germany, catalogued at 10p each for mint and £1,000's if used. That is because the stamps sometimes never got issued before inflation made them worthless and they had to be reprinted, so very few got to the PO and used, that's why you find these issues in mint sheets still very cheap and the genuine used ones very, very scarce. There are many forged postmarks of these as well!!
The thing that distorts this is the high value stamps. Any stamp that was expensive to buy at first is not to be found unused (mint) often. People did not have the money to and go and buy sheets of £5 stamps when they where issued, but they could go and buy sheets of 1p ones and many people did. so the high values most times are catalogued higher for mint stamps than used and the lower values round the other way. I used to get 1,000 of 1c or 1p complete sheets brought to me for sale but very seldom a whole sheet of £5 stamps! But I might add that the £5 stamps very seldom got used for postage of letters, so good genuine clean postmarked used stamps of the high values are sometimes very elusive to find.
NOTE ON CTO: Cancelled to order stamps. Sometimes Countries precancel the stamps for collectors. So you will find thousands of cheap used stamps from the old Eastern Block countries of Europe that have the postmark PRINTED ON, these are just made for collectors. Some of small isles from around the world do this as well. You might be interested to know that some of the pacific islands get most of their income by issuing stamps for collectors! You might want to read in the postal history section about the guy who's sole job was postmarking letters for collectors at the South Pole! But that's another story.
The most difficult items to value is POSTAL HISTORY Old letters and cards etc. Just one postmark can mean the difference between a few pence and 1,000's of pounds. With these items you will have to show lots of people to get rough idea of it's value. What are you up against. I watched a dealer once pick up a envelope priced at 50p from another dealer, and asked if he could buy it. To which the other dealer replied "sorry but the dealer over there has just brought that pile of envelopes". The dealer then offered the new owner of the cover about £5 for it. He sold it to a postal historian for £170 and the postal historian described it properly in an auction and got £1500 for it! All along the way one dealer knew a little more than the other. the first dealer put it on sale for the value of the stamp 50p. the second dealer thought it was a nice piece of postal history and paid £5 he did he research and found that the postmark was very scarce, so he's hunch was right. But how much it was worth he did not have the knowledge and not the books to help him, so he sold for what he could get to the postal historian that specialized in that area, his knowledge got it's true value.
So you can see how difficult it is to value some of these items of postal history. One well known postal historian (after a few drinks) once told me if he hadn't seen it before it was £100 if it sold straight away he knew it was to low (and to charge more next time). If he had it still in a months time it was priced to high (don't buy it again). That is how he learned.
To sum up, Use catalogues as a guide only and remember never view stamps after the 1950's as an investment. There are a few & I mean a few exceptions to this guide, MACHIN collectors in the UK being one group (sorry lads). But most important, enjoy your collecting whatever it is.
And keep away from those pretty modern issues from countries that you have never heard of!!! Most of these are bogus and profits from these mostly go to dishonest people.
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