American Philatelic Society

Lee, JamesLee, James
Inherited a Collection?
Keep the Collection Safe Until You Decide

While other more pressing concerns may need precedence, storing the stamps in your attic or basement is not a good idea. Make sure that you keep the collection in a cool, dry place. Humidity or moisture can destroy the value of a collection. Albums should be stored upright, rather than standing on their side (pressure on an album will sometimes cause the stamps to stick to the page).

What is the Collection Worth

The value of the collection probably has the greatest impact on how you should proceed, but how do you determine this?

Things to look for - instructions from the owner, an insurance policy, or an inventory list. These items would definitely help in determining the worth of the collection.

Owner Instructions - Some collectors plan their philatelic estate and leave specific instructions including an inventory, an appraisal, contact information and details on how to distribute this collection. Some collectors may even put notes or labels with the collection to guide their heirs for what to do. If instructions were not provided with the Will, take a look around the collection or in the boxes/albums you may find the details you are looking for.

Stamp Insurance Policy - This would frequently be under a special policy as most home owner’s policies have a maximum coverage of no more than $2,500 unless a special rider is obtained (check with their home owners policy!). If they do have special stamp coverage, contacting the insurance company and discussing the policy may give you some guidance on its worth or perhaps may even provide a listing of what was covered showing the more expensive items. The lack of insurance does not mean that the collection has no great value, but probably makes this more likely.

Did the owner leave an inventory? - You may have an inventory list and not even know it! These lists sometimes look like a bunch of numbers jotted down, but it may in fact be the inventory list of catalog numbers indicating quantities and condition. Typically, in the United States, Scott Catalogue numbers would be used for identification. Scott Catalogues are available at many public libraries and list and value nearly all postage stamps ever issued. Please note, however, that the values listed in the catalog are relative guides. Most dealers sell stamps at a small discount from these prices and obviously would not remain in business very long if they paid as much for the stamps as they charge. Additionally the condition of your stamps is very important. A poorly centered stamp or an unused stamp without gum sells for far less than a stamp in better condition.

GET SOME HELP - Stamp Dealers/Local Stamp Shows/Local Clubs Can Help - Another method of determining the value would be to simply take the stamps to a dealer and ask them what they would pay (you may want to clarify to the dealer that you are not requesting an official appraisal - see appraisals below for more information). Feel free to use our online APS Dealers Directory. NOTE: if you ask a dealer to come to your home to review the collection, the dealer may expect to be paid - be sure to discuss this in advance and agree upon an amount.

Many individuals with little knowledge about postage stamps worry that they will not be offered a fair price. The vast majority of dealers are trustworthy but it is a good idea to verify that a dealer is a member of the American Philatelic Society (all dealers listed on the above mentioned dealer directory are APS members), the American Stamp Dealers Association or the National Stamp Dealers Association as these organizations have established codes of ethics. If you are still concerned about receiving a fair price for your stamps you might consider visiting a local stamp show (see our Show Calendar). This would provide you with the opportunity to offer the material to several dealers and compare how much they will pay. You also may wish to contact a local stamp club, where you might find help.

APS Estate Advice - If the individual who owned the collection was an APS member who passed away within the past year, the APS will try to find someone who could come and view the collection and provide advice. You may contact the APS Estate Advice Service by clicking here or calling (814)933-3803. Please remember that this service is for heirs of APS members only!

Appraisals - A formal appraisal may not be needed unless required for legal purposes. A formal appraisal typically costs $50 to $100 an hour and provides no guarantee that the material can be sold for the valuation provided. Most appraisals are performed by stamp dealers so again feel free to use our online APS Dealers Directory. Before arranging for an appraisal, make sure you agree on the cost of the appraisal and the basis for valuation of the items (resale value or replacement value). Most appraisals do not require development of a complete inventory. The appraiser will focus on the more valuable items in determining the appraisal - so don't be surprised when you do not receive a full inventory or if little time is being paid to relatively common material. Most collections primarily consist of relatively common material and most of the value comes from a small portion of the collection.

What to do with the Collection

Once you have determined an idea of the value, you have several options.

Keep it - First, you could keep the collection for yourself. If this is of interest we encourage you to become a member of the APS. You can find out more about the APS and join online. We offer all sorts of help for beginners.

Pass it on to a Family Member - If you have determined the collection has relatively little value, you may wish to consider giving it to a child, grandchild, or other relative. While the monetary value may be small, the educational value and fun that may be derived may be large.

Donate It - Many organizations gladly accept donations and some such as the APS are IRS approved non-profit organizations so that you may claim a tax deduction. Visit our donation pages, for more details.

Sell It - Many people ask the best way to sell their collection. Unfortunately, there is no single best way for every collection. Key factors include the relative value of the items to be sold, the amount of time you wish to invest in selling the material, and how quickly payment is required.

If You Decide to Sell the Collection

Public Auctions - For individual items valued in the hundreds or thousands of dollars many individuals find public auctions to be most appropriate. Assuming the auction is well publicized thousands of collectors and many stamp dealers should receive a catalog with a picture of the item and the opportunity to bid. Of course higher priced items may be sold to a dealer. And generally this brings immediate payment while selling at a public auction will likely require three months or more before payment is received.

Stamp Dealers - Most mid-priced material, say from $1 to $100, is sold to stamp dealers to resell to their customers. Your collection could be sold as one unit, or if you have the time, you may wish to sell parts to different dealers. For example, a dealer specializing in Latin America would likely pay more for your Mexican stamps than general U.S. dealers, a Postal History Specialist may pay more for covers, etc. Of course if you choose to break the collection up this will require more time and effort on your part.

NOTE: We recommend obtaining more than one offer before selling and we encourage you to take your time - do not let anyone pressure you into a sale. If a potential buyer requires you to make an immediate decision, you are probably better off passing. It is not unreasonable to expect an offer to be valid for 30 days. We have seen too many times where the heir of an estate makes a hasty decision and regrets selling soon after the sale. So take some time, discuss it with family members, and be sure. Sometimes these items have more of a sentimental value than you realize until they are gone.

APS Member Services Available for Selling - Lower end material is most often sold as one unit although many American Philatelic Society members use our Circuit Sales Division. Mounting stamps in our sales books requires APS membership (we invite you to join), some philatelic knowledge, is very time intensive and payment is usually not received for 18 months, but the realizations may be much greater.

The newest method of selling is over the Internet. Ebay and several competitors offer on line auctions. This requires a computer, scanner, and Internet access. It offers quick turnaround and is best for mid-priced items. The APS also offers net price sales over the Internet which does not require any computer equipment. Additional information on this service is available at

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