What's It Worth: Stamp Collections
Are you in the possession of a large stamp collection, either amassed on your own or inherited from others? With over 400,000 different stamps estimated to be in existence worldwide, possible combinations of stamps are virtually limitless.
Given the small size of each piece of ephemera, individual collections can be massive. One of our recent clients reported a personal inventory of over 19,000 foreign stamps! Whether you are a longtime collector yourself or have recently inherited a collection, you may be wondering if your stamps have value as a collectors’ item. We’ve taken a look at 2022 values in this edition of What’s It Worth: Stamp Collections.
A Miniature History of Stamp Collecting
Philately, or the appreciation and collection of stamps, is as old as stamps themselves. The first U.S postage stamp was issued in 1847, and by 1860, thousands of collectors had already turned their attention to accumulating, cataloging, and swapping them with fellow enthusiasts.
Stamp collecting has sustained worldwide popularity for generations, with many older people starting as children, and eventually bequeathing their collection to their own children or grandchildren. Among the stamp-obsessed are names like Amelia Earhart, Freddie Mercury, and Queen Elizabeth II. The people that have been captivated by this hobby range from young to old, average to famous, and from anywhere on Earth!
Do People Still Collect Stamps?
Despite a slump in interest over the past two decades in part by the rise of technology and decline of “snail mail”, there is evidence that stamp collecting as a hobby is reemerging with newfound enthusiasm. As baby boomers move into the empty nest or retirement phase, they have found they now have time to rekindle old interests. Some speculate that an overload of digital entertainment and downtime created by the pandemic may be contributing to a renewed interest in collectibles.
The people collecting stamps today take delight in the pastime, which offers something for everyone. Some stamps are like miniature works of art, and many collectors focus on specific categories like countries, types of postage, time periods, or historical events.
With such a range of subject matter available, anyone can find a keepsake to fit their niche. Whether it be golf, wine, fancy cars, travel, gardening, or photography, you can collect stamps that relate to your interests. While the future of the hobby remains to be seen, for now, it’s safe to say that stamp collecting remains a popular and enduring activity for people of all ages.
So, What’s it Worth?
As with most collections, stamps are almost never valued at the cost that was spent to amass them. Experts agree that the vast majority of stamp collections, particularly United States stamps issued after 1940, have very little resale value.
While rarity and value motivated collectors in the past, the majority of stamp collections today are no longer regarded as an investment. Here are some considerations to help you decide if selling is the right decision for you:
- The Scott Postage Stamp Catalog is probably the best source of relative stamp values. While values may vary widely, many collectors say they would expect to pay 20% of the catalog price for a stamp in as recently as 2021.
- 90% of all stamps ever issued are worth a few cents each.
- The vast majority of US stamp collections sold on eBay over the past twelve months were either sold or priced at less than $50, with over half of those priced at less than $20
Still thinking you may have some valuable stamps?
- Stamps are highly documented in catalogs and books, making it highly unlikely that anyone would happen upon an extremely rare or valuable stamp that has not been identified already.
- In general, Pre-1900 stamps in perfect condition may be valuable, and of course, there are some “Holy Grail” of stamps, such as The British Guiana 1c Magenta (1856), which has been described as “the Mona Lisa of the stamp world”, and the Penny Black (1840) that features a profile of Queen Victoria.
A substantial, advanced, or highly specialized collection may be submitted to one of the larger Philatelic Auction Houses for appraisal and auction.
With these things in mind, it may not be worth the time and effort to sell your collection. For a novice, determining the potential value of a full stamp collection involves a great number of steps, and appraisals may vary widely.
Our advice? You may choose to share, enjoy, donate, or recycle your stamps. One thing is for sure: we don’t recommend that the uninitiated should take on the time required to research your inherited collection, unless of course you want to take on a new hobby of your own!