Tune in to any one of the philatelic social media channels and the question that you’ll commonly see posted is ‘What’s it worth?’, accompanied by a photograph of a stamp or collection. Sadly, in the majority of cases the answer is, ‘don’t give up the day job just yet’ or words to that effect! Even where there is potential value, it is often hidden in a plethora of other low-value material. It can be virtually impossible to get a meaningful online valuation. However, there are now a number of tools available to assist those with very little knowledge of Philately.
The first point to note is that the philatelic market is just like any other founded on the principle of supply and demand. A stamp is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it. It can take years to acquire the expertise and knowledge to value a collection. Therefore, not surprisingly, the traditional and more formal approach is either to take your collection to a dealer or to a local philatelic club or society.
A dealer is likely to spend time reviewing the collection and will provide you with a valuation or estimate. However, keep in mind that the dealer is running a business and therefore you can expect to pay a fee for the service or a premium if you agree to consign it to auction. For a more hands-on approach, a club or society will be able to provide advice, guidance and in some cases resources, such as philatelic catalogues, to assist you in valuing.
As more of our daily lives are executed online, many are naturally turning to philatelic social media. The classification and state of the printed material, gum, perforations, colour, watermark etc. all play a part in determining value. In reality, the photograph accompanying a typical online query is far from sufficient to determine all of these variables and therefore its very difficult to get an accurate valuation.
However, there are now a number of tools available to assist even the most novice philatelist derive an estimate. A little bit of homework will save you considerable time and effort later and will enable you to direct the right questions to online philatelic experts. I have found the approach shared below effective and requires very little knowledge of Philately. I welcome feedback and comments from other philatelists willing to share their methods.
Firstly, download the Stamp Identifier App onto your device of choice – it is available on Google Play and App Store. Stamp Identifier uses advanced image recognition technology to find the stamp in the online community catalogue, Colnect (colnect.com). The App is free and you do not need a subscription to Colnect. Once installed, you simply need to acquire an image of the stamp. The simplest way of achieving this is to tap on the camera icon on the Stamp Identifier main menu.
Point your device camera at the stamp in question and within seconds, the image recognition technology will have scanned the image and searched for potential matches on Colnect. You can then select the correct item from a menu of matched stamp images and then view the associated details of the stamp including country, series, catalogue id., issue date, face value, perforation, size etc.
I have the found the App extremely effective and is improving as more material is added to the Colnect. If you are struggling to get a match, I’ve found that placing the stamp on a solid black background significantly improves the matching algorithm success. Alternatively, take a photograph of the stamp and then tap the image icon on the Stamp Identifier main menu. This allows you to crop the image which also improves the accuracy of matching.
Now that you have identified the stamp, you can value it. Conveniently, Stamp Identifier provides a link to eBay where items matching the description can be displayed. The matching is dependent on the accuracy of the eBay descriptions but with a little selective scrolling you should be able to get an indication of the price that the item is selling at on eBay. Of course, eBay provides more advanced pricing tools based on history of similarly classified items but personally, I prefer not to use eBay to price stamps as the descriptions rarely account for the many variations that can influence a valuation – but that’s a topic for a future post.
Most philatelists will refer to one of the many price catalogues. Conveniently again, Stamp Identifier identifies the catalogue identifier for catalogues issued by vendors such as Stanley Gibbons (www.stanleygibbons.com), Scott (www.scottonline.com) and Michel (www.briefmarken.de). Many of these catalogues are available in hard copy form or via an online subscription. If you have access to these catalogues, you will be able to use the identifier to cross reference the item and determine the estimated selling price for Mint / Unused / Used condition. Keep in mind that these are indicative prices only and are typically for items in fine condition. As a general guide, you should assume 20-40% of the catalogue price for estimated valuation purposes.
A novice is unlikely to have ready access to a philatelic price catalogue and are not cost-effective for once-off valuations. If you think you might want to learn more about philately and take up the hobby then they are well worth the investment. If not, there is an alternative free online resource – Stampworld (www.stampworld.com). It may require a little more work but, armed with the country and date of issue from Stamp Identifier, you can search through the catalogue and derive an estimated selling price. Simply, select Catalogue from the main menu on the left of the Stampworld homepage, select the country from the list, select the year from the top right menu and scroll through to the relevant stamp issue.
The approach highlighted above requires a little time and effort. If you find it even somewhat rewarding … you’re on the path to becoming a philatelist … welcome! If not, you are least armed with an indicative value of an stamp or collection. As highlighted earlier, there are limitations to all tools and services as none of them are able to take account of all the variables that influence price. However, it will allow you to focus on the items of most relative value and ensure that you are able to conduct a more meaningful dialogue with the online philatelic community.
For further information about Purchasing, Valuations and Sales, please visit M&S Philately Services.