One of the saddest things in the hobby is when a collector who has poured his heart into his collection goes to sell and is told by a dealer that the collection is virtually worthless.
How does this happen? Aren't all stamps valuable, and the older they are, the more their worth? Well, no. Stamp collectors don't truly fool themselves, but they do at times misinterpret the signs.
Simple Facts of Stamps' Value
The fact is that many classic stamps, especially U.S. stamps, have similar designs. The difference may be a tiny printing variation or a grill. When a new collector sees a stamp going for big bucks he may look at his collection and believe he has one of these stamps, though chances are he has a stamp of similar design, but much less value.
If a collector hasn't gotten the memo about condition, he will find that the stamps in his collection of significant catalog value are worth much less than he believed. "Buy the best you can afford," isn't just a casually tossed-off phrase, but words to live by in stamp collecting. Inferior quality stamps are in fact nearly worthless. The collector may have purchased some nice stamps at bargain prices, but their resale value can easily be next to nothing -- if the collector can resell them at all.
It is the rare collector who can jump into the stamp collecting game and knowledgeably buy the stamps that will hold their value. Sure, you can pay a buyer who knows the ropes to put together a stamp collection for you, but where's the fun in that?
Assuming you want to be a collector and not an investor and also assuming you want to add to your collection from the vast supply of classic stamps available from dealers -- and not just buy pretty new stickers from the post office -- you are probably going to wind up with a few stamps that you'll recognize as dogs as you gain experience.
In the old days of collecting - that is, when stamp collectors used to actually buy their stamps at stamp shops from stamp dealers, it was easy to get a quick education about stamps. An honest and above board dealer would never try to sell poor quality to an experienced collector - he wouldn't stay in business long. But what's more, that dealer would give the advice that condition is of major importance to a new unaware collector the first time he set foot in the shop.
Be Happy With Your Stamps
We all want the hobby of stamp collecting to be a happy refuge, as all hobbies should be. One of the benefits of stamp collecting is that there is an inherent market for our items, the way there isn't in bottle cap or matchbook collecting, for example.
Yes, it can be fun to put together a unique collection that shows your personal stamp (pun not intended) or says something about your personality. But don't expect your quirky collection to have much resale value, unless you spend some serious money putting it together. It is less painful financially if you collect piece by piece. While you won't even notice the amount you've spent (if you don't want to), you'll be happily surprised with the value of your collection as it nears completion - a point that is your choice alone.
Another sad worthless collection other than the personal quirky one no one wants is one that contains valuable stamps that are mounted or otherwise put in albums or on display using do-it-yourself methods. Some collectors have used inexpensive photo albums for their stamps. Some of those contain pages that have an adhesive on the pages which a photo will readily stick to. A stamp can also be stuck to those pages, though without exception it is to disastrous effect. Because if you are lucky to eventually pull the stamp off one of those pages without ripping it you will find that after time that adhesive has discolored the stamp and also may have ruined the glue.
Makers of stamp and cover mounts have tested their materials to assure that they are of archival quality, safe to use with paper and inks of the sort used to produced stamps. To try to use a product that wasn't manufactured specifically for your treasured stamp collection is to invite a philatelic tragedy.