One of the saddest things in the stamp collecting hobby is when a collector who has poured their heart into their 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, aren't they worth more the older they are? No, not necessarily. Some stamp collectors can at times misinterpret signs in the stamp collecting market.
Your Stamps' Value
Many classic stamps, especially U.S. stamps, have similar designs. The difference may be a tiny printing variation or a grill. If you are a new collector and you see a stamp going for big bucks, you may look at your collection and believe that you have one of these stamps, though chances are you have a stamp of similar design, but much less value.
The condition of the stamp matters. You might find that the stamps in your collection of significant catalog value are worth much less than you 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. You may have purchased some nice stamps at bargain prices, but their resale value can easily be next to nothing–if you 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. You can pay a buyer who knows the ropes to put together a stamp collection for you, but where is the fun in that?
If you are a collector and not an investor, and you want to add to your collection, then there is a vast supply of classic stamps available from dealers. Buying from them carries risk, and you may probably wind up with a few stamps that are unwittingly inferior.
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 stamps to an experienced collector–he wouldn't stay in business long. A reputable dealer would often give advice to new collectors, and that sage wisdom would stress that the condition of the stamp was of major importance.
Be Happy With Your Stamps
The hobby of stamp collecting should be a happy refuge. One of the benefits of stamp collecting is that there is an inherent market for stamps, the way there isn't in bottle cap or matchbook collecting, for example.
It can be fun to put together a unique collection that 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 might not notice the amount you have spent (if you don't want to), you'll be happily surprised with the value of your collection as it nears completion.
Another worthless collection 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 get stuck to those pages and sometimes with disastrous effect. 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 and safe to use with paper and inks of the sort used to produced stamps. If you use a product that was not manufactured specifically for your treasured stamp collection, beware you are toying with philatelic tragedy.