Identifying stamps

How to identify your stamps to where to sell your inherited collection

You have inherited a stamp collection, you don’t know its value but you want to sell it.

Selling your stamp collection isn’t quite as straightforward as you might first think.

Yes, you already have your stamps ready and waiting to be sold. But selling isn’t a simple matter of listing the collection on eBay and waiting for the money to roll in.

In many cases, people with stamp collections don’t know the full value of what they’d like to sell. In fact, many of those with collections don’t even know the precise identities of the stamps they have. This is why it’s generally a much better idea to go to an auction house or a private stamp dealer, than to sell your stamps yourself through eBay or a similar website. Auction houses and private dealers will be able to identify your stamps and their market values, meaning that you’ll have a much better chance of selling your collection according to what it’s really worth.


Private Stamp Dealer or Auction House

The question is, which is better: a private stamp dealer or an auction house? Well, the answer to this question depends on how quickly you want to sell your stamps and on how much you’d like to get for them. Because in the main, you can sell more quickly and easily with a stamp dealer, but you may get more of the overall value of your stamps through an auction house.

You can find stamp dealers and auction houses through a number of sources. The Philatelic Traders’ Society (PTS) has an extensive list of auctioneers and dealers on its website, under the “Find Our Members” section. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it does currently count over 300 entries, so it’s a good place to start.

Then there are magazines, such as Stamp Magazine and Gibbons Stamp Monthly. Such titles include ads from a range of dealers and auction houses. Although, once again, their ads aren’t exhaustive, so do look in more than one place.

Assuming that you’ve identified some likely candidates, choosing between an auction house and a dealer depends on several factors.


Selling through an Auction House

There are several stamp auctions up and down the country. A quick search online will show you the main auction houses near you. Most Auction houses hold approximately four auctions a year, although there are some, smaller provincial auction houses that hold auctions every eight weeks.

If you take your collection to an auction house they will tell you approximately what you can expect to sell your collection for and, if you are happy with the price, they will put it into their next auction, usually with an agreed reserve price.

Bear in mind that, if you sell your stamps through an auction house, you will have to pay anything from 15% to 25% commission on the hammer price and, in general, you will have to wait approximately one month, following the sale, to receive payment.

Auction houses are attended by dealers and collectors, who also have to pay a commission on their purchase. In the main, dealers will pay a slightly lower percentage of the catalogue value of your stamps than collectors will because this is their business and they have to make a profit.

By its very nature, selling your collection at Auction, is a gamble. You may get a higher price, you may get less than you hoped, and if you set a reserve price, it may not sell.


Selling through a Private Dealer

Price is one thing, but some people may want to sell their stamps and stamp collections quickly. In this respect, you can almost always sell more quickly with a dealer than with an auctioneer.

You can find local stamp dealers through the Philatelic Traders Society (PTS) or a quick search online.

The dealer will arrange for you to bring in, or send via post, your collection, where upon they will view it, value it, and, if of interest, will make an offer there and then.

Bear in mind that private dealers also buy their material through the main Auction houses. Therefore a dealer would value and price your collection the same way they would if they viewed your collection at the Auction. The advantage of selling through a dealer is there is no commission to pay so it is a “win, win” for both the seller and dealer.

According to Empire Philatelist’s MD Stuart Chandler, if selling with a dealer, you can receive payment immediately. “I often get people coming round with collections and, if of interest, I will make an offer and pay straight away,”

This covers the main differences between auction houses and private dealers. However, the type of stamp collection you have should also be taken into account when considering where to sell your collection.


Identifying what type of Stamp Collection you have

Juvenile collections, commonly known as school boy collections, are, generally speaking, not of much value. Even though a stamp may be old, if it was cheap a hundred years ago, it is still cheap today. Conversely, if it was rare a hundred years ago it is still rare today. If a stamp collection was collected on pocket money then it is most likely a juvenile collection and of little value. Another indicator of a low value collection is the stamps are all loose in envelopes or packets. This type of collection is usually best sold through private dealers or local provincial auctions.

If your collection is organized in an album, or stock book, and each stamp has been meticulously identified, then this would generally indicate that the collection is that from a more serious philatelist and could be of more value. This type of collection is best sold through one of the main auction houses or to a larger private dealer who would have the finances to purchase your collection.

As all philatelists will tell you, “condition is everything” which is why you will hear the words, could be, may be, and might be of some value.

Another thing to look out for is if you take a look through your collection and it contains unused, post decimal, Queen Elizabeth II UK postage stamps, usually in presentation packs or commemorative booklets, then a dealer would offer you 50% of the face value of these stamps as they can use these stamps for postage.



In summary, you may be able to get a bit more for your stamp collection by selling through an auction house. However, this isn’t guaranteed, you will have to pay commission and it will take time.


If realizing your asset quickly is more important to you then you should contact a private dealer, first checking that they are registered with the PTS, who will, usually, value the collection, make an offer, and make payment, all on the same day.