How to Sell Rare Stamps


If you’re wondering how to sell rare stamps, you’ve come to the right place. Do you have an old stamp collection, thinking it’s time to cash in? Not sure where to turn? 

Whether you are new to the world of stamps or have accumulated a relatively large collection over the years, here are some of the best ways to get the most value and the best price for your stamps.

Why Build a Stamp Collection?

While you may not have started the hobby for the investment potential, investing in stamps is appealing for the following reasons:

  • It provides diversification to equities, real estate, and common assets in a typical portfolio because it tends to be highly uncorrelated with those asset classes.
  • Stamps are finite, can be a high and portable store of wealth, and tend to perform well in times of high market volatility and uncertainty.
  • The value in investing in specific rare and valuable stamps has continued to appreciate over time.

Challenges of Stamp Collecting

Of course, there are challenges associated with investing in stamps, most commonly:

  • High subject matter expertise in philately is needed to know how to value stamps and find deals.
  • Stamps are at risk of damage and deterioration – they need to be insured and cared for.
  • A long-term view is necessary for stamps to appreciate, and it also takes time to find the right buyer to sell your stamps.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of stamp collecting and investing, we should go over a brief history of the stamp and how it changed communication in the pre-internet era.

The First Stamp: Penny Black

Stamp collecting is an old hobby that encompasses history, geography, art, and politics, and it all begins with innovations in the British postage system. 

Before 1873, the postage system was highly costly. Letters were sent around the country by horse riders, and the cost of this time- and labor-intensive process depended on the number of sheets of paper, and the distance traveled.

how to sell rare stamps
The world’s first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black.

Additionally, when the receiver obtained the letter, they had to pay for the postage cost, which was inconvenient if you didn’t have the money in hand at the time of delivery. 

The Reformed Postal System

The old postage system was expensive and inconvenient for ordinary individuals, so it was almost impossible to communicate via letters for an extended period of history. 

In 1837, Rowland Hill campaigned to reform the postal system. He proposed a standardized, pre-paid system for sending postage across Britain. He was the first to introduce a universal postal rate with an adhesive stamp to indicate prepayment of postage. 

This stamp would be known as the Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp. Notably, the reformed postal system formed the basis of the modern postage service, ensuring that ordinary people could send letters and communicate with each other from afar.

Investing in a Penny Black

The Penny Black is one of the most coveted stamps that serious collectors aspire to own due to its historical context. 

The first Penny Black was issued on May 1, 1840, but not valid for use until May 6, and the stamp features a profile of Queen Victoria (in black and white, of course). 

The Penny Black is an interesting case as an investment because, with 68 million stamps produced in a one-year print run, it is not necessarily a rare stamp, even by today’s standards. 

The World of Penny Black Stamps

However, not all Penny Blacks are of equal value. Those posted with a May 6, 1840 date (the first day they were valid for use) are the most valued for historical reasons. 

Other factors that increase the value of a Penny Black include varieties introduced by defects. These defects result from differences in printing from engraved steel plates. 

Penny Blacks were supposed to be canceled using red ink and a Maltese Cross postmark. However, some Penny Blacks have different shades of color due to postmasters mixing their inks. These varieties are also highly valued by collectors. 


Back to Building Your Stamp Collection

While you may never invest in a Penny Black, let’s come back to your stamp collection. We’ll go over common strategies to build a stamp collection as an investment position. 

Rare Stamps

One approach to investing in a stamp collection is identifying and collecting rare stamps that act as “blue chip” investments. These are relatively safer investments but require expertise to determine and maybe have a high price up front. 

Thematic Collection

Stamps collected based on some grouping, such as a similar and well-defined period or a particular theme such as monuments, can increase the value of a collection. However, the best way to ensure you sell your collection at a high price is to have a complete set.

A Cautionary Tale Investing in Old Stamps

Old stamps with historical significance or rarity can sell at a high price. However, it’s crucial to determine what an “old” stamp looks like. 

For instance, almost all unused U.S. stamps issued after 1930 are worth face value, or the postage value of your stamps that you can use to send mail. Even though we would consider these “old” stamps, stamp values are not necessarily correlated with age. Thus, subject matter expertise becomes more critical when determining the value of older stamps.

Maintaining Your Stamp Collection

Whether you’re selling your stamp collection soon or sometime in the distant future, you need to ensure that you are following best practices so that your stamp collection appreciates over time. Here are some tips to keep in mind when maintaining your stamp collection.

Stamp Collection Albums

Keeping your stamps in the right place is key. Even small collections should have a dedicated stamp album to ensure that your stamps are kept in the best condition, which will maximize their value over the long term. For a small upfront cost, stamp albums are a good idea, and an affordable way to keep your collection looking great.

Keep Your Stamp Album in the Right Environment

Factors such as humidity, light, and temperature can damage your stamps. In general, it’s a good practice to keep your stamp album in a dark and dry place.

how to sell rare stamps

Leave Stamps Attached to Envelopes

Unless you have experience removing stamps from envelopes, you may want to keep the stamp on the envelope. In some instances, stamps are valued highly when attached to the envelope. In these instances, you should consult with an expert in philately if you’re unsure how to maintain the value of the stamp. 

Insure Your Stamp Collection

Suppose you have purchased or believe you possess some rare or valuable stamps. In that case, it’s essential to buy insurance for your collection. After all, accidents and disasters can happen at any time, and you should protect yourself, especially if these assets end up contributing to a significant portion of your investment portfolio.

Valuing Your Stamp Collection

When it comes to valuing your stamp collection before selling your collection or simply seeing where your collection stands today, there are several options to explore. We’ll go over common ways to appraise your collection.

The basics of how a stamp auction house values a collection.

Stamp collectors and investors acquire vast knowledge and expertise in philately to identify and distinguish between rare stamps with value and types of stamps worth very little. If you are invested in the hobby, you can have the expertise to assess the value of your collection. 

If you’re starting out or inherited a stamp collection, you can still get started assessing the value of your collection with the help of databases such as The World Stamp Identifier tool before seeking out expert opinions. However, we would not recommend selling your collection without an accurate appraisal from a reputable source.

Get an Appraisal from a Reputable Stamp Dealer 

To get a fair price for the value of your stamps, you should consider consulting with a certified stamp dealer. These dealers are the best places to get an appraisal because they are registered with the American Philatelic Society and must adhere to best business practices determined by the society to hold their membership.

The world of stamp collecting is vast, so it’s best to partner with experienced stamp dealers. 

However, there is typically a fee to have your stamps professionally appraised. If you decide to be a little riskier and get a free appraisal from a non-certified stamp dealer, be aware that may not have your best interests and are most likely trying to profit from your collection.

Stamp Catalogues

Stamp catalogs detail the prices of specific stamps and can be a helpful starting off point to determine the approximate value of your stamps. However, you may find that your small collection valued at high prices according to the catalogues contain inflated purchase price compared to actual market prices.

What’s the reason for this difference? Stamp catalog prices are based on historical data. They do not reflect daily market activity on online marketplaces such as eBay or in local stamp clubs where more up-to-date prices are available. 

When preparing to sell your collection, you can use a stamp catalog to get a rough estimate of the prices your stamps will sell for. Still, a more accurate measure will most likely be found online or appraised by experts.

Important Factors Determining the Value of Your Stamp Collection

Finding valuable stamps can be like finding a needle in a haystack, but there are important factors that help determine the value of all stamps. We’ll highlight the main ones.

How to Sell Rare Stamps – Stamp Condition

While this may be obvious, the physical condition of your stamp collection will impact the selling value. Some attributes that are commonly used to evaluate a stamp’s condition include:

  • Gum or the adhesive material binds the stamp’s paper material to a surface. In general, having the original gum on the stamp is associated with the highest value return.
  • Degumming can be applied by a professional to improve the condition of a stamp. This is sometimes better than stamps with no gum, which is typically of lower value due to improper care.
  • Thinned stamps are also considered to be of lower quality. This is where the gum and a little paper material were removed (likely due to inappropriate removal from a surface).
  • Additionally, the perforations of a stamp can determine the stamp’s conditions and are considered in the valuation. 

There is a vast difference between a stamp in good condition and mint. Small tears, reduced / lack of original gumming, and ugly cancellations can lower the stamp value significantly, sometimes devaluing the stamp completely. 


Do you Collect Stamps and Coins? Read more about rare and valuable coins –

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How to Sell Rare Stamps – Stamp Grading

Stamp grading refers to the centering and cancellations of a postage stamp. In general, stamps with equal margins tend to sell more because they are more visually appealing. Additionally, light and neat cancellations are preferred to those that distort the image on the stamp.

Rarity

As mentioned before, stamps are rare based on several attributes, including printing errors, specific perforations, cancellations, and limited issues. Unless you are an expert in a particular set of stamps, we would recommend having a philatelist or another stamp expert to determine and evaluate potential rare stamps in your collection. 

How To Sell Rare Stamps and Entire Collections

If you’re trying to sell your stamp collection or even unused postage stamps, here are some of the options available to you and some of the pros and cons.

Stamp Dealers

As mentioned before, a certified stamp dealer can provide a fair appraisal for your stamp collection. That being said, they are experts in the game and are in the business of making a profit from you as a living. If you view this as a win-win situation, you should go with a dealer and focus on how you’re going to spend this money!

Stamp Shows

Stamp shows are events where stamp collectors and stamp buyers get together to buy, trade, or sell stamps for their collections. Here you can potentially get the highest sale price for your stamps because you’ll be in a position to negotiate with several collectors competing to get a deal. If you are knowledgeable about your collection, this can be a lucrative option to get the most out of your collection.

Auctions

If you’re searching for answers on how to sell rare stamps, online auction houses are a valuable resource. The Stamp Auction Network is one of the largest buyers of stamps, individual or entire stamp collections. Additionally, the markup in an auction can extract more value from your collection. 

However, an auction house will get a cut of the profits from sellers’ fees and commission charges plus VAT. These costs need to be factored in when considering an auction house.

American Philatelic Society Circuit Sales

The APS circuit books are a great place to offer large amounts of stamps to buyers. Send your stamps mounted inside an APS sales book. Create a descriptive list with the desired price and mail them to the Circuit Sales department. Once inspected, stamp books are circulated for 18 to 24 months. Any stamps not purchased over the time period will be returned to the seller.

Best Websites to Sell Rare Stamps

There are dozens of great websites for buying and selling rare stamps.

Apfelbaum, Inc.

West Coast Stamps

Mystic Stamp Company

Sell Unused Stamps

Miller’s Stamp Company


Most Valuable Stamps of All Time

The British Guiana 1c Magenta – $8.3 Million

The British Guiana 1c Magenta

British rare stamp dealer, Stanley Gibbons, purchased the 1856 British Guiana 1c Magenta for $8.3 million. The stamp is estimated to be, gram for gram, the most valuable man-made object in the world. Printed on the tiny magenta paper is a three-mast ship and the motto, “We give and expect in return.”

After the purchase, the new owner of the stamp called it “the Holy Grail of philately.” It’s commonly referred to as the rarest stamp in the world.

Benjamin Franklin Z Grill – $4 Million

how to sell rare stamps Benjamin Franklin Z Grill

With only two in existence, the 1868 one-cent Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill stamp is one of the most rare and valuable vintage stamps of all time.

One of the Z-Grills is owned by the New York Public Library, and the other was traded by Mystic Stamp Company owner Donald Sundman to finance-titan “Bond King” Bill Gross in 2005 for $3 million worth of Inverted Jenny stamps.

Here are a few more of the most valuable stamps of all time. Disagree? Let me know which stamps you believe to be the most valuable, and I’ll add them to the list.

  • British Guiana 1c Magenta, 1856 $8.3 million
  • Benjamin Franklin Z Grill, 1868 $4 million
  • Treskilling Yellow, 1855 $2.6 million
  • The Sicilian Error of Color, 1859 $2.6 million
  • Baden 9 Kreuzer Error, 1851 $1.7 million
  • The Inverted Jenny, 1918 $1.4 million
  • 3c George Washington B Grill, 1867 $1 million
  • Tifis Stamp, 1857 $800,000
  • 24c declaration of Independence, 1869 $700,000
  • Hawaiian Missionaries, 1851 $650,000

Here’s a great recap of the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta and the 1918 24-Cent Inverted Jenny. Two of the most valuable rare stamps of all time.

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