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General Philatelic/Newcomer Cnr : Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

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capn_ed
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24 Aug 2020
11:46:36pm
I'm starting to get into the hobby in earnest, after a previous attempt about 15 years ago was stalled by life happening, stealing all my free time.

Now, I have more time, and I would like to get what I've already got into some sort of order, and maybe start building a collection for real. I'm excited to get started.

But, from reading a bit on this forum and elsewhere, I get the idea that there may be some expensive pitfalls waiting for an unsuspecting newbie. For example, at some point, I bought a bunch of stamps from former Soviet satellites and Arabic countries I've never heard of. Some reading up suggests I've got a bunch of Easter Bloc CTO stamps and "Dunes". They look nice, but I suspect there's basically no value, philatelic or otherwise. I'm not collecting as an investment (I'm interested in the history and the artistry of the stamps), but I'd rather not waste my money on wallpaper.

So, what should a newbie watch out for? How dodgy is it to purchase stamps online, which seems to be my primary option for the foreseeable future, given the state of the world? How big a rip-off is it to buy stamps from a website like Mystic (not picking on Mystic; I just don't know who else there is)? What about purchasing through something like StampStore.org? How about from a random eBay seller? Is there good advice like "never buy a mixed lot, it's always trash" or "don't pay more than X% of the catalog value for bulk stamps"?

There seems to be plenty of advice around about how to care for stamps, ways to collect, basic tools needed, and that sort of thing, but not much about how to make smart purchases.
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51Studebaker
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Dialysis, damned if you do...dead if you don't
25 Aug 2020
04:16:00am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

I think the best advice I can offer is spend money based upon your ‘enjoyment factor’. In other words, before spending money consider how much intrinsic enjoyment the purchase will represent to you. This way, the odds of feeling buyer remorse or otherwise regretting a purchase is lessened.

Trying to collect for investment is a very difficult approach that is filled with many pitfalls; in my opinion doing it that way requires a much greater level of experience and discovery.

If you are seeking to learn about history, other cultures, and art then you’re your purchase decisions become easier to navigate. If your purchases are in the context of a ‘good investment’ then your buying decisions become trickier.

I do agree with investing time in doing discovery on who you are buying from, the transition of our hobby to online has made this more important than in the past. Common sense tells us that buying something that you have not held in your hand can be dicey. Recourse can be difficult if the seller in located in Kathmandu. I typically start slow with a seller that is new to me. I also try to build a relationship with a number of auction firms or sellers over time; just because we do more business online does not mean that we forget how to form business relationships like we did with brick and mortars stores.
Don

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TribalErnie
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25 Aug 2020
07:02:45am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

It sounds like you haven't yet settled into any particular country or era so my advice would be to start with smaller value purchases until you further refine your collecting goals and strategy.

Some collectors settle in on a country or a few countries with a goal of "100% completion up to 19xx". Otheres take on a more fluid approach where their collecting goals shift, drift, morph and change. There is no right or wrong way to collect.

As you make small purchases across many outlets, you're confidence will start to build and your knowledge will increase. Before long, you may feel more comfortable in making more significant purchases.

Alot of it is trial and error. I suspect lifelong collectors sometimes ask "why did I buy this?" and even the most astute and experienced collector can get "burned" on a purchase.

I guess the main takeaways are start small, do a great deal of reading and research and finally....HAVE FUN!

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
25 Aug 2020
07:44:05am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

Don and Ernie really nailed it.

I love my stamps. I've never made a purchase that I regretted; all either added to my collection or to my knowledge and, occasionally, both. When I first started getting into covers, I bought anything that looked interesting (mind you, i'm in the 50c box, so my investment isn't steep) and THEN I found out what it was. More often than not, it was some common stamp from a common location with a common cancel paying a common rate. But if you haven't seen it before, how would you know. From lots of tiny little errors, a far more informed collector is created. I use "errors" guardedly, because really, they are the basis of my education.

Your dune and east bloc purchases are likely in the same vein. you learned something. That doesn't mean that those beautiful stamps can't be an important part of your collection; it just means you now know that they don't have significant secondary market value. So what. Romanian nudes are among the world's sexiest; Soviet rocket ships go the highest and fastest; and Communist-era Czech stamps are instantly recognizable from a distinctive aesthetic.

one of the other comments is useful: find an area you like, and concentrate on it. It will either be the linchpin of your future or provide you with another learning experience until you find some other area that you like more.

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philb
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25 Aug 2020
05:03:05pm

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re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

How could we always know what the right choice is ? i have paid way to much in some situations and let bargains slip through my hands in others.

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capn_ed
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25 Aug 2020
05:16:21pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

Thanks to all who've answered already. This is all good to know.

What I'm looking for is the most high-level, first-order knowledge.

For example, another thing I'm interested in is video games. A video game store like Game Stop will buy your used video games, but they will pay you a paltry sum for them, and resell them an a much higher price. That's fine, they have to sell for more than they paid to stay in business, but if someone asked me, I would say, "You can do that, but you aren't going to get a very good price. It will be kind of a rip-off". The sort of advice I'm asking for is on that level.

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Webpaper
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25 Aug 2020
07:46:13pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

You have been given very good advice above. If you are looking for return on investment in all likelihood you will be disappointed. This is a hobby and at the end of the day you pay for the enjoyment received, Just like golf, fishing, boating, antique cars, serious photography, etc it costs money to participate.

If you are doing it for your love of the art form and as a springboard to history it will awaken the inner child in you and be rewarding, just not profitable.

No retail store selling items averaging a few dollars apiece can survive if they pay much for the items they sell - do the math - it isn't pretty.

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Speaker
25 Aug 2020
08:14:13pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

You got a lot of terrific advice, I see. I will try to give some of my perspectives on your specific questions.

- I buy stuff online all the time. I think it's great. You can comparison shop way easier than you could back in the old days.
- What to pay for stamps? Depends. Scarce items may go for above Scott, common items at a fraction of Scott. What I do is shop around. You can check ebay, stamps2go, the stampstore, Mystic, and you will probably find a dozen sellers for many things and get a reasonable idea of what something is going for. Of course, condition and the reputation of the seller will factor in as well.
- I buy stuff on ebay all the time. Once in a while I get something that is a disappointment, but 90% of the time I find the seller is willing to work with me to address it. You might feel a little safer dealing with someone who states they are a member of APS.
- By mixed lots, I assume you mean a "mystery box" sort of thing? The usual wisdom on those is you will find a few good things, and the rest is not of use to you. There are probably better ways of building your collection in the beginning.
- If you want things that have the best chance of retaining their value, you are probably best off collecting US, Canada, Western Europe, or European colonies. No one would categorize those areas as "junk". But as everyone else has said, don't let that stop you from collecting what you like. I have large collections of Eastern Europe, and I like them. Just don't pay too much.
You are certainly wise to be careful in your purchases, but the level of concern should vary with what you are buying. If you are buying a classic US stamp for $800, then you need to be very cautious about regumming, repairs, forgeries, etc. If you are buying a packet of stamps for $10, well, the worst that can happen is you're out $10.
Hope this helps.

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oldguy
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27 Aug 2020
10:50:15am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

"What I'm looking for is the most high-level, first-order knowledge." ...

Join APS and get on their stamp circuits; specify the type of high end stamp approval circuit you are interested in; physically inspect the stamps you deem desirable; then purchase the stamps that meet your estimate of value and price.

Often buying lots and collections on line is like playing the lottery and hoping for a score. APS stamp circuits put high value stamps in your hands for very reasonable - often exceptional - prices.

Their clearance circuits offer great deals and frequently provide product for resale that covers the cost of your original purchase.

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
27 Aug 2020
05:08:30pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

Quote:

"For example, another thing I'm interested in is video games. A video game store like Game Stop will buy your used video games, but they will pay you a paltry sum for them, and resell them an a much higher price. That's fine, they have to sell for more than they paid to stay in business, but if someone asked me, I would say, "You can do that, but you aren't going to get a very good price. It will be kind of a rip-off". The sort of advice I'm asking for is on that level."



so it seems you're looking for buy/sell philosophy.

Most folks have warned you off philately as an investment. I agree. UNLESS you are going to learn about the hobby, put the time and energy in to assemble a world-class exhibit so other people of means will see you have the stuff they want, and then sell that for a profit.

That video game reseller sells high because he either seeks out the buyers or invests in the store and inventory that they visit; in either case, he has HIS time and HIS capital invested in something and, most importantly, is in a position to put someone who wants a thing together with the thing.

As you can see, you can't just buy cheap and sell high here. Philately is far more complex than the world of video games.

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capn_ed
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27 Aug 2020
06:30:34pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

Quote:

"so it seems you're looking for buy/sell philosophy."



I didn't mean to give that impression! I was using the GameStop thing as an example of super basic knowledge. I'm interested in stamp collecting as a hobby. I know it's going to cost me money; I'm not looking to make money or even break even. I have no illusions on that score!

I'm looking for the "I wish I'd known" sort of knowledge, as it relates to spending money to buy stamps. There's lots of good (and sometimes conflicting!) advice that's easy to find on storing stamps, handling stamps, identifying stamps, organizing stamps, soaking stamps off paper, measuring perforations on stamps, etc, etc, etc.

But for how to obtain stamps for a reasonable price, basically all I can find is "save stamps from your letters", and "ask your friends to save stamps from their letters". That's only helpful if I want to collect current stamps from my home country, which I don't think is how I'm going to want to be. So, I'm going to have to pay money for stamps, and I'd like to find out now that X or Y or Z is probably a poor way to do that, and use my (unfortunately limited) funds on something worthwhile. I'm cheap, so I want to get value (i.e., real stamps with real history that are real fun to look at and arrange) for my money.

To use one of the few facts I've learned about stamps, if I went out and spent a bunch of money for a bunch of stamps from Ajman, and arranged them neatly in an album, and then later found out they weren't ever actually used as postage in that country, just created to separate collectors from their money, I would feel as though I had been cheated. I may as well have arranged a bunch of stickers. That's not what I want out of the hobby. Maybe someone else would find that worthwhile; I've seen probably a hundred times on this forum that it's your collection, and you can collect what you want, which is an awesome philosophy!

Thanks to everyone who's responded! I appreciate all the advice you've given so kindly. This is a pretty nice place to be on the internet.
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sheepshanks
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27 Aug 2020
07:54:20pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

One of the ways to understand stamp pricing is to look at some of the "sold" auction listings, eg http://www.fvhstamps.com/PWA/FvhWAPR.htm or https://www.allnationsstampandcoin.com/auction-archive/
If you look on ebay you can filter by way of sold listings (down on left of page). On Stamporama you can see what people are setting auction/approval prices for the less expensive stamps.
You can also look at your local charity or thrift shops, they often have stamps loose and in collections. Not sure if there is a stamp club local to you but again a good source of stamps at reasonable prices.
Public general goods auctions sometimes have items where a homeowner has died or is moving and the home contents are put up for sale. Garage sales could be worth a perusal.
Really it is going to depend very much on the area/period/theme of what you decide to collect.

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BenFranklin1902
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Tom in Exton, PA
27 Aug 2020
09:10:52pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

As you look to discover what you want to collect, reasonably priced mixed lots do serve a purpose. Here you can be exposed to a lot of different material, and you may just fall in love with a country, an era or a specialty.

Do you have any ideas of areas you’d be interested in? What is your heritage? Maybe collect a country from there?

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jkc1999
28 Aug 2020
06:14:15am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

I agree with the previous poster that if you don't know what you want to collect, try a couple of mixed lots. There are a number of ebay sellers who seller various types of mixed lots. Depending on your price point, you can spend $5-100 and get 100 to 1000's of stamps to sort and look through. It will give you an idea of what you might like to collect. One of the things I still do occasionally is buy an off paper mix on ebay to sort through it. This will give you a wide variety of stamps to look at and you can see which are attractive. It will be lower value common stamps but they will be indicative of what the stamps look like for that country. Most will include everything from British colonies to modern day CTOs. I found it a great way to start and become familiar with stamps. My favorite off paper mix seller doesn't have anything listed on ebay right now, but if you search worldwide off paper mix there were 298 matches this morning. I've bought from about 5 of them, and for less than $20, I've never felt cheated. Some were better than others, but for the money I got a great deal of enjoyment.

Or you could just look here at Stamporama, find a few stamps you like the look of, and bid. See if the seller has any more stamps in the auctions and approvals, and bid on the ones you like. Spend $10-20, and when they come, see if you like them. If not, try again.

The best way to start collecting stamps, is to collect stamps.Happy You'll find out by trial and error which ones you like, and have fun doing it.

Jackie



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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
28 Aug 2020
08:34:27am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

put your toes in the water, learn about what you bought, and find out if you want to continue down that path.

absent actually doing something, there's no other way to start.

and, using your Ajman example, it's irrelevant: all postal authorities who issue pretty stamps are trying to separate you from your money. Only those who do nothing but move the mail can be excused from that goal, and typically there's little interest in collecting evidence of their mail-moving.

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Harvey
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28 Aug 2020
04:35:18pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

This might sound a little odd, but most collectors start collecting because they have an interest in something. If a person does not know what they want to collect then it seems that they just want to collect something, and that really seems odd to me. The only way that this makes sense is, if for some reason, the person decided that he/she liked the idea of being a stamp collector. Maybe a relative or friend was a stamp collector and it looked like fun! I suggest that the collector to be looks through some of the approval books or stamps up for auction on this site and see what is interesting. I think someone above suggested this, sounds like a good idea.

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capn_ed
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28 Aug 2020
10:18:45pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

I've got a bunch of stamps to sort through from attempting to collect before. I'm thinking of collecting some subset of US stamps, because I have quite a few, and I've got a bunch of worldwide stamps, so I'm thinking of printing off the Postal Museum "A Stamp for Every Country" albums and seeing how many places I can fill. That's my plan for now.

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angore
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Collector, Moderator
29 Aug 2020
06:28:05am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

If you approach it like entertainment (streaming a movie) then as long as you are happy then there are not any financial pitfalls since you are not expecting a return. Once you think of buy/ sell return it is a different hobby. Some like Sand Dunes for the topical aspects. If you worry about what others think you collect then you may get as much out of the hobby as there are always some want to tell you what to collect using words like those are CTOs.

The other pitfall could be damaging what you have if that concerns you This is where handling (using tongs or tweezers as called in some areas), putting them in a safe location (album, etc) that does not damage them and reasonable temperature and humidity,. It also means not using tape, etc. to mount them.

I would not spend any money getting stamp albums especially the expensive ones until you have a better idea.

Do not overthink it. When you start gathering then organizing the rest will sort itself out.

You can get thousands of stamps (as a lot) for not much money (cheaper than a dinner and movie) that can provides hours of entertainment if you have some interest (topical, history, etc) and want to just learn something new.

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
29 Aug 2020
08:22:18am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

get Scott catalogues. Used ones (which is really all a beginner needs) can be gotten cheap. They are far more important in ID'g and understanding.

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Lanuii
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29 Aug 2020
11:36:03am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

3 things to avoid for Beginners:

* Avoid purchasing stamps Online & Auction House.
* Avoid purchasing stamp albums.
* Avoid Greed. Don't expect to make $ when you sell your collection.



8 advices for Beginners:

* Get a cheap stock book for stamps ($5)
* Borrow Scoot Catalogue from your local library ($0)
* Set a monthly budget for stamp purchasing ($10 recommend)
* Purchase stamps at Stamp Expo or from reputable dealers ($2 recommend)

* Do price comparison before purchasing a stamp.
* Do price negotiation for multiple lots.
* Join APS & stamp club in your city.
* Visit Stamporama.com Party

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musicman
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APS #213005
29 Aug 2020
12:08:01pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

One problem here;


Quote:

"Avoid purchasing stamps Online & Auction House"



and then -

Quote:

"Purchase stamps at Stamp Expo or from reputable dealers"




The way things are now, you can't expect to hold true to both statements collectively.
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Lanuii
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29 Aug 2020
06:54:02pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

Right on Musicman. We can't wait to get out of Corona Virus prison & return to normal life Party

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musicman
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APS #213005
30 Aug 2020
08:25:59am
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

Quote:

"We can't wait to get out of Corona Virus prison & return to normal life"



Amen to that, Lanuii.
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larsdog
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APS #220693 ATA#57179
01 Sep 2020
07:11:52pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

My piece of advice is this:

Even though it's difficult, try as hard as you can to NOT set David (amsd) up for an easy pun.

They are really bad, and the 'rona virus has made them even worse.

(Michael THINKS he's good at it as well, but I have bad news for him ...)

Laughing

Welcome!

Lars

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larsdog
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APS #220693 ATA#57179
01 Sep 2020
07:24:30pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

When David (amsd) says:

Quote:

"get Scott catalogues. Used ones (which is really all a beginner needs) can be gotten cheap."



by used he means old.

I would start with catalogues at least 5 years old. That's where the REAL bargains are. For my collecting interests I would buy a new US catalog every 3 or 4 years and sell my old one for about half what I paid for it. For World I didn't need anything that current so I would buy a set that was about 5 years old for a fraction of what a new set cost. I needed a catalog for some early 20th century British Commonwealth for identification purposes only and picked up an old from 2005 for a very nice price.

The other definition of old is how worn it is. I find especially good bargains on ex-library catalogues on Amazon.

Lars

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"Expanding your knowledge faster than your collection can save you a few bucks."

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Pogopossum
02 Sep 2020
06:58:39pm
re: Pitfalls to avoid for a new collector

Lars advice is straight on. When I started collecting again I slowly purchased older Scott catalogs from various sources for identification only - an excellent resource. As I started to specialize I found older used foreign catalogs. Since I don't collect beyond 2000 it works out fine. And since I don't own valuable stamps the catalog price is reference only.

Geoff

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