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Looking for Stamps in All the Right Places

By John M. Hotchner

A practical problem for the new stamp collector, and some who have been at it a while too, is the matter of how to get stamps to feed the beast. Collecting stamps means that you need stamps to collect, and the greater your enthusiasm, the more stamps you need. You may rest assured that at some point in the future, the initial hunger for quantity will give way to a lust for quality, and you will be satisfied with fewer, better (often more expensive, but sometimes just much harder to find and still inexpensive) stamps. But if one of your things is looking for varieties, or you enjoy finding dated cancellations, quantity may continue to play a role in your collecting.

So, how do you find stamps for your collection? Let me count the ways but keep in mind, each of these ideas has variants that are limited only by your creativity. My object is not to present every known method, but to aim you in many directions, and let you choose what might work best for you, and then to think about how you can maximize the benefit.

  1. Family and Friends: Every household and apartment gets mail. Much of it may not have stamps, but a few per day from each of many people that you approach can turn into a nice trickle from which you can extract both current stamps for your collection, and for trading. You might consider asking folks for the entire envelope as there are many instances in which the envelope, which we stamp collectors call a "cover" will have more value than the cheap common stamp on it. (I did a column on what covers to keep some years ago, and a copy will be sent to anyone who asks and encloses KH in mint postage to cover photocopying, and a stamped addressed envelope.)
  2. Local Businesses and Utilities: Every business, including banks, utilities, restaurants, and small window front private owner retail stores on Main Street gets mail. If you can find the right person in a mail room operation, or the owner or manager, you can probably rescue covers before they end up in dumpsters and furnaces.
  3. Dumpster Diving At the Post Office: Lots of patrons pick their mail out of post office boxes, rip it open right there, and then toss the envelopes in the trash. While it may be embarrassing to be reaching into the trash, a brief explanation might recruit someone else to save stamps for you. Of course you can always say that you threw something in by mistake and are trying to find it!
  4. Stamp Clubs: The overriding purpose of every stamp club (look for one close to you at the American Philatelic Society listing of Chapter members) is to get members together who will enjoy buying, selling and trading stamps. They will do this by encouraging member-to-member trades, buy also in club auctions, exchange books, and by serving as a center for making APS sales books available.
  5. Stamp Club Special Events: Does your local club sponsor an annual show? A regular dealer bourse? A mall table to advertise the club to potential new members? All of these may include the opportunity to either buy from dealers or make contacts with other collectors.
  6. Local Stamp Stores: Although stamp stores are dying out in favor of traveling shows and bourses, there are enough around that you should look in the yellow pages under Stamps for Collectors to see if you can find someone with a shop, or someone who may deal in stamps as a home business. Here it is well to ask dealers if they are APS members or if they are affiliated with the American Stamp Dealers Association. Both have codes of ethics, and members can be counted upon to deal fairly.
  7. National Societies: If you are one of those people who start out in the hobby knowing that you want to specialize in a specific area of the world or a specific type of philately, go to the APS Web site and look for the Affiliate Members of the APS. These are the national specialty societies. They will normally have periodic journals or newsletters with member want and sell/trade ads, member buy-and-sell systems including a periodic auction, and regional or national gatherings at national-level stamp shows.
  8. Local Hobby Stores: While these will not often have a large stock, many hobby stores carry stamp packets — a thousand worldwide, or 500 different U.S. — and rudimentary stamp supplies including beginner albums.
  9. Mentoring Systems: The APS and some other societies have a service through which you can sign up to receive help from an experienced member in a mentoring relationship.
  10. General Interest Philatelic Periodicals: Such as the one you hold in your hands. Look at the advertising from dealers and collectors, but don't neglect the articles and short items. All of these can be the source of philatelic information and material.
  11. Approvals: This specialized source of stamps tends to be a company that sends selections of low to moderately priced stamps to collectors who ask for them. You are obligated to pay for what you keep and return the rest in a reasonable time. If you don't get out much, this may work for you, but the convenience of not having to go out and search generally means you will pay slightly more than the price you might by shopping around at a bourse.
  12. Commercial Auctions: Buying at unreserved public auction may allow you to buy everything from collections to rare individual stamps and sets at very attractive prices, but learning how to bid and what to bid on takes experience and at least a basic knowledge of the hobby. But if you have a mentor with that experience, it can be a good method for adding to your collection.
  13. The Internet: Using the 'Net can access more than half of the sources described above, plus things like the APS StampStore, where items can be purchased at a stated price, and eBay, where one bids against others in on-line auctions. [Editor's note: The Virtual Stamp Club message board also has a Buy/Sell/Trade folder that's free to use.]
There are dealer, society, auctioneer, publication, and show websites; each of which offers opportunities to buy in the virtual world of stamp collecting. There are also sources of information such as Ask Phil, of the Chicago Philatelic Society, the Virtual Stamp Club , and Internet Q and A groups like USAtoZ.
Should you wish to comment on this editorial, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or e-mail, putting "VSC" in the subject line.

If you have a method of obtaining stamps that has not been covered in the above discussion, join us in the message board and tell us about it.

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