Things You Need to Know to Enjoy a Stamp Show
by John M. Hotchner
the new stamp show season is now upon us, I am thinking that a short
check list might be in order for those who want to get the most out of
a pleasant afternoon looking at exhibits and/or trolling the bourse.
This presumes you have discarded the idea that stamp shows are
overwhelming — too much commerce, too many people, too expensive …
While those are not irrational feelings, planning what you will do
ahead of time can bring order to the apparent chaos, and there will
eventually come a time after you have successfully gone to a few shows
when you may even feel comfortable "winging it." That said, I still
plan ahead because there is generally too much to do for the number of
hours I have available.
How to do that? Here is my ten-step guide:
- What’s Happening? Check the show website or preshow
publicity to see what dealers will be present, and their specialties.
One of your favorites from mail order, or the Internet may be among
them, but even if they are all new, this gives you a hint as to what
among your wants may most likely be found. If there is no preshow
publicity or website (!!!!), spend a few minutes on arrival looking
through the show program — which will normally list dealers and their
specialties, exhibits, attending societies and the presence of a U.S.
Postal Service or other postal booths.
- Homing In On Your Wants: Knowing what the dealers
have, go to the show with a specific idea of what you are seeking. And
be prepared to convey your wants to the dealers in a few words or
sentences. If what you are looking for lends itself to such an
approach, back that up with a want list. The more specific you can be,
the more dealers you will be able to talk with to see if they have your
wants. And you will save yourself needless meandering through stock
that is not likely to yield results. Remember also that sometimes the
value of a show is not in what you buy, but in the contacts you make
with one or more dealers who did not bring what you are seeking to the
show, but have it back at the shop, or in stock at home.
- Supplies? New Issues? Give some thought to
supplies that you may need, and new issues that may be available from a
USPS or other postal booth. If you are not lucky enough to have a stamp
store in your area of residence, shows can be a good place to replenish
your stock of hinges, stock cards, glassines, etc. Similarly, your
local post office may not have the latest commemoratives, but a show
USPS booth should have those and more.
- Checking The Exchequer: Have in mind an idea of what
you can afford to spend. Lucky is the collector who can afford to buy
whatever appeals. I am not in that class. So, I know what my limit is,
and I spend a bit of time before the show looking at the catalogue and
at ads in the philatelic press to get an idea of the range of prices
for what I’m seeking. This saves me the otherwise inevitable time
wrestling with myself over whether item X is being offered at a good
price or not.
- Pricing And Discounts. Recognize that dealer pricing
of material is an inexact science. It may be affected by such
considerations as the dealer’s purchase price, how many of the item are
in stock, condition variants, and the effort and time needed to ready
the material for sale. Thus, stamp show buying is more like car
shopping than going to a grocery store to buy a loaf of bread. In the
latter case the price is probably set and invariable; don’t even try to
negotiate. Make a small purchase from a stamp dealer and the same rule
often applies. But the more you buy, the more you will be expected to
ask the question, "What can you do on these?" by which the dealer
understands you expect a discount. Depending upon the answer and how
badly you want the material, you may negotiate further if you are
comfortable doing that.
- The Art Of Negotiation: Be warned: Negotiating is an
art that involves reading other people, and we learn over time. The
object is to arrive at a mutually satisfactory price for what you want,
not to be able to crow later on that you took the dealer to the
cleaners. At any point in the negotiation, the dealer is entitled to
say, "No, no further discount." This is especially likely when the
dealer has priced conservatively and/or posted on their table a list of
discounts according to total purchase. And if you are not comfortable
negotiating, you just pay the asking price. No one will think any less
- Selling As Well As Buying? Suppose you are going to
the show with the objective of selling material to dealers you’ve
identified, or trading for items you want. Dealers have to replenish
their stocks, but as simple as it sounds you need to remember that they
can’t pay you retail for what they take in from collectors. If they
did, how would they ever make the profit they need to stay in business,
and make a living? Have a firm idea of what you want for the material
and be prepared to state it. Some dealers will make an offer, but
others take the stand that they are not running a free evaluation
service, and will expect you to name your price, just as they have to
do when selling.
- When To Go? If crowds bother you, consider mid to
late-afternoon as (usually) the best time to go to a show. The
trade-off is that the dealers’ stocks will have been picked over by the
crowds earlier in the day. But, you will get more individual service,
and sometimes a dealer who did not make a lot of sales earlier will be
more interested in negotiating just to have some good sales for the
- Society Booths: If there are society booths, plan to
take a few minutes to check them out. Most will have descriptive
literature about their organization, their specialty area, "how to"
pamphlets, and their latest published literature. Yes, those manning
the booths will want you to join, but all you really need to do is take
a membership form and think about it. Meanwhile you will learn a lot
about what is happening in the philatelic world by hearing about what
grabs their enthusiasm.
- Stamp Exhibits: Last, but by no means least,
at least half an hour to walk the stamp exhibit aisles. You can hone in
on specific exhibits of interest using the strategies in #1 above, but
you never know what may catch your eye, and start you thinking in new
directions. So, giving yourself the chance to be entertained and
inspired is a productive use of your time.
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 email, putting "VSC" in the subject line, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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