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Help! I Inherited A Stamp Collection!

The very first question you have to ask yourself - and you may already have answered - is do you want to keep it or get rid of it? If the latter, are you seeking money or gratitude?

If the latter - gratitude - you can skip most of the rest of this article and click here, and just pick a charitable organization. We recommend the American Philatelic Society, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation.

If any of the other choices, including taking a tax deduction for your donation, then the first step is to get an idea of what's in the collection. The more work you do, the more you'll get from the collection.

You can just take all the books and boxes to a local stamp dealer, dump them on the counter, and say, "What will you give me for this?" but how will you know if you're getting a fair deal?

First, then, visit our Introduction to Stamp Collecting article just so you know a little bit about what you have. If you need more information, visit our Message Board and don't be afraid to ask. No one will jump down your throat.

Then, separate the material in the collection by country, and separate the covers (envelopes) from the stamps within the countries. Some of the country names may be unfamiliar to you - "CCCP" is the Soviet Union, for example, and "Magyar Posta" is Hungary - so visit the Message Board and ask if you run into one you can't decipher.

Now, go to your public library and ask to see the stamp catalogues most have in the Reference Department. The standard in the U.S. for all countries is the Scott Postage Stamp Catalogues series, and, no, you won't find it on the Internet for free. If you want to check it for free, you'll have to look at these books in the library. Look up some or all of the stamps in the collection. Keep in mind that the minimum value in the Scott stamp catalogues is 20 cents, no matter how undesirable the stamp is, so don't mistake 1,000 20-cent stamps for $200. Also don't mistake catalogue values - which are supposed to resemble selling prices - for what a dealer will pay you. Stamp dealers who buy and sell at the same price don't remain in business very long.

What you're looking for is to see if the values of any of the stamps in the collection jump out at you - significantly higher than the others. Make a note of those.

If the entire collection consists of "better" stamps, and especially better stamps in a single country or subject, then you'll want to contact a dealer who specializes in that area. Anyone else is likely to give you less for the collection, so that he or she can make a profit selling it to a specialized dealer.

If they're all mediocre stamps, your best bet may be to donate them to a charitable organization, as discussed above. The tax deduction may be worth more than whatever cash you'd get from a dealer.

If there are a few better stamps, but most are mediocre, you may be able to get a dealer to purchase the entire collection, so our advice is not to remove those better stamps, because they make the package more desirable. Pull all the good stuff out of a collection, and you may be stuck with the remainder.

To find a general-purpose stamp dealer, do a search for "stamp dealers [your town]" Many of these stamp store owners do specialize in particular areas, but handle a variety of philatelic specialties. (Here's a tip: If a store says it's "Joe's Coins & Stamps," Joe is a coin dealer who dabbles in stamps. If the name is "Stamps & Coins," then Joe is a stamp dealer who dabbles in coins. You'll do better selling stamps to a stamp dealer and coins to a coin dealer.)

Where can you find a specialty dealer? Check the websites of the American Philatelic Society or the American Stamp Dealers Association. Or ask in the Message Board here.

Good luck!

Charitable Stamp Collecting Organizations
Both the American Philatelic Society and American First Day Cover Society are registered as not-for-profit educational institutions with the IRS. Donations to them may be tax deductible. Both will furnish you with a receipt for your contribution, although neither will put a dollar value on it.
American Philatelic Society
100 Match Factory Place
Bellefonte, PA 16823-1367
{814} 237-3803
American First Day Cover Society
Post Office Box 16277
Tucson, AZ 85732
{520} 321-0880
If using a shipping method other than the U.S. Postal Service, contact the organizations directly for a shipping address.

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