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Make the Best out of a Glut Of Postage
By John L. Leszak

Many philatelists find themselves in a cash crunch these days. With the price of gasoline darting around $4 per gallon, a lot of philatelic budgets have been compromised. After paying for gasoline and a few meals outside of their homes, the average philatelist has little or no money left over for buying stamps. I've chatted to dozens of philatelists who love to drive to summer stamp shows. They reveal that that they will either cut out a few drives, or simply drive out for the adventure.

One of my long-time customers noted that just a few years ago, he could meet for a leisurely breakfast with two other philatelic friends and the total cost was always under $15. Today, with the cost of fuel affecting the price of everything else, the same breakfast costs nearly triple! As much as he enjoys the fellowship with his philatelic friends, he has discovered that the increased cost of breakfast has cut into his philatelic budget. At first I suggested that he nix the traditional breakfast and just opt to meet for coffee. His response was that when he and his friends purchased breakfast, they got free refills of coffee. If they only purchased coffee, there would be no refills. One thing about most philatelists, they know the true meaning of "frugal."

When the "coffee only" idea didn't pan out, I suggested to my customer that he could maintain his philatelic acquisitions by paying for his purchases with excess mint postage. In many instances, people who visit their local post offices are persuaded that they must purchase an entire sheet of stamps to obtain one copy of a new issue. That means that depending on the size of the sheet, there's always postage leftover. If the buyer has an ample list of friends to whom he might send greeting cards, then the excess postage is not a problem. However, now that people send electronic greeting cards and pay their utility bills online, the amount of surplus postage adds up quickly.

There is truly a glut of postage on today's philatelic market. I recently observed a dealer selling bulk lots of postage to the public at 20% off the face value. One customer was able to press him for an additional 5% discount because he was willing to purchase $1,000 in face value.

A couple of years ago, I took an informal survey amongst some of my long-time customers. I asked them to spend a little time rounding up all the surplus postage that they've accumulated. I was hoping to prove a point that the average collector had between $30 and $40 worth of idle mint postage in his or her possession. To my astonishment, the 16 people who participated in the informal survey produced an average of $310 worth of surplus idle mint postage. I coined the phrase "SIMPLE" to describe how this extra mint postage could be used. SIMPLE stands for "Surplus Idle Mint Postage, Let's Expedite!"

Truly, if someone were to find $310 in the street, it would be a joyous occasion to go out and spend the money on new philatelic acquisitions. Unfortunately, many collectors are simply too shy to ask if a dealer is willing to accept mint stamps as payment in lieu of a check. What's even more appalling is that dealers miss opportunities to accept stamps at face value or less for purchases that may have otherwise never materialized.

At a recent stamp show, the dealer down the aisle from me turned down an offer to accept $160 in face value mint stamps for a cover that he had priced for $150. I asked him point blank why he turned down what seemed like a great offer. He replied that he didn't want to carry the extra postage home with him. I pointed out that a dealer a few aisles over was buying postage at 70% on the dollar. He could turn that $160 into an immediate $112. He thought about it for a second and suddenly reconsidered. He admitted that he only had $60 dollars invested in the cover, and that he had been carrying it around to shows for nearly two years. Suddenly he excused himself and went on a hunt for the man who had the $160 in postage. He caught the man just as he was exiting the show with disappointment that he couldn't make a deal for the cover using his surplus mint stamps.

Everyone was a winner in this situation. The buyer of the cover later confided in me that earlier in the week he was lamenting that he didn't bid on a similar cover in auction and that particular cover had sold for $225. So he was now jubilant that he acquired it for a mere $160 in face-value mint postage. The dealer who bought the postage for 70% on the dollar was excited because he needed at least $125 worth of mint postage to round out a $5,000 face-value lot that he had prepared for a client who was doing a mass mailing. The dealer down the aisle from me was so happy that he spent his $112 "found money" with me. I was happy because he bought a huge bulk lot of covers that I had purchased and sorted earlier in the show, and I was afraid that there would be no room for it in the van. My son John Andrew was relieved that there was room in the van for him on the ride home! It's just amazing how the creative concept of paying for a purchase with surplus mint postage could make five distinct people rejoice.

One of my dealer friends in the Midwest was quite inspired when a buyer asked if he would sell a small $100 stockbook of stamps from Belgium for $63 dollars worth of surplus mint stamps. At first he seemed a bit reluctant but suddenly realized that the stamps that the man was offering were all the 1969 Baseball issue (Scott #1381). My friend accepted the stamps as payment and shipped the stamps out to a buyer who was willing to pay 50 cents for each mint 6¢ stamp because he needed them to service baseball first day covers!

Sometimes philately has a lot of serendipity, sometimes a lot of karma, and sometimes both.

I often shake my head in disbelief when I hear other dealers lament that they are having a poor show. I frequently observe them passing up numerous opportunities that simply require a little creativity and perhaps an equal measure of sweat equity. I was visiting a show a few years ago when a lady with a small briefcase stopped at several dealer booths. Inside the briefcase were numerous glassines filled with mostly loose 3-cent commemorative stamps. The lady had totaled the face value of all the stamps and it amounted to $511. All she wanted to do was sell the stamps in order to buy topical first day covers for her collection. All the dealers to whom she showed the briefcase filled with glassines scoffed at the lot, and the best offer was a reluctant $200.

Finally she stopped at the booth of a dealer friend who had no customers whatsoever. He started poking through the glassines to see if there was anything of interest that would command a premium. Fortunately for him, and for her, there were several MNH examples of U.S. Scott #C1-6, and a beautiful block of Scott #C18! This inspired him to closely examine the contents of each envelope with great diligence. When the examination was concluded, he found that the lot was worth at least $2800! Unfortunately, he was having a poor show, and didn't want to spend the money. He was about to refer the lady to someone else, when she asked, "Could I take the $2800 out in trade?" He inquired what she was looking to buy and she said that she wanted to enhance her topical first day cover collection. My friend had just picked up a remainder inventory of FDCs from one of the dealers who scoffed at the lady's mint stamp lot earlier. Each cover was individually priced, and my friend went so far as to offer the lot for half the prices marked. The lady picked out a huge pile of covers that amounted to a retail value of a little over $6000, and they called it an even deal.

My friend set up the premium stamp items on display cards, and took them to the dealer who initially scoffed at the mint lot that was in glassines. That dealer offered my friend $3000 for the lot, "and not a penny more." My friend agreed to the offer, and even offered to buy back his own check for $650 which was the purchase price of the first day cover lot! How ironic that the dealer who scoffed at the mint lot actually missed out on good fortune twice! First, he could've purchased the stamp lot from the lady for $511. Second, he could've sold the $650 first day cover lot to the lady for $3000, or at least reaped a mutually acceptable and rewarding deal had he traded the FDCs for the stamps himself!

One of my customers told me several years ago that he once traded a 1976 Buick to a man for U.S. mint stamps with a face value of $700. At that time, the best cash offer he could get on the Buick from any used car place was $425!

Have you ever considered going through your surplus idle mint postage to determine just how much you've accumulated? After you've added it all up, would you ever consider asking dealers if they would accept the stamps as full or partial payment for something from their inventory?

Creative thinking is always an essential part of philately. If you could turn your idle mint postage into something viable that appeals to your collecting interests, then counting up that postage would be time well spent!

Using those stamps to make philatelic purchases could stimulate the economy as the money would trickle into the rest of the economy. (Have you ever noticed that the economy is not sluggish when there are prolific philatelic transactions? Maybe economists would say that a healthy economy inspires philatelic sales.)

Personally, I think that paying for philatelic purchases with surplus stamps allows the buyers to use money from their paychecks for something else, while not affecting the comfort and joy that's gained from philatelic participation.

© John L. Leszak. All rights reserved. Published on The Virtual Stamp Club by permission.

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