Stamp Collectors at the Bourse Part II
by John M. Hotchner
In the previous column we looked at some of the identifiable types of people who can be found wandering about the floor at your local stamp show or bourse. As is generally the case, most of them are found at dealers’ tables. This comports with reality as my experience is that only about 15-20% of those who come to a show will ever be found looking at exhibits. Yes, from my standpoint as a long-time exhibitor, it is sad that exhibits get so little attention, but totally understandable. Most visitors come to shows to add to their own collection, or to sell excess, not to look at other peoples’ collections. Their time is limited. There are more dealers than they can visit. And so, nature takes its course.
In this column we will look at a second group of buyers and what they mean for dealers. By way of introduction, let me repeat a paragraph from the previous column: “Stamp collectors have a passion for classification. It’s what we do — trying to match the stamp on hand to the picture and listing in the Scott catalogue. But for some of us, there is another aspect to philatelic classification: the fun of observing our fellow collectors and collectresses at stamp shows and bourses, and using their behaviors to fit them into the category of homo philatelicus that best describes their collecting interest and method. For us on the buyer side of the table this is sport. For dealers with limits on time, attention span, and stock, being able to recognize these types is a matter of life and profits. (NOTE: I will use the masculine pronoun below, but these folks can be of either gender.)
In Part I we covered the Scholar, the Looker, the Accumulator, the Heir, the Perfectionist, the Investor, the Busy Body, the Organizer, the Bargain Hunter, and the Browser. So, here we go with group 2:
The Auditor: This collector takes nothing on faith. When a dealer says the total is $X, the calculator comes out so that the Auditor can check the addition, the discount, and the rounded off penny. It isn’t that he necessarily distrusts, though that can play a part. It is more that he trusts himself more than anyone else, and has caught errors both in his favor and in the dealer’s enough times that ‘recalculating’ has become a way of life. His feeling of triumph is gratified whether he pays more or less. The game is in finding an error; not the direction of the error.
The Specialist: Related to the Scholar, the Specialist is less interested in new discoveries in inexpensive stamps, and more interested in finding varieties that are known to exist regardless of intrinsic value—whether catalogue-listed or noted in the April, 1934 issue of his specialty society’s journal. An example has not been seen by a specialist since, but knowing it exists, he is going to scour every dealer’s and collector’s holdings until he can report the first new find in 80 years. So much the better if he can get it at the price for a normal stamp, and discounted for imperfect condition or a hinge mark. But if he has to pay a premium, no problem.
The Amateur Dealer: This shopper thinks that one day he just might go into the business, and sees today’s excursion as a chance to practice his skills. What this means in practical terms is that he sees himself as buying for resale, and that means he looks for material he thinks will appreciate, and he must pay the lowest possible price for it in order to have a chance to make a profit. He fancies himself an expert in his field of interest, and some fancy themselves to be experts in the entire field of philately — or large chunks of it. They may self-identify to the table holder as being part of the fraternity, hoping to get a better discount, but unlike a practicing dealer, they will not have a resale certificate, or be a member of a professional dealers association. Chances are that when they find out how difficult dealing is beyond the simple admonition to buy low and sell high, they will abandon the project.
The Millionaire: Do you expect this person to be a joy to deal with? They can be. But another term for some of those with unlimited resources is The Miser. How do you think they got to be millionaires? Not by frittering away their bucks. They will generally go after high-end material, but even if they find something they want for a buck-fifty, they will be fierce negotiators. You think haggling over a quarter is not worth the aggravation? Be prepared to give in right off the bat, because that quarter may be the difference between making a $500 sale or not. Shopping for these people is a competitive sport.
The Historian: This guy is less interested in the stamp or cover than in the story behind the stamp or the cover. Scarcity will not sell the item. Condition will not sell the item. Only the background of the stamp will move this buyer to open his wallet. The story can be about who owned the stamp before, why the stamp was issued, oddities in the stamp design, or how the stamp came to have roulettes instead of perforations. Dealers with a great range of knowledge — or the gift of blarney — get a leg up with this customer.
The Geezer: Often in need of a magnifier, and notoriously slow to make a decision, this person can be 40 or 75. Age is not the major determinant in this behavior pattern. Being a geezer is a state of mind, and includes a certain lackadaisical view of clothing and personal grooming, a predisposition to squeeze a dime until FDR’s eyes bulge, and a refusal to buy anything that is marked at more than $2.
The Newbie: Whether it is unfamiliarity, shyness or a combination of the two, people who are new to the process — and even some experienced collectors — may lack the confidence to participate without being welcomed and guided. What is there to be afraid of? If you don’t know what is happening… If you don’t know what is expected of you… If you aren’t prepared to spend much money, the busy marketplace can be a bit threatening; especially so if you have to figure it out by yourself, and that is where shyness makes it even more difficult. Those with this mindset tend to hang back from the tables, and have some difficulty answering questions — or asking them. If you know someone just getting their feet wet, offer to explain what is happening. A dealer might offer to explain what is going on at his table.
The Clueless: As compared to the Newbie, Clueless has no problem participating in the show scene, or approaching dealers, but seems to have no concept of what the dealer can actually provide in that setting. He will ask questions like, “Why didn’t you bring your stock of used modern U.S.?” or “I’m looking for bids on this batch of covers — what’ll you offer me for it?” or “I need a copy of Scott 29. Can you beat the price that the dealer over there is asking for his example?”
The Forlorn: A strange title, you say? True, but accurate. These are collectors who have cut themselves a slice of the philatelic pie that is so narrow that they hardly ever find anything to add to their collection. Yet they still come and ask each dealer if they have any covers with first issues of Mongolia, or stamps picturing lawnmowers, or double transfers on the high value definitives of Portuguese India. They don’t expect a “yes” but somehow believe that it is not pointless to ask. After all, three years ago, they found a dealer by this method who had one such cover… and it is a prize resident of their collection to this day.
Most of us are not a purebred example that fits one of these categories exclusively. Rather we can find a bit of ourselves in several of the categories — both positive and negative. This makes the dealer’s task of figuring out not just what to show us, but how to help us, that much more difficult. But successful dealers develop a sixth sense and become adept at calming the excited, providing clarity to the confused, and information to the baffled. If we can walk out of a show with just one really neat acquisition, going to the show will have been worthwhile, and we should thank the dealer community for its services to the hobby.
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.
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