The Value of Your Stamp Collection
by Richard L. Sine
- Catalog value
- Market value
- Replacement value
- Resale value
They are not the same. So let’s e-value-ate the terms.
Catalog value is determined by the publisher of a given catalog. Some publishers tell you how that is determined and some don’t. When I was at Scott Publishing, the definition of catalog value was the price you would expect to pay for a given stamp at a specific grade when purchased as a single item. I don’t know if that definition continues today, but it appeared to work then.
Getting to that value, however, is the key. Those of you around at the time may remember the stir Scott caused around 1980 when it changed its internal approach to reaching “catalog value.” Before arriving at the changed approach, we even employed the services of a retired mathematician as a consultant. After reviewing our data, he opined that the best we had, given how few data points for nearly all items, was “fuzzy numbers.” You can see how that term would stick with me after about 35 years.
Also, there is the concept of minimum value, i.e., the least catalog value at which any stamp is valued. While that value ostensibly considers the cost to a dealer to handle a stamp, each time it is raised by five cents boosts the “value” of many collections (mine included) by a bunch. (Note, “bunch” is not a technical term.)
Market value is the least definable of the group. It can reflect any ups and downs of stamp value, or the difference in value in different parts of the world. A highly specialized collection of U.S. stamps probably Is worth more in this county than in Germany. As for market ups and downs, I remember when, over a period of a few months, the market value of a set of mint U.S. Zeppelin air mail stamps dropped from something like $13,500 to $2,700 each. I was at Scott at the time and remember the gasp of an investor/speculator at the other end of a phone call when I told him the current value … he had something like 17 sets.
Replacement value is what you would pay to replace your current collection with stamps of identical quality. It may differ widely from catalog value, because you would have the benefit of purchasing in quantity, i.e., another collection or partial collection or by the set … all rather than by the individual stamp. This term comes up if a collection is stolen or destroyed in a fire or flood.
Resale value is where the possibility of a sharp kick in the heads occurs. Perhaps you want to sell your collection … yes, some collectors do that. And, let’s further presume that you are not one of the very few collectors who has a rather small collection of items that perhaps you have exhibited … thus, they each are of rather high catalog value and perhaps exceed the quality level at which catalog value is set. Then, you can expect what may well be a shockingly low offer for your material. This statement is not designed to be critical of any dealers, or stamp dealers as a whole. It is reality.
Remember the mention above about catalog minimum value, which is set to recognize what it costs a dealer to handle the most inexpensive items. This is the other side of that coin (sorry about mixing hobbies a bit). That is, 1,000 stamps with a minimum value of 25 cents each DO NOT have a market value of $250. Thus, being offered 10-15% of catalog value for a collection may not be unreasonable, no matter how much it insults your philatelic macho instincts.
Why this discussion in the first place? A whole lot of stamp collections become part of estates on the death of their owners. Heirs have heard their beloved fathers/mothers/uncles/aunts talks about the “value” of a collection over the years. When an heir attempts to sell that windfall, the purchase offer will not cover the cost of a new automobile to drive home … but, rather, may barely cover an airplane ticket. And, that is why I have known more than a few collectors, late in life, who have sold their own collections rather than bring on stress-caused-by-reality to others.
There are times when we stamp collectors must take a step back from our wonderful world of philately and into the real world to be certain there is someone in the family who understands just what “value” there is in our collection. It is important to have a complete inventory of the collection. My inventory is in a 352 kb Excel spreadsheet file.
That somber thought aside, let’s return to our regularly scheduled collecting practice and go buy a lot of stuff.