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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Never Hinged?"

Sometimes, I find stamp collectors to be curious and confusing creatures.

Take the term "Never Hinged." Now, I can perfectly well understand the importance of "never hinged" if you are a collector of mint stamps. On older issues (especially!) the "never hinged" part can make a huge difference in the value of the stamp.

This stamp has at least 3 old hinge remnants... but will soaking
it REALLY make it "Never Hinged?"
However, over the past couple of years I've noticed a growing trend for sellers of stamps (on eBay, BidStart, Stamps2Go, the APS Stampstore and more) to use the expression "never hinged" when describing used stamps.

I'm sorry.... WHAT???

As a concept-- and from a logical perspective, the idea of a "used, never hinged" stamp makes absolutely no sense to me. For starters, "never hinged" is a GUM condition, not a STAMP condition. Aside from that, it makes no sense. If I have a used stamp with hinges on the back, I can simply soak them off, and suddenly my stamp becomes "never hinged." Basically... there is no way to tell whether or not a used stamp is "never hinged" or not. Maybe I'm cynical... but even if "it mattered," I doubt never hinged could exist for used stamps, on "the honors system."

Of course, "reading between the lines," I can (sort of) understand how the idea came about. European collectors (especially) tend to be concerned about the back of (especially) older/classic stamps... where a thick layer of multiple hinges may be hiding small thins or tears, or even writing. A messy back with lots of adhesions can hide a million sins... I know this well, from my years of buying stamps online, where you don't always get a chance to look at the back of stamps.

But from a semantics perspective, what we're really talking about here is a "clean back," rather than a "never hinged" back. Then again, maybe I am simply being too picky.

In the meantime, I can't help but having a chuckle, every time I see "never hinged" in the description of a used stamp.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Selling Stamps Online: It's NOT Rocket Science!

Recently, I "celebrated" my 15th year of using eBay as a marketplace-- both to find new items for my stamp collections, as well as a venue to sell duplicate stamps.

I think it's pretty safe to say that online marketplaces like eBay, Delcampe, BidStart, Stamps2Go and others have changed the face of how stamp collectors trade and build collections.

Even after all this time, it amazes me how little common sense many sellers use, when it comes to presenting their "wares" to the world. And then they become all surprised and affronted when they end up with mediocre-- or no-- results.

A clear scan showing details of stamp. Click for larger size.
Selling on line is really not "rocket science!"

Fundamentally, the first thing you need to do is think of selling your stamps (and attracting buyers, and a fair price) a bit like you would think of a job interview. Would you go to a job interview wearing your dirty sweats you just mowed the lawn in, with your hair looking like you just rolled out of bed and hadn't shaved in three days? No? That's just a case of "presenting yourself well" in order to make a "sale" (i.e. "get the job")-- so why wouldn't you take the same care when it comes to selling your stamps?

Let's start with the image. That's probably THE single most important part of an online stamp listing... many collectors buy stamps purely "by appearance." Since I can't go to your house (or your stamp store, if you have one) and look at and "touch" the stamp, I expect you to give me the "next best thing."

Have a large clear scan/photo for people to look at, preferably on a black background, which offers maximum contrast to show the condition of the stamp's perfs. Crop the image to have small borders. There's nothing more annoying than a small out-of-focus image on a non-contrasting background, with lots of "blank space" around the stamp.

And don't even get me started on listing stamps for sale with NO image! Fortunately, most sites don't permit listings without images anymore. I don't want to hear the "it's too time consuming, and you can send it back if you don't like it" excuse... my reply to that is "it's too time consuming for ME to get a stamp I don't like, contact you because I want to send it back, find supplies to mail it and wait for a credit to my account AND I'm out the cost of mailing."

Lastly, a word about listing stamps for sale with the message "email me if you want a scan."

That word is "no."

How NOT to do images: The sort of images I often see in sales
listings online. And this is not even the worst of it! 
I am not going to take the time to email you for 47 scans of stamps I might be interested in-- it's a hassle. If you're willing to scan "after the fact," just save us BOTH some time and effort and scan "before the fact" and create a proper listing, to begin with. Similar story with the phrase "email me if you want a bigger scan," when your original listing has a little tiny scan. If you already know how to make a bigger scan, just use it!

And yes, I know some of you are "secretly" thinking "yes, but that's how I harvest names for my mailing list."

I'll say "Caveat Venditor" (seller beware), because I personally believe that strategy is more effective as a way to irritate potential buyers.

Creating a good image is NOT rocket science!

The next part of "decent presentation" involves examining the back of the stamp-- this applies particularly to used stamps. If the stamp has 47 layers of old hinges, a bit of the original envelope and some old album page adhesions still on the back, clean it up! It takes only a couple of minutes in lukewarm water to get rid of that stuff, and removing all that old garbage takes the guesswork out of whether the stamp has thins, tears or other problems, as well as enabling you to correctly identify potential watermarks. And who knows... you might discover you have a more valuable stamp than you thought!

Now, let's get to the actual description. You don't have to write anything "fancy" but at least make an effort to come up with a semblance of the correct identity of the stamp. That would involve (at a minimum) doing the following:

Perforation gauge. You need one. This one was
actually FREE, printed in my AFA catalogue.
Don't assume that the first picture you see in the catalogue (Scott, or otherwise) is "your stamp." Especially true when you're selling older stamps, where multiple variations (perfs and watermarks and shades) of the same design typically exist. Especially learn to pay attention to the little "notes" at the end of a listing of a set of stamps that might read something like "Also see no. 234-241, 301-311." That's a not-so-subtle hint that maybe you should see those numbers and make sure you have the right listing. Assume nothing, especially if you are trying to sell stamps from a country you are not that familiar with.

Speaking of perfs and watermarks-- If you don't have a perf gauge, GET one! And whether you do, or need to buy one-- learn how to use it, and then use it! As a buyer, it will do nothing but irritate me when I get the "perf 13" stamp (worth $0.80) when your listing identified it as the "perf 14" version (worth $50.00)... and usually because you didn't even check what perfs the stamp had.

The same goes for watermarks... if you don't have a watermark tray and fluid, GET them! And whether you do, or need to buy them-- learn how to use them, and then use them! There are often huge differences in values between different watermarks on stamps that look very similar. Just earlier today, I identified a stamp by its watermark... the "cheap" version listing for $0.25 in the Scott catalogue, the "expensive" version listing for $200.00. Needless to say, I was very happy to find a VF $200 stamp!

Now, I recognize that there are some people who are simply going to say "too much work" and "I can't be bothered." I will try to be open-minded and understanding of that approach... but I will issue the caveat that if YOU "can't be bothered" with your sales listings-- and it does show, in very obvious ways-- don't count on potential buyers to "be bothered" with your listings. Choices have consequences!

Last-- but certainly not least-- let's talk about "truthfulness of condition."

This can be a slippery slope, because most stamp transactions are essentially a "dance" between a seller who wants a stamp to be "better than it is" and a buyer who sees it as "worse than it is." A sale happens when these two perceptions have enough overlap that the buyer takes action.

Watermark fluid and tray. A small investment that might
help you get a LOT more for your stamps!
Personally, I have always believed in the "full disclosure" approach. On the balance, I have gotten happier buyers AND better sales as a result of saying "Looks super nice, but unfortunately has a tiny thin" as opposed to saying "XF stamp, no faults" and then hoping it will "skate by" someone who doesn't bother to take a closer look. By trying the latter approach, not only do you set yourself up for a lot of returns, you soon enough build a reputation for having "dodgy" material, and buyers will actively avoid you. And that can even apply on a "large" scale, with major "name" dealers. There are a couple of "famous" stamp auction houses I actively avoid because of the way they "gloss over" faulty material. Maybe the $3000.00 a year I might spend with them is "no big deal" but multiply that by a few hundred collectors... and you're turning away a LOT of money!

Now, some may read this and think "yes, but I'm not that serious about selling stamps online." Be that as it may, you're "serious" enough that you're trying to sell stamps online. Which means you're a "serious" enough collector that you care about getting money for your stamps, rather than just "giving them away to kids" or putting them in your next garage sale. That being the case, shouldn't you be "serious" enough to give your stamps the best possible shot at selling for a decent price?

Buying and selling stamps online can be a lot of fun... and also quite rewarding, if you take the time to do things "properly," which really doesn't take a lot more time or effort than doing a slipshod job!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

At auction: Classic Sweden and Town Cancels (Ortstämplar)

Many years ago, I developed an interest in classic stamps from Sweden. I was particularly attracted by the neat looking cancels that seemed to fit so perfectly on the stamp.

What follows is a bit of a "back story" about the stamps I have for auction on eBay this week. If you want to skip the story and just look at the stamps, follow this link to my auctions. The stamps shown on this page are actual items up for auction this week, bidding open till Sunday, September 8th.

I actually developed this interest in my 20's, more or less by "accident." I had reached a point in my collecting "career" where my student budget no longer was enough to acquire the stamp for the "next empty space" in my album ($20.00 for one stamp was a lot, for me, at that time), so I was gradually learning to specialize... which allowed me to collect "different" examples of the same-- but less expensive-- stamps.

A nice cancel from FLODAFORS. Somewhat scarce, this is no
longer an independent postal place.
I used to go back to Denmark (as a student in the US) during the summers to work... and one day during my "off" time, I found myself wandering the streets of a part of Copenhagen that-- back then-- had quite a few brick-and-mortar stamp stores still open.

I found myself in one (quite short-lived) shop where the owner took in people's collections and "box lots" on consignment. It was a tremendous mess of stacks of albums and moving boxes and index card boxes and more. A veritable treasure trove, for a stamp collector!

In the course of checking all these boxes and albums, I came across a shoe box filled with ancient yellowing glassines filled with old-to-classic Swedish stamps. Clearly, someone had started an accumulation with the intent of "doing something" with the stamps, at some point... which evidently never arrived, since the box was now for sale. Most of the glassines were filled heavily duplicated "common" stamps from the "ringtyp" era forward to the 1940's. What I also noticed was that there were a number of glassines noted "bedre stempler" (Danish for "better cancels") and that piqued my interest-- I'd already started collecting Danish numeral cancels and "star" cancels, as a specialty.

Cancels just seemed interesting to me, perhaps because of the way they "told a story" about a stamp-- when and where someone used it to mail something. And I liked the idea that the stamp had been used to serve it's "natural purpose."

The box of old Swedish stamps was really more money than I could afford at the time, but I decided to go ahead and buy it, anyway.

A top quality cancel from BÖDA, no more than a tiny village on
the island of Öland. Quite scarce.
I spent many enjoyable evenings going through the thousands of stamps in that shoebox, picking out the particular "choice" examples with beautiful cancels. Although there were no great rarities in there, approximately the first 300 stamps in my "town cancels on classic Sweden" collection came from this box, and have formed the foundation for a collection I have been adding to for almost 30 years.

As the years have passed, I have narrowed my scope a little bit. In its original incarnation, my Swedish cancel collection included all issues up to the UPU sets of 1924. About 15 years ago, I cut that back to just the Arms ("Vapentyp") and Circle ("Ringtyp") type stamps. As of this writing, I have over 4000 stamps in the collection, sometimes with multiple examples from the same town, where different canceling devices may have been used, at different times.

"Hembygdsfilateli," Swedish-- literally-- for "home town (or area/region) philately," is a popular collecting area in Sweden. For many, it's considered "postal history" as much as "stamp" collecting. Although I do have a number of covers in my collection, I am primarily interested in loose stamps.

There are different ways to collect Swedish town cancels, but it's important to remember that there really isn't a "right" or "wrong" way. Some collectors are happy as long as the town name can be "clearly made out" while others will only collect stamps with "perfect" strikes.

Those stamps with perfect ("lyx") and near-perfect ("prakt") quality cancels often command huge premiums at auction, and from dealers who specialize in cancels.

A sampling of the actual stamps for auction this week.
Click this image to see a larger version.
The stamps in this week's eBay auctions represent some duplicates I have accumulated over the past few years... usually as a result of finding "a better example" of a particular cancel. Some-- from the "Oscar" period-- are also outside my collecting area.

All the stamps pictured in this entry are up for bids.

This week's auctions include a total of 135 lots. These are a nice mixture of many fine town cancels, and well as a few classic Swedish stamps with plate flaws and varieties, as well a a few chosen simply because they are in really nice condition.

All stamps have an opening bid of just US $0.99, and there are never any hidden reserves... and since there are some pretty valuable stamps included, the opportunity to find a few bargains definitely exists.

Bidding is open until Sunday, September 8th, till about 1:00pm US Pacific Time/4:00pm US Eastern Time or 22:00 Central European Time. I hope you'll find something of interest to add to your collection!

Click here to see the current auctions with Swedish stamps.

Thank you for your interest!