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The American Philatelic Foundation is the only non-profit organization in the U.S. that performs many appraisals with no charge for serious collections previously appraised to the consignor. For others a small donation is requested. The Foundation does not buy stamp collections unless it may want one for its philatelic exhibition.  Here at the Foundation we never do a "quickie" appraisal. Many stamp dealers turn pages without ever examining a specific stamp or if they do they only look for the items that are worth hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars. These valuable stamps are often figured for very little or in some cases nothing at all. Here at the Foundation we examine all the stamps and give the estate all the information that will lead to maximizing what they might eventually receive when the collection is sold. A written report summarizing our evaluation is mailed to our consignors on valuable collections.


We do have a private treaty department where collections can be left with us for retail sale once an appraisal has been accomplished and our consignor now wishes to sell. A small commission is charged to the buyer only for this service.


We have had great success in selling our consignors collections through internet auctions. In November of 2000 we ran a wonderful 19th century collection in one album with a reserve of $15,000. The collection sold for $41,000!!  The reason we have had so much success with our internet auctions is my expertise in using a great many scans and of course my knowledge after forty years of what to show. No auction house in the entire World depicts scans to the degree I do with a large collection; most only describe the collection in a paragraph or two and only a small handful of collectors who go in person to the auction will know what is represented. Another reason we use Internet auctions is the enormous worldwide response we get, half of our consignments go out of the country where the buyer has no access to a public auction. For Internet sales we charge a reasonable commission, in most cases less than the public auction houses. We place a net reserve on all Internet sales to protect the consignor. I do not know one auction house in the US that will do this!


Should I determine you have a very valuable collection we can visit you at home, office or at your bank to consign your collection. We pay all expenses for such a trip if your collection is consigned to us.


The following information is provided primarily for the individual or family who has inherited a stamp collection and is seeking to find out what it is worth and the process used to determine the collection's value. There is also much information here for the actual collector as well, who is not familiar or does not understand how one determines the value of a collection for the purpose of selling.

The American Philatelic Foundation has spent decades professionally appraising stamp collections. The Foundation's Executive Director and principal appraiser has been a professional appraiser and buyer of stamp collections for over 40 years. (He has completed a definitive book on Philately, {stamp collecting}), which was published in 1998. A Foundation version is available for $20. Besides appraising for his own company, the Foundations Director has been associated with many major auction firms as an appraiser and a buyer. During that time he appraised and purchased thousands of rare stamps and collections. He is no longer a full time dealer, but volunteers his time to the Foundation. Our Director is considered one of the top philatelic experts in the world.

We would like to share with you some of the stories about philately, and inform you of the problems one will encounter when you inherit a stamp collection and wish to sell it.

Many times a person will come to the Foundation announcing he or she has just been willed their fathers stamp collection and then has gone out and purchased a Scott stamp catalog. They then look up the value of the stamps, and after adding everything up, are ready to either retire wealthy, or at least have a small fortune after the collection is sold! Our Director, while representing a West Coast auction firm, was called to Santa Ana, CA. to appraise an entire room full of stamp albums (380 volumes). The collector had told the estate's attorney before he passed away that the collection was worth two or three million dollars. When our expert arrived, there were 14 family members gathered in the "stamp room" to hear how many millions of dollars they were going to be able to divide. The attorney informed the Foundation that many members of the family had made monetary commitments, based on the anticipation of the sale of the stamps. Some had bought new cars; one had made a deposit on a new home! After examining the collection with everyone present, our Director told the family that he had some good news and some bad news. The bad news was that the collection, consisting of common stamps soaked off of common mails and correspondence during a 50-year period, had no monetary value at all. The good news was there would be no appraisal charge!


If every person who purchased a Scott Stamp Catalog (the accepted standard catalog in the hobby), took the time to read the fine print in the front of the book, part of this question would be answered. Condition, appearance, and scarcity are the keys to value.

Let us start with what the advanced collector considers a good stamp. Stamps that catalog at least $250.00 each are considered good stamps. Stamps that catalog $1,000.00 or more are considered scarce. Stamps that catalog $5,000.00 or more are considered rare.


The Foundations usual appraisal would be categorized as the average better collection. We try to only accept the average better collection to appraise, as the Foundation limits its time to this caliber of collection or better. However we do accept the hobby collection hoping to find a few better stamps, enabling the owner to receive maximum value when sold. Let me describe to you what is in the average stamp collection we call a "hobby collection" as opposed to the better average stamp collection.

The hobby collection is a collection formed of countries of the world, where the collector has tried to fill in spaces, or sets of stamps with a combination of both mint and canceled varieties. In most cases the "high value" of a given set is lacking. As an example: A set of stamps would be issued by a country starting with a one cent stamp and containing other values up to five dollars. The average hobby collection would have only the first half of the set and not the higher values. Additionally, the hobby collection would contain a combination of mint and canceled stamps which would be making up a given set or part of a set of stamps.

By reviewing your collection you should be able to see what I am explaining here.

What sets the advanced collection apart from the hobby collection is that the sets are mostly complete to the high denomination in the better collections. The next factor of importance is if the complete sets are mixed used and unused, or each set is mostly mint or all mint. Collections that contain all mint sets generally are better collections as un-cancelled stamps are more popular and more valuable than canceled stamps. What can make this collection valuable or very valuable is the quantity and values of these mint sets.

The more extensive the collection and the larger the quantity of mint complete sets will result in a better cash value of your collection. Obviously a ten or twenty volume collection bulging with mint sets will be much more valuable than one or two albums with sparse material. Even though your collection might not contain "rare individual stamps," it still could be very valuable based on a large quantity of un-cancelled mint complete sets.


If you have the following only: The Modern Postage Stamp Album, The Citation Albums, The Ambassador Albums, The Harris Albums for World Wide Stamps, Scott International or Minkus Supreme Global that are sparse. Sparse means about twenty five percent filled or less. First day covers, Modern US Postage Stamps after 1930. Any album that is printed for stamp collectors containing spaces for stamps of the world that measures about 8x12 but only an inch thick. The exception would be albums printed in the 19th century. By visiting our section Not Appraisable we describe to you how to recognize valuable stamps.

Now that we understand the above, let us consider condition. Condition is everything in relation to the actual value of stamps. Some condition factors are the centering of the stamp relative to the margins on each side (the paper border). Is the stamp sound? Does it have a tiny tear or a repair? Has the stamp been altered from its original condition or has the gum been reapplied?

The most valuable stamps were printed in the 19th Century and few have come down through this century in perfect condition. Many 19th Century gums were acidic, and have damaged the stamps over the years. And, what most non-collectors do not know is that most 19th Century valuable stamps were forged extensively. Classic Japan as an example has 1000 forgeries for every genuine stamp.

Good valuable collections have certification papers on all valuable stamps. Many collectors don't bother to do this, but rare stamps cannot be sold today without proper certification. The Foundation staff can identify better early stamps and assist the owner in getting these stamps expertised. No single individual can normally be responsible for expertising including the Foundation's Director.

Another major factor affecting condition is poor storage. Even knowledgeable collectors can sometimes make the mistake of poorly storing their collections. Collections left too long in boxes and in closets, especially in California or states that have a humid climate, will eventually develop mildew. If the album pages are not aired out periodically, the unused stamps will eventually stick down to the album pages - greatly reducing their value. Most collectors' air out their collections but the novice of course does not know this. Sometimes you can just test this out by simply smelling the albums. If they have that strange unpleasant smell of mildew it is time to have a professional examine the collection as soon as possible.

As you can see, there are many factors that affect the value of a collection. Only a professional appraisal can determine the correct value of a stamp collection.


Let's return to the person who ran out to get a set of catalogs. It has been our experience that the novice who attempts to identify the value of a collection without professional help will never be able to do so. Most people will look up a stamp in the catalog by the photograph and immediately identify the stamp as the first number under the photo. This will be the wrong thing to do 99% of the time. As an example let us take the 1851 United States one-cent issue showing the portrait of Benjamin Franklin. This stamp comes in seven different printings, all looking alike to the average collector. The most valuable printing is the first - that stamp being worth about $100,000.00 in perfect unused condition. The cheapest printing is worth about $35.00 used. If you are not a stamp expert, and you look up the 1851 one cent in the catalog, you will probably think you have just hit the winning ticket in the lottery. Rare stamps such as the one above only come in very limited quantities and all known copies are accounted for. There are hardly ever any new discoveries, but the novice continues to call the Foundation every day saying he or she has found this or that rarity. A certificate almost always accompanies rarities. Collectors in most cases who have bought rare stamps have already had them certified. The lesson here is: don't try and do an appraisal yourself, leave it to a professional.


Many collectors keep notes and inventories on their collections, in some cases indicating the catalog value of better stamps or in some cases the whole collection. Let us say the collection catalogs $50,000.00. Armed with this information, the heir is ready to go out and find someone who will pay the $50,000.00. It will never happen….here is why.

The average dealer, figuring the collection does catalog $50,000.00, might offer $5,000.00 - if the collection has strong popular stamps cataloging from $250.00 and more. Conversely, should the collection be a "count collection," a dealer will offer much less. Your first thought to this kind of offer will be that the dealer is a crook. That is probably not the case. The Scott Publishing Company who print the catalogs are not in the business of informing collectors what stamps are really worth! If that were the case, then a stamps "value" would seldom change in the catalog (because they don't change very often in the market place), and the company that prints the catalog would only be able to sell their books once in the collectors life! The Scott Publishing Company, until recently, has moved the value up artificially every year so those collectors will buy a new set of yearly catalogs at a cost exceeding $100.00! Therefore, when you bring your $50,000.00 collection to a dealer and he only offers you 5 or 10 percent of the catalog value for it, the dealer is not being unethical, but only offering you what might be a fair wholesale price. A dealer will spend years disposing of a collection and will often have to buy at very low levels in order to turn a normal profit.

A "count collection" is a collection filled with defective but attractive stamps that have a high catalog value, but due to condition problems and the presence of forged stamps, has a very low value relative to the standard catalog. A current advertisement shows a Dutch dealer offering a British Commonwealth collection containing $75,000.00 in catalog value for $1,375.00! That figures to less than 2% of the catalog value. A copy of this ad is available upon request. On the other hand, if you have a collection, which was formed with stamps in perfect condition, and they are in the higher value category, it is possible to achieve full retail value. Although the Foundation does not buy stamps, our experts are able to assist the public in the evaluation and sales of stamp collections.


Many dealers must mark up their purchases from three to ten times. That is correct, up to ten times mark-up over cost. A dealer who buys a collection today has a very high overhead to run his business. It is common to mark a collection up as much as ten times to net the dealer a good return. That same dealer will take the chance of losing a good purchase so long as the collections he buys are very cheap. The other factor to consider in selling to a dealer is that many dealers are not knowledgeable enough to figure early classic stamps, as these stamps are often forged or repaired. Another factor to consider is the (unethical) practice whereas many dealers work together when a collection is being offered for sale. The idea of getting two or three offers from local dealers sounds right but unbeknownst to the uneducated seller, after receiving an initial offer and turning that down, this is what normally happens. Dealer one, after applying modest to harsh pressure on your selling to him, will alert all the local dealers of your collection. He informs them of his offer and the other dealers will call on you offering the same amount or very close to that amount. The end result is that whoever buys it will share the profit with the other dealers. This practice of fixing a low offer price is very common. Most dealers ask for an appraisal fee, waived if they buy the collection. The worst problem with the dealer appraisal is the appraisal itself. Dealers appraise collections, not at fair market value but at what they want to pay for the collection!


At the Foundation we are not dealers and the Foundation does not purchase stamp collections. Our commitment to the public is to do appraisals at the retail level. Our Director has 40 years of retail stamp sales experience, including working for several major auction firms, including Harmers of London. He and the Foundation's consultants recognize rare stamps and have the expertise to differentiate genuine stamps from common forgeries most of the time. A good stamp collection takes several days or longer to appraise. Unlike the quick dealer appraisal, the Foundation takes the time to carefully examine the more valuable stamps to determine their retail value. We have an extensive and specialized library for our research work. Generally the Foundation can not do a serious appraisal outside of our offices.


The Foundation Appraisal allows you to have full knowledge of what your collection is worth, both on the retail level as well as the cash value, in case you must liquidate the collection. With this information, the dealers cannot take you advantage of. You may use this appraisal for insurance purposes.


The Foundation can help you sell a collection at the retail level. We have many collector-buyers interested in acquisition at the retail level as well as internet sales. A donation from the buyer is usually given to help the Foundation defray its costs. Our consignors bare no costs whatsoever.


The Foundation offers the public free appraisals for better stamp collections. Our goal is to protect the public from unsavory dealer practices. Our appraisal service is aimed principally to those persons who have inherited a valuable collection and who do not have the expertise to evaluate it properly themselves. The Foundation relies on a staff and philatelic expert consultants knowledgeable in the most specialized areas of philately.

The appraisal is done in the following manner: If it is a simple stamp collection of mostly 20th Century material, containing no special cancellations, and it is not bulky, the work can be accomplished in a short time. The appraisal figure provided would be within 10 % of current market prices. If the collection is multi-volume, containing early 19th Century material, it is suggested to have a thorough examination, which can take several days. This is recommended as we use florescent light, and other tools, to better evaluate the condition on the rare stamps. Also, typing of varieties takes much time on early valuable stamps, as we must consult plating books to correctly identify many early issues. Specialized reference works must be consulted for difficult areas of philately.

The Foundation will appraise your collection at two levels: First, the hard cash value of the collection, meaning, what a fair dealer will pay in cash for your collection today (not 60 days from now). The second figure we give you is the value at current retail. This price is based on current catalog value. (Yes, there are always collector-investors who buy entire collections at current fair market retail for certain countries). A figure we do not provide for you is the price on an individual stamp at current retail. The reason is that in order for the holder of an individual item to achieve that price he or she would have to not only open a retail store, but also have a fine reputation in the trade. The Foundation thinks it is very important for you to have this information so that you may have a better understanding on what your collection might be worth.

The American Philatelic Foundation offers a very good service to owners who do not want the responsibility of selling their stamps. The Foundation knows a large group of collectors who fall into the retail investor category. These collectors have given the Foundation a list of their wants.

A) The foundation can vouch for these collector- buyers and their funds.

B) The Foundation can assist the public to sell a collection for the above described retail price.

This program has resulted in hundreds of sales over the years with no surprises. (Not as in the case of an auction where you do not know what you are getting on the front end, and will have to deal with parts of the collection "not sold" or "returned" after the auction. Or, not as dealers who make huge mark-ups must do). The Foundation can provide you with the name or names of both dealers and auction houses should you wish to pursue this course.

The Foundation is a non-profit organization. We offer a public service, and in the case of appraisals, this is done to protect the public against any unscrupulous dealer who would not pay a fair price for your philatelic holding.

All collections left with the Foundation are insured to $500,000.00.


Before sending your collection please email me a description. Shipping your collection to our appraisal center is not difficult. We recommend sending it by either UPS or registered-insured mail. If the collection is large, use 12x14x14 book boxes. These boxes can be obtained at your post office or box store, (measurements will vary slightly).

If you have questions about anything call us directly at:

(310) 275-3256


The hobby collection consists of numerous albums, usually four to as many as a dozen or more and contain what is called in the business “count stamps.” Count stamps are common stamps printed by almost all countries and these issues can be both 19th and 20th century. Collectors who form hobby collections usually purchase “packets of stamps” to add to their collection. An example would be 1000 Russian stamps, all-different. The price for such a “collection” would cost today about $50 or five cents per stamp! Can the dealer actually make a profit on such a collection? Yes, because the dealer can purchase these common stamps at one cent each or at a wholesale-auction for even much less. To the person not familiar with stamp collecting such a collection would look very impressive. It would fill up a goodly part of an album, contain many 19th and early 20th century stamps and appear valuable. The dealer who makes up these collections for resale will add a few classic stamps or forgeries that appear to be worth many hundreds of dollars. If the stamp is genuine it is badly damaged and regardless of the catalog value have little monetary value. The forgeries will appear genuine and if a novice looked them up in a catalog would think he/she has just hit the lottery. Here at The American Philatelic Foundation we go through this on a weekly basis. I’ll have a consignor send me a collection thinking he has many valuable stamps throughout only for me to have to relate “bad news.”  99% of all collections formed are hobby collections.


In this category the collector forms his/her collection as described above. However as the collector might have a few extra dollars to spend during the year they might “splurge” and spend a dollar or two or even a bit more to fill a space with what they think are better stamps. What these collectors don’t know is that unless they acquire stamps for at least fifty dollars each (or per set) these stamps which the dealer has acquired for half that amount or even much-much less will not convert to serious money even twenty or thirty years later. That’s right not even the stamps acquired for $50! What the collector can expect with these better stamps is a full or partial return on their investment.  It is only when the collector is a serious collector who spends hundreds or thousands of dollars for a single stamp or set of stamps that the collection will certainly sell for at least what was paid for it or even much more. Such a collection as hobby plus usually has single stamps that catalog a few hundred or even a thousand dollars but have small faults and were acquired at a fraction of book value. I do set these aside hoping to find a home at full or nearly full catalog value.

Using the same approach as in the hobby collection I merely remove better stamps (items) from the hobby plus collection placing them on cards. The collection is then appraised on two levels firstly better items, secondly balance of collection which in almost all cases represents 99% of the bulk of the collection containing common stamps.


The serious collection is abundantly recognizable because almost always invoices and certificates of authenticity (these warrantee the stamp is not a fake) are present that even to the novice tells them there is something serious here. Even I can tell on the phone almost at once when told these are preset the collection is probably valuable. These collections are usually in specialized albums where only one country is represented by one album! Invoices are also present and the buyer will have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars and the invoices will note these amounts.

The serious collection, which might be a single album, is cataloged with a hard tape giving myself and my consignor the catalog or book value. As these collections are usually specialized and frequently contain invoices and certificates I catalog each section. Example: United States 1847-1923, mint and used stamps in such and such a condition with a book value of $22,550 and cash value of  $4750. It is rare that stamps sell near or at full book value. Such a serious collection might just be the one collection or perhaps a library worth many tens of thousands of dollars. In no case including the serious collection do I provide an inventory unless paid to do so. Such a procedure will take a day or two and cost about $500-$1000 depending upon what kind of examination I must make. This is a common practice in the business.


Let's return to the person who ran out to get a set of catalogs. It has been our experience that the novice who attempts to identify the value of a collection without professional help will never be able to do so. Most people will look up a stamp in the catalog by the photograph and immediately identify the stamp as the first number under the photo. This will be the wrong thing to do 99% of the time. As an example let us take the 1851 United States one-cent issue showing the portrait of Benjamin Franklin. This stamp comes in seven different printings, all looking alike to the average collector. The most valuable printing is the first - that stamp being worth about $100,000.00 in perfect unused condition. The cheapest printing is worth about $35.00 used. If you are not a stamp expert, and you look up the 1851 one cent in the catalog, you will probably think you have just hit the winning ticket in the lottery. Rare stamps such as the one above only come in very limited quantities and all known copies are accounted for. There are hardly ever any new discoveries, but the novice continues to call the Foundation every day saying he or she has found this or that rarity. A certificate almost always accompanies rarities. Collectors in most cases who have bought rare stamps have already had them certified. The lesson here is: don't try and do an appraisal yourself, leave it to a professional.


You must carefully read the above and use common sense. Did the collector indicate to you with a previous appraisal (not done by the collector), what value the collection might have? Did he/she without your knowledge sell part of the collection, usually all the better items by my 40 plus years in the business? That is a very common occurrence. If there are invoices, are they for small amounts or large amounts and when not present indicate the stamps are probably just mostly common? Serious collectors save receipts. Serious collections have inventories that are professionally done even if by the collector, they are evaluations list of stamps and book values. However keep in mind I have time and again seen these inventories only to discover part was sold or not given to me for appraisal! I hope this helps you with our evaluation and how it is done. Nearly all-professionals use this or a similar approach, some do not even know what they are doing and greatly undervalue an appraisal. Here at The American Philatelic Foundation we always try our best to ensure the collection is handled in one of the above three categories and properly evaluated.

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