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Putting Your Stamps up for Sale at Auction

This is the seventh of a series of articles to be presented

for the collector who would like to learn more about

the tools for building a more complete collection.

So you've decided to put your stamps up for auction!

Is this the first time and does it scare you a bit? It should! This is a market that takes some time to understand. You learn from both buying and selling. You won't come away totally unscathed. On the other hand, participating in an auction can be exhilarating. You will remember not only the stamps you bought or sold, but also the excitement of the sale itself.

If you are new to the auction scene, there are at least two people you can turn to for help. The first would be a friend who has been to a number of auctions. The second would be the auctioneer. The friend would be more objective, the auctioneer, more experienced. But until you get to know the auctioneer, how can you be confident that he's on your side?

Of course, each auctioneer will tell you that he's objective and definitely on your side. After all, if he doesn't help you, you won't come back to him and you may tell others of your negative experience. Our own experience, by and large, has been that we can rely on the auctioneer for help. The most important thing is to communicate effectively with him, tell him your objectives and then listen carefully to his advice. Don't forget, the more the auctioneer gets for you, the more he gets for himself.

Anyone can put stamps up for sale. That part's easy. But if you want to get the best return, you will have to prepare your stamps carefully and you must choose the most appropriate auction house.

Inexperienced collectors may simply send their collections to the auctioneer with instructions to sell. This is the easiest approach since it requires little effort. It is likely the auctioneer will quickly go through the collection and, if he spots some good material, he will suggest you split it out to maximise the results. This is not surprising as a quick look through the results of any auction shows that a single item, well illustrated and well described, will bring far better results when sold separately than when included in a collection or group of stamps. Here is an example of a single item well illustrated and described in an auction catalogue. It comed from lot 287 in the Firby sale of 22 June, 2002:

And this is the description from the Firby catalogue:
287 -

#29b. 15¢ Red Lilac, fresh & XF example with SON pmk of Ottawa dated Mar 7, 1868. This is the second earliest date recorded (March 2 is also known) & 3 weeks earlier than the date of issue which was April 1sr. Gorgeous stamp & showpiece. Accompanied by 1998 VG Greene cert. #9354.

If you are an experience collector, you will probably know these things and will find it easier to talk to the auctioneer since you know your stamps and can appreciate what he tells you. He can tell you what will and won't sell well. He'll help you identify any varieties you hadn't previously noticed in your own collection, and he can give you his estimate of what each item might bring. He may suggest that some parts of your collection be sold through another auction house. Don't be offended for he may be doing this for your own good. Each auction house caters to a different market and the auctioneers know their competitors and their competitors' markets. Your collection may contain a certain amount of postal history, revenue stamps or provincial stamps or first-day covers. For each area, there is a different market.

We hope you aren't in a hurry to sell your collection. Some of the top auctioneers hold only three or four auctions a year, sometimes less. Let's say a particular auctioneer holds his first two auctions each year on February 1st and July 1st. His February auction catalogue might be printed and ready to be mailed in mid-December. If you were to call him in mid-December, he would tell you that the earliest your collection could put up for sale would be July 1st. Furthermore, payment wouldn't be sent to you until sometime in August. That would mean a space of eight months from start to finish.

So if you're in a hurry, you may have to go to the second level of auctioneers. These hold sales every couple of months and some even monthly. You may find this a much better answer. If your stamps are not top-of-the-line, this may make sense because the buyers at these sales are probably looking for your type of material.

Top of the line stamp


Top of the line stamp

Regular stamp


In everything there is a trade-off. If you only have the finest of stamps, and few people do, you go to the finest of auctioneers and get world-wide exposure. These auctioneers will be reluctant to feature your material if it is not rare and valuable. They will give you great service, a crack at top prices and charge you a good fee. You just have to be patient. You probably will, after having spent many years, and even decades, putting your collection together. If you have stamps that are pretty good, but not the finest, there are auction houses that will charge less fees, they'll get the material to sale for you more quickly, selling it to clients who may not be able to afford the top-level material. So listen to your experienced friend or to the auctioneer, there are good reasons for their suggestions on how and where to sell your collection

When you send your material to the auction house, package it very carefully and make sure to surround it with a plastic covering to prevent possible water damage in transit. Call the auctioneer to let him know the material is coming and check that his insurance will cover it. Send by registered mail. It's expensive, but there's no sensible alternative. Keep a copy of your covering letter and the list of stamps you send. Even better, keep a photocopy of your good material and send one to the auctioneer as well. It helps both of you keep track. It could also be important if there is an insurance claim. In due course, the auctioneer will send you a schedule of the lots which contain your stamps. Check that back to the list you send him to make sure nothing was overlooked.

On receipt of the catalogue for the sale of your stamps, read the descriptions. This will be the first time you see them and you will likely find them fascinating. It's someone else's description of your stamps. Check that the descriptions are to your satisfaction. It's obviously too late at that time to change them since the catalogue has been printed, but you can at least let the auctioneer know if you disagree. This gives him a chance to provide comments " to the floor" on the date of the auction.

Soon after the sale, you will receive the auctioneer's report on your lots and the prices they fetched. This will be a time of triumphs and disappointments. Prepare yourself! The stamp market is a very imperfect market. Seldom are two stamps exactly the same. There are only a limited number of buyers across Canada and around the world. For the less than rare material, there may be many other similar copies available so that your stamps will find themselves in competition with others that are similar, sometimes even in the same sale. Buyers are fickle, they sometimes buy or decide not to buy on the spur of the moment. There's a certain amount of luck involved. With these factors at play, who can predict the outcome of a sale.

Hopefully all these factors will come together for you when you sell your stamps, making the event a very happy one for you, and of course, for the auctioneer!

We at Canadian Stamp Auctions hope

you have found these comments helpful.

More articles will be added on a regular basis.


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©2002, Canadian Stamp Auctions Ltd., Montréal, Québec, Canada