It may seem sad, but strangely enough this is one of the most frequent questions the Society receives. Sometimes it results from a member who has collected for a long time and amassed a large collection, but then died. Their relatives then approach the BSS and seek our advice on what to do.
The general advice is to ascertain how much the collection may be worth. The trade journals contain dealers who can value collections and perhaps undertake to purchase and dispose of them for the family. But prudence says obtain a few valuations first before opting to take this route.
Additionally, there are auction houses who can take collections and then sell them for you but of course, whatever the value realised, they will charge a percentage commission for acting on your behalf.
Finally, some members in the past have donated their collections to the Society, in which case we make them available to other members. Sometimes this is done through a first-come-first served basis, but more likely through an internal auction process. Whatever route taken, this is an issue that perhaps thought should be given to.
When you start collecting this is a question you will almost certainly not ask, but as your collection swells and perhaps their value too, it might be that this is something you then need to seriously consider.
So what should you do? Well, firstly it will depends on how much your collection is worth. With a small collection of common issues that have not cost you a great deal insuring your collection may seem an excessive step. As the collection grows however, it may be that you find yourself with stamps that have a costly replacement value or, who knows, includes the odd item catalogued with a high price tag!
Home contents insurance policies (HCIPs) may to some extent cover your collection, but you need to check the policy details very carefully. HCIPs may also have provision for you to have specific items identified and insured, in which case, knowing the value of your collection becomes crucial.
In addition there are one or two insurers who specialise in stamp insurance. Indeed, the Bird Stamp Society uses a specialist insurer for its own Packet Service. If you want more details about these insurers then please enquire further.
It might seem excessive, but it is always a good idea to keep a record of your purchases. It can feel burdensome and over the top when you start and have just a few stamps, but as your collection grows – and it will – the creation of some sort of catalogue is highly recommended.
This doesn’t have to be too elaborate, but a simple listing of what the issues are, perhaps by country or species is helpful, along with their postal value, Stanley Gibbons catalogue number (dealers always quote these), their condition – whether they are mint, used, hinged, unhinged, damaged, creased, etc – as well as the name of the dealer and their date of purchase. Some might choose to indicate the price you paid for them, but values can always change.
If you start doing this at the beginning of collecting it becomes second nature and easy to do. It gives you an accurate sense of the size of your collection and, crucially tells you how many duplicates you have acquired. And yes, you will always find you have pesky duplicates!
At its most simplistic, stamps are sourced through dealers, but purchasing can be achieved through a number of methods. Here are a few to consider:-
- Many thematic dealers advertise their services in the trade press and you might think about contacting them to see what they have to offer. Some may have to be written to, but increasingly many have on-line services. Where possible, choose a dealer who is a member of the Philatelic Traders Association (PTA) as they operate within a strict code of practice.
- You can join packet schemes. The BSS operates its own packet scheme within the UK and if you take up this option available to you as a member, you will receive a packet of ten books with bird stamps roughly every quarter. The packets operate on a circuit. When received you select those issues you want, pay the packet secretary and then pass the packet on to the next member. There is also an e-packet service (Non-BSS) that is open internationally that enables you to select stamps on-line.
- Similarly, some dealers offer approval arrangements where selections of stamps that cover your collecting interests are sent to you on a regular basis. Unfortunately most tend to be geared for collecting countries rather than thematics, but the BSS can advise on a number who do specialise or hold stamps that might be of interest.
- You could attend a stamp fair if there is one nearby. Some parts of the country have major fairs lasting several days, while smaller ones are just for one day. The advantage is that you can actually meet the dealers, discuss your collecting needs and hopefully establish links for future purchases. They can also be a useful venue for acquiring philatelic supplies. The downside is that not every area of the UK is covered. The south of England for example tends to have a plethora of fairs while this is less the case the further north or west you go. Fairs in Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland are much rarer.
- And lastly, there are privately run auctions where you can view a catalogue of available issues and competitively bid for items you want. In the past, the Bird Stamp Society used to run its own auction, but this is currently not operating. However, also check-out local and national philatelic societies as many will run auctions from time to time which can often be affordable.
Generally, we would advise you to shop around. Over time you will begin to develop a small list of dealers or businesses who hold what you want and have issues that meet your needs and your purchasing budgets.
The short answer? It’s up to you. Stamps can be mounted in albums on gridded sheets and neatly labelled, although many choose stockbooks or use Prinz or Hagner pages which are more flexible. Mounting may involve the use of hinges, but increasingly Prinz or Hawid type mounts have become popular as they do not damage the stamp, particularly the Gard version.
The arrangement of collections will largely be determined by your collecting interests and/or specialism. Collections might be arranged by country and in date of issue order. Some bird stamps are part of larger sets that include non-bird issues, perhaps a general wildlife or nature set. Some collectors will mount the complete set, others might want to only use the bird elements. Generally, we would advise against breaking sets up.
Sometimes it is a pick-and-mix arrangement. Mini-sheets tend to be large and are better kept in Prinz or Hagner sheets rather than mounted along with the rest of your collection, but they can be mounted if need be.
Covers can be either kept in separate plastic slips (dealers tend to sell them in this form) or placed in special cover binders, often called First Day Cover or FDC albums. If you become interested in postal history you might want a flexible arrangement so you can study the covers over time.
But there is one don’t. Don’t store your collection in shoes boxes or biscuit tins. Do something with them! They deserve to be accessible and seen. It should be a collection, not an accumulation.