Dealers get a variety of questions from customers or potential customers. Who you are and what question you are asking determines what kind of a response you get. Iím going to list my own opinions here. However, I think these things are generally true of many stamp dealers.
There are two kinds of people: customers and non-customers. There are three kinds of questions: easy, moderately difficult, and very difficult.
Easy questions are things that can be found by looking in the Scott catalog. Youíd be amazed at how many questions I get that can easily be answered by reading the introductory pages in the Scott catalog. Moderately difficult are things that are not easily found in the Scott catalog, but they are sometimes found in other philatelic sources, such as books. Very difficult questions are things that you donít run across very often and many times they are not well documented in the philatelic press.
Let me give you some specific examples. An easy question is ďWhat is the difference between a single and double line watermark?Ē A Scott catalog can show you this. A moderately difficult question is, ďHow do I tell if a stamp is regummed?Ē This isnít in the Scott catalog, but there are philatelic sources that explain this. It takes some experience to recognize regummed stamps. A very difficult question is, ďAre there any covers with Scott #1 used from Columbus, OH?Ē This question is very specific and will take some time to research.
My responses to easy questions are usually pretty short, ďSee page X of the Scott US Specialized catalog for illustrations.Ē If you canít afford the latest catalog, you can find a catalog that is a few years old that has the same information for only a few dollars. If you donít want to buy a catalog and help yourself, sorry, I canít keep answering questions like this.
For moderately difficult questions, Iíll respond with, ďPick up a copy of ĎHow to Detect Damaged. Altered, and Repaired Stampsí. Chapter 3 has a lot of useful information.Ē Sometimes I add my own comments like, ďUsing a 30x magnifier, look for traces of gum within the perforation holes.Ē Many times these questions are easily answered. People just need a nudge in the right direction to look. I enjoy fielding these kinds of questions and setting people on the right track.
Very difficult questions are the toughest to answer. These questions usually involve research and thatís not something I will do for you. I will say, ďWrite to John Doe. He collects this area. He may be able to help you.Ē I know a lot about philately, but I donít consider myself an expert. I know a lot of people. I have a large philatelic library. I wonít do the research, but I can hopefully connect you with some other collectors or dealers that can help. Sometimes I have to say, ďSorry, I donít know. And I canít recommend any place to look.Ē
If there is no SASE, non-customers get one response from me. If they ask more questions and there still is no SASE, sorry, your questions are going to go unanswered. I want to be helpful because you may be a potential customer. However, Iím in business to sell stamps. Taking time away from my business to answer continuous questions is not something I can afford to do. Iíd be out of business very soon. I canít spend my money in postage to answer your questions because you donít include a SASE.
There is a tiny minority in the collecting community who are only looking for free information. They will not buy catalogs. Or if they do have a catalog, they donít read it. They wonít take the time to look up basic information. They bounce from dealer to dealer (and between fellow collectors too) with their questions, hoping they will find someone who will spend countless hours explaining the very basics of philately to them. Often, you donít even get a ďthank youĒ from them.
Even with an SASE, there is a limit to my responses, especially with easy questions. After the second or third question, I will say something like ďYou should spend some time reading the introduction in the Scott catalog. Many of your questions can be answered there.Ē I want to be helpful and I appreciate the SASE, but there is a limit of how much time I can spend with you, especially if youíre not buying anything.
Iím more patient with non-customers who ask moderately difficult or very difficult questions. They are more advanced collectors who may be potential customers. Again, there is a tiny minority who will look to you for as much information as they can get because they donít want to take the time and do it themselves.
Iím more generous of my time with customers who ask questions. And Iím a little more tolerant if they donít include an SASE. These people are buying material from me. Iím making a profit. I donít mind going that extra mile to help them out. But again, it has to be within a limit. I canít spend all day answering questions. But I am more generous with my time with customers than I am with non-customers.
Itís a difficult balancing act. I donít want to be arrogant or disrespectful. I want to encourage people to pursue stamp collecting. But I do have a business to operate.
In my years of dealing, I have come to recognize the difference between someone who is looking for all the free information they can get versus someone who has good intentions, but needs a little guidance. Whatís the difference? Sorry, I canít tell you that secret!