One of the members of the local stamp club recently approached me. He has an accumulation of several hundred of the 2¢ Washington small Bureau issue with the triangles (Scott #248-250, #279B, and others). He said, “You’re familiar with identifying US stamps?” “Yes I am,” I replied. He added, “Looking at those lines drives me crazy. Some of these stamps could be worth $200. I don’t want to get rid of them because there could be something good in there.”
He was on a fishing expedition. He wanted me to say that I would go through them and identify what he has. If I did find a $200 stamp in there, maybe he would throw me $20 “for my trouble.” If all of them happen to be damaged copies of the most inexpensive variety, well, that is just the way it goes. I may get a “thank you for trying” out of it.
However, I did not take the bait. I said, “Your best bet is a 10x or better magnifier. There is no short cut other than just sitting down and plowing through them.” I could tell that he was not satisfied with my reply. He wanted me to do all of the work to make sure he was not being taken when trying to sell these stamps.
If this was one or two stamps, sure, I would be more than happy to help him identify the stamps. I could identify them in a minute or two. That is being a good steward of the hobby. However, there was no way I was going to spend the time to identify that many stamps in the hopes that maybe I make $20 out of it. I have too many things to do for my own business.
Here is my point though. What did he pay for all of those stamps? My guess is not much, if anything at all.
Could he have a $200 stamp in there? I doubt it. The chances are incredibly slim that would happen.
If you bought it cheap (or got it for free) and you sell it cheap, what is the harm? Yes, it takes work to find that $200 stamp. If you are not going to look for it, maybe the next person will. There are many collectors who like to buy odd lots of stuff, sort through it, and maybe find a $200 item in the midst. It happens, but not often.
Several years ago, I bought over 2000 pounds of on paper stamps from Carrolton, OH. I am not going to repeat the whole story again. Based on the weight and the average weight of stamps, I estimated there were close to 10 million stamps in that accumulation. My point is that I bought it cheap and sold it cheap in 5 to 20 pound boxes at a time. A few people cautioned me, “How do you know that you do not have an expensive stamp in the middle of all those stamps?” The answer is: I did not know if I was possibly selling an expensive stamp lurking in the middle somewhere.
However, the time to sort through 10 million stamps and hope to find that $20 or $200 stamp is enormous and not worth the effort. Was there a $20,000 stamp in the middle of that mixture? I highly doubt it because it was all 1960s or later stamps on paper. There may have been something worth a couple of bucks in there. However, I was not going to take the time to find it. I sold it cheap, made a profit, and moved on. The people buying this stuff are either making packets of stamps to sell to others or they like to sort through accumulations and look for better items. That is their fun and they have no profit motive in it.
If you have an accumulation of what appears to be very common stamps and you are worried that there is a $200 item in there, you have two choices.
First, ask yourself what this accumulation cost you. If you did not pay much for it or it came free somehow, and you sell it for an equally cheap price, what have you lost? Nothing!
Second, if that better item in the mix really bothers you that much, you have no choice to buckle under and go through everything looking for it. In my opinion, 999 times you are going to go through a bunch of cheap material and a few hours later be disappointed with yourself that you just spent so much time only to find out, you still have a bunch of cheap items. Rare stamps are rare for a reason: very few people have them. You are only going to find that better item one in a thousand times.