Someone recently wrote to me and sent along a scan of some stamps they had. They had many more stamps than what was shown. They wanted to send a large selection of stamps to me so that I could identify each of the stamps. They were a new collector and they didn’t understand watermarks, perforation sizes, and so forth. In return for identifying what stamps they had, this person offered to buy the items they did not have from me. I politely refused their offer.

Identifying that many stamps is going to take some time. Secondly, all of the stamps shown in the scan looked to be pretty common material, stamps cataloging perhaps 20˘.To fill in the holes, this person is likely to buy more 20˘ items from me. If they splurge, maybe they’ll buy some 50˘ or $1 stamps too. The point is, this person wasn’t going to fill holes like Scott #245 or other valuable items. In the end, my analysis is that for the time invested, my profit would be in the negatives. I would potentially spend several hours identifying all of these stamps only to generate a few tens of dollars of sales out of it.

In situations like this, I have no choice but to turn the offer down. I can’t spend lots of time identifying stamps in order to make $50 in sales. If I did that, I would be out of business in no time.

In the past, I’ve had customers send me a stamp or two that they had trouble identifying. I look at the stamp and return it with my opinion on the Scott number. It takes a tiny amount of time and it helps the customer. Hopefully the customer learns something new because I return a note saying, “This is Scott #so-and-so because it has the following characteristics.” I briefly explain how I came to my determination. I hope customers make note of my points and in the future, they can identify their own stamps better.

Back to the other persons offer. I understand their request to help identify stamps. However, that is the wrong route. No dealer is going to invest that kind of time in exchange for a few dollars in sales. And remember, there is no guarantee this person will buy from you. In the worst case, a dealer could identify all of the stamps and never hear from that person again. Instead, this person needs to invest in a catalog, a perforation gauge, and some watermark fluid. The best way to learn how to identify stamps is to do it yourself.

If this person sent me a stamp or two they have trouble identifying, sure I’ll help if it’s pretty easy. But I can’t identify their whole collection for them. The saying goes, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”