The first postage stamps were issued by Great Britain in 1840. Iím sure there were a few very early dealers. By the 1850s and 1860s, thatís when a number of people, like John Walter Scott, got into the business of dealing in stamps and started to produce catalogs and pricelists of the stamps they had available. The stamp dealer trade was born.
In the US, the heyday was in the 1930s and 1940s. If you read any of the philatelic press from that time, there were probably a few thousand stamp dealers. I donít know if anyone ever counted how many there were. Nassau Street in New York, NY was the mecca of stampdom. There were dozens of dealers who set up shop on Nassau Street.
The number of dealers has been gradually declining. And in my opinion, it will continue to decline. Today, there are just over 400 dealers listed on the website for the American Stamp Dealers Association. The American Philatelic Society has about 550 registered dealer members. Because some dealers belong to both the ASDA and the APS, the actual number of unique dealers is probably around 600 to 700.
This doesnít count the hundreds of ďlocalĒ dealers Ė the dealers who only attend shows and donít belong to the APS or the ASDA. And Iím ignoring the ďdealersĒ who only sell on Internet auction sites. There are a few on the Internet that are true stamp dealers. But most of these folks on the auction sites are, in my opinion, either collectors looking to unload some of their duplicates or they are people who are looking to make a few extra bucks selling stamps, but they really donít know much about stamps. They could just as easily be selling coins, Matchbox cars, or some other collectible where they can turn a profit.
The number of dealers today is much smaller than it was in the 1930s and 1940s. As the older dealers retire or pass away, there arenít as many new dealers coming in to replace them. Hence, the pool of stamp dealers is shrinking.
As long as there are stamp collectors, the business of stamp dealing will never fade away. But it is changing to where organized stamp collectors are one day going to be serviced by, say, 200 or so dealers. Look at the dealers today. How many of them are 60 or older? There are a lot. How many of them are 30 or younger? There are only a few.
In some cases, this will work to the advantage of the dealer. For example, if a dealer sells stamps from Guatemala and there is no one else selling stamps like that, the dealer isnít going to have competition. I donít think a dealer will be able to charge $100 for a $5 stamp. But could he charge $6 or $7 instead? Maybe. With no competition, collectors are going to have to pay that price. At some point though, the price is too high and collectors wonít buy it.
If I was a young collector today in my late teens or twenties, I would seriously consider starting a business as a stamp dealer. Why? As the old guard retires or passes away, their customers are going to need to move to another dealer. Why canít that be you? If you have an ample stock and fair prices, collectors may bring their business your way.
I believe that the market for stamps is steady. In my experience, sales are still brisk and relatively healthy, even with the current state of the US economy. If you look at the trends of stamps, the market has been steady or slightly increasing for many, many years. If demand isnít changing but the number of dealers supplying that demand is decreasing, I think this is a good business opportunity for someone very young.
The ďbig nameĒ dealers of today will someday be gone. There are opportunities for young dealers to get into the business today, learn and grow their trade, and they will be the next generation of ďbig nameĒ dealers. I believe the opportunity is there for those willing to seize it.