Make Money Collecting Things Stamps

About how to make money collecting stamps, where to buy and sell stamps for your collection.

How to Make Money Collecting Things


Letter handstamps date back to 15th-century Italy. When the ink handstamp was introduced to London in 1680, it bore the words "Penny Post Paid." In 1839 a printer named James Chalmers suggested to postal reformer Sir Rowland Hill that the British post office adopt adhesive stamps to indicate the postage paid. Hill himself designed the first stamp, a portrait of Queen Victoria taken from a commemorative medal. The stamp, printed in Penny Black and Two-penny Blue, was issued May 6, 1840, though several of them leaked out four days earlier. A letter stamped on either day is now a rare, highly prized item.

In the U.S., the first adhesive stamps were the New York City Despatch Post issues of 1842 and the various Postmaster Provisionals of 1845. Since then, over 700 governments have issued an array of stamps mind-boggling in number.

A stamp collector is called a philatelist. A stamp, by the code of philately, is designed, printed, and issued for bona fide postal need. Any stamp issued purely for philatelists, or printed by a nonrecognized government, is worthless to a genuine collector. For example, stamps put out by the White Russian government after the Bolshevik takeover in November, 1917, were not valid postage then, and therefore are of no interest to collectors now. Nazi Germany's famed forgeries might be considered valuable by Nazi memorabilia collectors, but not by philatelists.

Not all stamps are square or rectangular or of standard size. The smallest were the 10 cent and 1 peso stamps of the state of Bolivar in Colombia, measuring .31 in. x .37 in. The Tonga Islands in the Pacific issued a set of circular stamps designed like gold coins. Sierra Leone has a stamp shaped like Sierra Leone. The Asian country of Bhutan even issued a 3-D stamp, but philatelists protest its value. They call it "abusive," a gaudy attempt to make money from philatelists. (Bhutan has also issued perfumed stamps and stamps embossed with tiny phonograph records.)

Where to Look for Old Stamps

You can often find stamps on old letters stacked away in desks, safes, and trunks, which time has passed by and left undisturbed.

You may be a collector, but you don't become a philatelist, simply by accumulating stamps. You must acquire a knowledge of stamps, learn how to arrange a collection, decide what to concentrate on, and be aware of the common pitfalls and forgeries. To begin, you should limit your collection to themes (cosmic flights, Americana, heads of state) or countries; otherwise you'll be without direction, for the world has almost too many stamps.

Once you've familiarized yourself with stamps and obtained a stamp catalog for reference, you'll want to talk to stamp collectors and dealers, subscribe to philately magazines and newsletters, and perhaps join a stamp club.

Prices (1978)

The 1926 White Plains souvenir sheet cataloged for $425; a single $1.30 Zeppelin stamp is listed at $600 unused, $330 used; a 2 cent stamp from the 1901 Pan-American Series cataloged for $375 unused, $88.50 used; the 1847 Ben Franklin stamp listed at $675 unused, $210 used; the 1893 50 cent Jefferson stamp cataloged for $275 unused, $120 used; the 1902 6 cent Garfield stamp listed at $30 unused, $2.10 used; a 1920 5 cent Pilgrims' Compact stamp cataloged for $52.50 unused; $19.50 used; a 1974 18 cent Statue of Liberty stamp lists for 40 cent unused, 15 cent used. The above prices are for stamps in mint or fine condition.

Stamp clubs and societies:

American Philatelic Society

James T. DeVoss

Box 800

State College, Pa. 16801

American Academy of Philately

Robert B. Brandeberry

58 West Salisbury Drive

Wilmington, Del. 19809

American Topical Association

3306 North 50th Street

Milwaukee, Wis. 53216

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