Since 2003

Collecting and Appraising Stamps and Coins

Before Beanie Babies – Before baseball cards — Before Barbies — there were stamps and coins. Stamps and coins still represent the largest collecting interest in the world. Everyone has seen, held and used stamps and coins, but not all of us, or our clients, know which stamps and coins are collectible and valuable. Perhaps you have slipped a valuable silver quarter into a Coke machine or licked a rare stamp to send a letter to a friend. Knowing what to look for can keep those valuable items from being used for soda pop and postage.

The collectible values of both stamps and coins are based upon the economic law of supply and demand. As you know, supply is the number of stamps or coins available in the market. Demand is the desire to hold, have or own the stamp or coin. The greater the demand, the more valuable an item usually is. The fewer number of items available (less supply) the greater the value as well.

An appraiser or collector can easily identify the original supply of stamps and coins by researching the quantities produced in most coin and stamp references. For stamps use the Scott Stamp Catalogs — for coins, try Yeoman’s Red Book.

These references describe every U.S. coin and stamp issued, and list the quantity minted or printed. The quantities produced do not necessarily indicate the number available today. Stamps are routinely used and discarded. Coins are taken out of circulation as they become worn or lost through holes in pants pockets.

But quantity is not necessarily the most important factor in establishing value. It is the supply of desirable stamps and coins that create those rare headlines: “Penny Worth Ten Thousand Dollars Found in gum machine.” The most desirable, and valuable, stamps and coins are usually scarce and in excellent condition

One-cent coins known as “Indian-head” pennies are great examples of supply and demand. They were minted in the U.S. from 1869-1909 and show the profile of a Native American princess on the front (most folks think it’s an Indian Chief). In 1876, approximately 8 million of these coins were minted. About 6 million were minted in 1878. But in 1877 less than one million pennies were minted. The 1877 pennies are valued at approximately 10 times more than coins in similar condition from 1876 or 1878.

The condition of coins and stamps is also an important factor. An 1877 “Indian-head” penny in “uncirculated condition” (really good shape) can be worth ten times more than an 1877 penny in “good” condition. Superb, uncirculated, 1877 “Indian-head” pennies can be found in coin shops selling for over $2,000.00 – (go get your own comps). A similar coin to search for is the 1909 Lincoln-head penny with the mint mark “S” under the date and the letters “V.D.B.” on the back under the wheat stalks. Less than 500,000 1909S V.D.B. coins were minted compared to over 100 million other 1909 pennies. This coin was minted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

The same supply and demand rules apply to postage stamps. Generally, unused stamps are more valuable than used stamps. Stamps in superb condition are usually more valuable than similar stamps in poor condition.

Stamp collectors look for stamps that are well-centered and have even, uniform margins. Stamps that are clean and free of tears are more valuable than their dirty, worn counterparts.

Just because a stamp or coin is old does not mean it is valuable. A coin from the Constantine Period of the Roman Empire, which is about 330-345 AD, is over 1,600 years old. It can be purchased from a reputable coin dealer for under $100.00. Although this Roman Empire coin is quite interesting they were sold by the barrel to dealers just a few years go.

A full sheet of commemorative stamps from the 1940’s is worth little more than the value of the postage. Dealers pay less than face-value. The sheet of stamps, are available in great quantities and there is little demand for them as a collectible or as postage. You’ll need a huge envelope to hold 39 cents worth of 3 cent stamps.

The good news is that there are probably hidden surprises in your clients’ drawers. (Not those drawers!) Before 1965 the U.S. mint produced coins containing a high percentage of silver. These dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollars are worth approximately 4 times their denomination value, based on the silver content alone. Silver coins, in excellent condition, may be worth substantially more than those that are worn or damaged. If it’s a US dime, quarter, half dollar or silver dollar dated before 1965, you have a silver coin. After 1964 the United States went to copper clad coins.

Before you run off to buy, sell, or appraise stamps and coins, here are a few tips from the professionals:
Jules Topfer, NAC’s Stamp and Coin specialist researcher suggests: “Don’t rush your research. Shop around. Get more than one comparable — markets can vary greatly. Feel out the dealer’s knowledge before you draw a value conclusion. Better yet, consult with other professional appraisers that specialize in the field.’

Leon Castner, ISA CAPP, Managing Partner at National Appraisal Consultants and a professional auctioneer adds: “Some of these stamps and coins come from collections, while others are part of accumulations. There is a big difference between a collection and an accumulation.”

A collection is an organized group of stamps or coins, with a specific collecting purpose or goal. Collections are usually well-cared for and properly sorted and stored in albums or appropriate containers. An accumulation is a batch of coins in a coffee can or a pile of stamps in one big envelope.

Since stamp and coin appraisals are incredible labor intensive, appraisers need to differentiate between accumulations and collections. That distinction alone can help you and your client establish orders of magnitude in the appraisal process and save you and your client hours of inspection and research time.

The contents of collections are almost always in better condition than the contents of an accumulation. So, generally speaking, the value of a collection is usually greater than an accumulation containing the same material.

As mentioned above, the primary reference for stamp identification is the “Scott Catalog.” These catalogs list all stamps by date of issue and country. The catalogs are quite large and contain and amazing amount of information. Each stamp is identified by a specific “Scott number,” which is unique to that stamp. There are catalogs for different countries.

The most common catalog for US stamps and US philatelic related items is the “Scott Specialized Catalog.” It includes first day covers, revenue stamps and many others philatelic ephemera.

If you are searching for values or prices you will most likely see that the stamps are identified by their Scott number.

Coins are best identified using Yeoman’s catalog of US coins, commonly known as the “red book.” Coins are commonly identified by their denomination, style and year. It is published by Whitman.

Prices and values can be found in variety of places. Dealers can provide you with their selling price, and may make offers on items, if they know the condition of the items they are buying. Remember, the amount a dealer offers for an item may not reflect the item’s value.

eBay is certainly one place to look for values and prices, but there are many other sources which should be considered. Search other on-line auction sources, as well as on-line catalog offering.

But remember, when you really need to know, find a qualified, independent, personal property appraiser.

The terms “Scott,” “Scott’s,” “Scott Catalogue,” and “Scott Number” are trademarks of Scott Publishing Company, Inc.

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