Question: About 10 to 15 years ago I started a stamp collection and invested about $3,000 to $5,000 in it. I purchased them through a reputable dealer at prices considerably below Scott values. Although I never expected to get rich with this collection, I did want to recover at least close to what I put into it, particularly because 15 years had passed.
Last week I took my collection to a stamp dealer who was appraising collections. You can imagine my shock when he told me $100 or so.
Although I am well enough off not to need the money, there may be others who have started modest collections with the idea of someday getting back what they put into them. I believe you should touch on this in your column, but obviously a lot of stamp dealers will be angry.
Because I have told my wife and kids for years that I had a collection that was worth at least a few thousand dollars, please withhold my name if you use this letter. I'm too embarrassed.--B.L.
Answer: I suggest getting another appraisal. Maybe the dealer who said your stamps are worth $100 is not familiar with these issues, so he can't properly evaluate them. Maybe he is a crook. Maybe you overpaid for the collection to begin with. Maybe you happened to pick stamps that have dropped in value in the stamp-market "slump" of the last five years.
Quality stamps that were fairly priced at thousands of dollars should not be worth only $100 today, however. Stamps do fluctuate in value, but what you describe doesn't seem right. Have you tried selling the stamps back to the dealer where you bought them? Reputable business people buy back their merchandise at a fair wholesale price.
Q: Are there stamp-dealer organizations that maintain lists of ethical dealers? I see advertisements offering stamps for sale, and I would like to know if the dealer is reliable before sending him my money.--J.S.
A: In the United States, the American Stamp Dealers' Assn. (ASDA) is the main organization for professional stamp merchants. Members sign a code of ethics, which includes such things as agreeing to honest transactions, prompt refunds if requested, properly describing the faults of a stamp offered for sale, cooperation with law-enforcement agencies that are investigating stolen stamps and clear advertising terms.
Many reliable dealers are not members of the ASDA, and some ASDA members may not be pleasant to deal with. But this organization is one test of reliability of a stamp dealer, and you can write to the ASDA to ask if a particular dealer is a member in good standing: ASDA, 5 Dakota Drive, Suite 102, Lake Success, N.Y. 11042.
Q: What is the rarest stamp in the world?--E.D.
A: Several are known by only one copy. But I guess you want to know the most valuable stamp. It is the 1-cent black-on-magenta British Guiana issue of 1856, currently unpriced in Scott's catalogue, but last sold five years ago for $1 million.
Barry Krause, a member of several national stamp-collecting organizations, cannot answer mail personally but will respond to philatelic questions of general interest in this column. Do not telephone. Write to Your Stamps, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.