Question: You seem to be quite knowledgeable. How do you know so much about stamps? Do you ever get questions that you can't answer?--F.A.
Answer: Some questions I can't answer because the facts are unobtainable or I just don't know them. To get information, I attend stamp shows and visit dealers in any town that I happen to be in. I buy and sell a lot of stamps (usually not at a profit!) and study them while they're in my possession.
I might appear to be knowledgeable, but that's because I've been collecting stamps for 30 years and reading about them all that time. But there's a lot to learn about stamps. Some serious philatelists spend their entire lives studying a single type of stamp, and don't exhaust their subject.
Literally thousands of books, monographs and pamphlets have been written about stamps since they were invented in England in 1840. When I can find a source of data, I look up specific statistics that I haven't memorized. I don't have all those numbers that I quote in my column constantly in my head.
You learn from other people. When I visit stamp shows or dealer's shops, I exchange information. Some people specialize in the stamps of a certain country or time period, and such individuals are a gold mine of knowledge. I try to benefit from their experience and research.
But the best way to learn is by reading. Most public libraries have a selection of stamp books in both the adult and children's sections. Most stamp dealers have a variety of recent stamp books and pamphlets for sale, sometimes used copies at cheap prices.
Current market values can be found in stamp auction catalogues (especially with "prices realized"), dealer price lists and philatelic periodicals. You can also get up-to-date wholesale-retail price spreads by skimming through the priced stocks of stamp dealers in their shops or at shows. But remember that dealers may overprice or underprice their merchandise, so it is helpful to visit more than one dealer to get a feel for the market.
I recommend subscribing to philatelic publications as the first step in acquiring stamp knowledge. Two well-written and illustrated weekly newspapers that I've been reading for 15 years are:
Stamp Collector, P.O. Box 10, Albany, Ore. 97321 (a year's subscription costs $19.94) and Linn's Stamp News, P.O. Box 29, Sidney, Ohio 45365 ($22.95 per year).
For $1, each of these fine publications will be happy to send you a sample copy and a subscription form.
In summary, there is no substitute for knowledge. But it doesn't come fast or easily. It takes time.