The collector’s stamps are likely to be the most unusual and difficult portion of an estate. The chances are that neither the surviving family members nor the administrator will be experienced philatelists, so the caring collector with some advance planning can help them get maximum value from the material. Time is the ally of the executor in achieving best realization, so a little foresight can make a major contribution.
The most important document can be a simple listing of major parts of a collection. This should include any mounted exhibits, number of albums and title of their contents, and nature of loose material. This list should also identify the location of each segment. Don’t forget any library or research notes.
An independent appraiser will gauge the sophistication of the collection by asking how much the collector spent on stamps, if the material is mounted for easy inspection, and if the owner had any pieces for which expert certificates were obtained. Any file of purchases with receipts or canceled checks can be helpful.
A common mistake is that the collector has not shared an honest evaluation with anyone else. Catalog quotation is not market value. It is not unusual to see offerings of stamps at a fraction of catalog value, and the editorial in the July 13, 1998 issue of Linn’s stated it correctly: stamps acquired at a percentage of catalog will sell at the same kind of discount. Frequently this is most painfully realized when an accumulation of modern U.S. mint sheets sells at a discount from face value.
Condition is the essential factor in stamp value. The collector who has acquired damaged or defective copies to fill album spaces is kidding himself and his heirs if the collection is valued or insured at full catalog. In making an inventory, list nominal catalog, the discount value to replace with comparable material, and then the deeper discount value which might be realized at a forced sale. Any collector who stays current with auction realizations knows the difference between the prices for superb copies and the discount realizations for average or defective copies.
The late Herbert Bloch once observed that if material came in boxes for sale, it went out in boxes. The seller has no duty to do the job of organizing that the owner didn’t care spending time to do. indeed, recognizing that a dealer’s time is also valuable, then consideration for the work of sorting a mish-mash of material is entirely reasonable.
The collector can also help by saving some auction catalogs which have done a good job of carefully lotting material, and by organizing material so that it can easily be inspected and the better items identified. In addition to identifying firms familiar with dealing with similar material, the collector may also indicate any friends who know the material and might be willing (or have agreed) to help prepare it for sale.
If the collector has promised any item(s) to another collector or organization, such designation should be in writing along with the terms of transfer. Heirs may be swamped with alleged promises of this type, and can be protected only if there is a written record of the designation. A word of caution for heirs, too. Do not leave any person unattended with material, nor allow anybody to take material away for “more careful examination.”
John E. Lievsay
The author is an international judge and exhibitor. He is the Chairman of the Philatelic Foundation in New York, and is active in several philatelic organizations.
This article provided through the courtesy of Women In Philately, which sponsors a series of seminars that includes information such as that presented here. The information and facts herein are provided as a gratuitous service and are not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. The reader should realize that these ideas are not updated nor are they tailored to an individual situation, but are provided as an intellectual starting point. Please consult with appropriate professional advisors.