Some of us deal in tightly regulated businesses. Pharmaceuticals, securities, certain health and health-related fields are examples. However, stamps are somewhat different.
The market in stamps is very much buyer-beware, seller-beware. If you see what you think is a rare variety that has been put on the market with an apparent bargain price by a seller or in a circuit book, I know of no legal or ethical obligation to tell the seller, whether an APS member or not, that his or her price is too low. If you as seller put a price on a philatelic item you own, and intend to sell it, the buyer is entitled to assume that you made money on it, or at least that you want to get rid of it.
I know of no law, rule or code of ethics that compels a willing buyer to tell a willing seller that his or her price is too cheap. You always have the option to tell a dealer, especially if they are your friend, about what you suspect is a mistaken identification. However, you also can simply buy the item, pay the price, go home happy and sleep the sleep of the just. Maybe you got a bargain. Maybe you didn’t, and only fooled yourself!
The risk of a mistake lies with both parties.
It can go either way. Usually (over 95% of the time when there is mistaken identification) it is the case that a seller overprices or misrepresents an item. If you use your hard-earned expertise to tell that seller there is a mistake in the seller’s favor, many dealers will pull the item, reassess the description, and re-price it accordingly. On the other hand, some sellers will ignore you. They may reason that they know more than you do. They may even be right!
It isn’t practical for buyers to carry around all their reference resources or expertizing equipment. You cannot always necessarily tell on the spot whether you are looking at a rarity or not. Many of us (including me) have taken the risk, bought a questionable item and ultimately gotten bad news when the item is expertized.
You can sometimes buy an item on condition that an expert opinion will be obtained. If you have entered into an agreement up front to rescind the transaction in the event the item is proven bad within a reasonable period of time by an expert whose expertise is recognized by both buyer and seller, such rescission may be allowed in some circumstances by some sellers.
Ethical questions arise when, instead of putting a price on an item, the seller asks you to name a price. That puts the ball in your court. You then have the obligation to name a fair price, or tell the seller they will have to name the price. After all, if someone wants to sell something, he or she should have some idea what it is worth, or at least what price was paid for it.
On the seller’s side, if the vendor truly knows that an item is fake or repaired, that it has a bogus postmark or is in some other way not genuine, and does not represent it as such, that is not ethical and may even be criminal in certain circumstances.
Over time, experience is a good (if not always kind) teacher. It will let you know what is worth adding to your collection and whom to trust, whether you are a seller, a buyer, or a bit of both.
Remember, everyone can make honest mistakes. Everyone also can trust — but verify.
The American Philatelic Expertizing Service (APEX) offers opinions on the genuineness of philatelic material at moderate cost. APEX utilizes the services of nearly 180 specialists and a variety of high-tech equipment to provide guaranteed opinions. APEX is accepting orders.
Editor's Note: The column was originally published in the June 2019 issue of The American Philatelist. We are bringing the archives of The American Philatelist to the Newsroom - to read back issues of The American Philatelist, click here and scroll down to the Back Issues section.