Suggestions for an Inherited Collection



Keep the Collection Safe Until You Decide

While other more pressing concerns may need precedence, storing the stamps in your attic or basement is not a good idea. Make sure that you keep the collection in a cool, dry place. Humidity or moisture can destroy the value of a collection. Albums should be stored upright, rather than standing on their side (pressure on an album will sometimes cause the stamps to stick to the page).

Tips for deciding what to do with the collection

Determining what the collection is worth

The value of the collection probably has the greatest impact on how you should proceed, but how do you determine this?

Things to look for - instructions from the owner, an insurance policy, or an inventory list.These items would definitely help in determining the worth of the collection.

If there was no guidance provided with the collection, GET SOME HELP. Consider contacting an APS Dealer or Local Club near you or attend a nearby stamp show. The collection needs to be viewed in-person. Descriptions on the phone or in emails are not productive.Visit one of the following directories to find connections near you.

A member of a local club may help with determining whether the collection has enough value to warrant the cost of an appraisal. If you take the collection to a dealer, be sure to clarify to the dealer that you are not requesting an official appraisal unless you are prepared to pay a fee - see appraisals below for more information. NOTE: if you ask a dealer to come to your home to review the collection, the dealer may expect to be paid - be sure to discuss this in advance and agree upon an amount.

Many individuals with little knowledge about postage stamps worry that they will not be offered a fair price. The vast majority of dealers are trustworthy but it is a good idea to verify that a dealer is a member of the American Philatelic Society, the American Stamp Dealers Association or the National Stamp Dealers Association as these organizations have established codes of ethics. If you are still concerned about receiving a fair price for your stamps you might consider visiting more than one dealer or attend a nearby stamp show (see our Show Calendar). This would provide you with the opportunity to offer the material to several dealers and compare how much they will pay.



 - A formal appraisal may not be needed unless required for legal purposes. A formal appraisal could cost $75 to $250 an hour and provides no guarantee that the material can be sold for the valuation provided. Most appraisals are performed by stamp dealers so again feel free to use our Dealer Directory noted above. Before arranging for an appraisal, make sure you agree on the cost of the appraisal and the basis for valuation of the items (resale value or replacement value). Most appraisals do not require development of a complete inventory. The appraiser will focus on the more valuable items in determining the appraisal - so don't be surprised when you do not receive a full inventory or if little time is being paid to relatively common material. Most collections primarily consist of relatively common material and most of the value comes from a small portion of the collection.


What to do with the Collection

Once you have determined an idea of the value, you have several options.

Keep It

First, you could keep the collection for yourself.

Pass it on to a Family Member

If you have determined the collection has relatively little value, you may wish to consider giving it to a child, grandchild, or other relative. While the monetary value may be small, the educational value and fun that may be derived may be large.

Donate It

Many organizations gladly accept donations and some such as the APS are IRS approved non-profit organizations so that you may claim a tax deduction. Visit our donation pages, for more details. It is advisable to check with the organization for their needs.

Sell It

Many people ask the best way to sell their collection. Unfortunately, there is no single best way for every collection. Key factors include the relative value of the items to be sold, the amount of time you wish to invest in selling the material, and how quickly payment is required.

If You Decide to Sell the Collection


Public Auctions

 - For individual items valued in the hundreds or thousands of dollars many individuals find public auctions to be most appropriate. Assuming the auction is well publicized thousands of collectors and many stamp dealers should receive a catalog with a picture of the item and the opportunity to bid. Of course higher priced items may be sold to a dealer. And generally this brings immediate payment while selling at a public auction will likely require three months or more before payment is received.



Stamp Dealers

 - Most mid-priced material, say from $1 to $100, is sold to stamp dealers to resell to their customers. Your collection could be sold as one unit, or if you have the time, you may wish to sell parts to different dealers. For example, a dealer specializing in Latin America would likely pay more for your Mexican stamps than general U.S. dealers, a Postal History Specialist may pay more for covers, etc. Of course if you choose to break the collection up this will require more time and effort on your part.


NOTE: We recommend obtaining more than one offer before selling and we encourage you to take your time - do not let anyone pressure you into a sale. If a potential buyer requires you to make an immediate decision, you are probably better off passing. It is not unreasonable to expect an offer to be valid for 30 days. We have seen too many times where the heir of an estate makes a hasty decision and regrets selling soon after the sale. So take some time, discuss it with family members, and be sure. Sometimes these items have more of a sentimental value than you realize until they are gone.


The American Helvetia Philatelic Society,, has an excellent guide for preparing and handling inherited collections.

APS Estate Advice

If the individual who owned the collection was an APS member who passed away within the past year, the APS may be able to connect the heirs with one or more of the 200 member volunteers who could come and view the collection and provide advice. You may contact the APS Estate Advisory Service by clicking here or calling (814)933-3803 ext. 205. Please remember that this service is for heirs of APS members only!


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