Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dealers, dealer loyalty, and collecting the world

I've been collecting stamps for more than 50 years now, and I've purchased stamps from a hoard of different dealers. Most were in the United States, but a few were also overseas, when I was stationed in various countries around the world. There's one thing I've learned from all this - different dealers have different suppliers, and end up with different material for sale.

Most of the dealers I've done business with have been great. A few have been mediocre, and I've had trouble with a few, mostly caused more by circumstances than business practices. I try to be loyal to dealers that give me good service. That's why I do about 85% of my business with - that and I know Jeff and Christine personally, find them very likable, and enjoy their company.

Still, Jeff and Christine don't have everything, and they don't offer stamps in a way that lets me fill specific holes. I've found a small number of other dealers that offer that kind of service, and purchase specific materials from them.

Collecting the world is not easy - there are something like 800 different "countries" and "colonies" that have issued area-specific postage stamps. I don't have any idea how many different stamps have been issued (although I'm working on that), but the number has to be somewhere in excess of 500,000 - a HALF A MILLION. That includes some varieties, of course, such as color variables, printing differences, tete-beche pairs, inverted overprints, single stamps from sheets and booklets, and much, much more. The "real" number of stamps issued by a country is always greater than the numbers listed in the average Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, or any other catalogue.

I try to buy stamps that will increase the representative material in my collection. My collection has right now between 125,000 and 175,000 different stamps, including all those varieties listed above. That includes many, if not most, of the more common stamps one sees in packets, boxes, and bulk lots. Some dealers offer lots large enough to satisfy my general needs, while others offer materials that satisfy specific needs to fill a set, add a certain stamp, or generally improve upon my collection.

My collection is growing - sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly, and frequently in ways that are totally unexpected. I've found about a dozen other collectors that are of like mind, and we exchange stamps between us - mostly on a value-for-value basis. This, too, is helping my collection to grow, and is most appreciated. All in all, my collection is doing the three things I want it to do:

- Keep me happy, busy and active, and helps me forget about the pain caused by physical problems that plague me.

- Keep me connected to the world at large, and people in it.

- Build a collection that either some member of my family will take over and enjoy, or serve as an inheritance that they will profit from.

Stamp collecting is still the "King of Hobbies, and the Hobby of Kings". Its rewards are many, and its opportunities are endless. It's also a challenge, requiring one to think long-term. Some people make it more enjoyable, including dealers, other collectors, and a few good friends.


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