The Smart Collector: Stamp collection proving a tough sell

Q: I want to find a good home for the stamp collection I started as a kid. I took it to a stamp show, but serious collectors didn't find it sophisticated enough for them. The guy at a local stamp retail shop suggested I use the stamps to mail bills.

Is stamp collecting no longer a popular hobby? Wouldn't a kid out there appreciate a boost to his collection?

A: Our reader adds that he'd like to "maybe make a few bucks" from selling.

With any collection, the truism is that as you build, tastes advance. Knowledge grows and wants escalate. The end result is that good enough is no longer enough. Something better is always out there. Of course, the items you crave are pricier and pricier. With stamps - as with coins, porcelains, dolls, watches and you name it - advanced collectors all chase after the same top, rare merchandise. That's why our reader can't get anywhere with his collection.

I do think the appeal of stamp collecting has faded for young collectors, for several reasons. For generations, the basic appeal was the romance of discovering faraway places through those little pieces of decorative paper. Each stamp told a story. But today's kids have the world available to them in so many electronic ways. Stamps seem fussy and abstract.

We polled a few young people to get their take on stamp collecting as a hobby. Admittedly, this is an unscientific sample. From an 11-year-old: "I, uh, would be interested a little bit." Already a collector of model cars, he is willing to learn about stamps.

A 14-year-old girl told us, "It sounds interesting, but stamps are not my thing. I was never really introduced to stamp collecting."

A 10-year-old was flat-out not interested. "It's just not my thing."

Adult stamp collectors have done a poor job of introducing the hobby to future collectors. Holding a show where established collectors all chase after high-level merchandise does not help the hobby.

Long ago, someone told me that the mean age of advanced collectors was "death." Any hobby peopled by an aging demographic with everyone chasing rare treasures can last only so long. The philatelic world is headed for trouble if it can't attract new blood.

Generally, beginning collectors start with less-rare stamps and move up as they learn more. Advanced collectors may sniff at the reader's collection, but it might make a great beginning for a youngster or neophyte.

Coin collectors have all sorts of press flaks and professional organizations that push their hobby. I don't see a lot of outreach in the stamp world. Bluntly put, stamp collecting today is just not sexy.

When we asked the youngsters in our poll if they'd look at a stamp collection provided their school had a display version, several were interested.

How about donating or lending the collection to a school or community library? I'll bet budding collectors would find it interesting. If sale is a must, there's always an online auction. Check eBay to see how similar collections are presented and priced.

Warning: There are sharks in any collecting area. Be smart about selling. Don't let buyers pick out the best and leave the rest - unless it benefits you to do so.

Q: My picture shows kissing salt and pepper shakers marked "Made in Occupied Japan." How do I find value?

A: To clue readers, "kissing" shakers nestle as a pair, so they appear to hug.

We found several varieties of your kissing cats in completed sales on eBay for $2 to $3. While vintage and relatively old, inexpensive ceramics made in Occupied Japan were poor quality when made. Produced by boatloads for export, they're still plentiful.

Perhaps your library has a price guide to OJ china or salt and pepper shakers.

Q: I've never seen anything like this bookcase. It's walnut and breaks down into pieces. Any info?

A: The large standing case with glass doors, four shelves and two drawers in the base is late Victorian and actually quite common. As seen in photos, this is a nicer example with open carving at the door tops.

It's called "brown furniture" by dealers, and most large pieces don't sell well at auction today. This better example could retail for $300 to $700.


Never before sold at auction, a 1932 original Mickey Mouse three-sheet poster brought $35,850 recently at Heritage Auctions. The poster, released by United Artists, dates from less than four years after Walt Disney created the cartoon mouse. Three-sheet movie posters are separate printed sheets that, when joined, form a 41-by-81-inch poster.