On this Antiques Friday today we're getting a look into the fascinating and educational world of stamps. Longtime seller Larry Phillips operates Long Beach Philatelics, a 30+ year member of the American Philatelic Society. He has been selling on eBay since 1999, and you can find him and all the venues where he sells in EcommerceBytes's EveryPlaceISell.com directory.
Q: What got you interested in stamps? Did you collect as a boy, and/or were you encouraged by a parent?
A: Yes, I started collecting at about 6 years old, and it was my mom who got me started. She didn't collect herself, but was smart enough to understand the educational value of stamp collecting. It was one of the factors that helped lead me to good grades in school. Plus, my friends know how much of a trivia buff I am, and it's been stamp collecting that has been a big part of that knowledge base.
Q: What kinds of things are you seeing in Stamps that are selling well right now? I.e., is there any type of stamp or category of stamp that is "hot" in the market?
A: United States Classic Stamps (stamps issued prior to 1920) always sell well. Lately, stamps from Asia have also sold very well. My specialty is Topical Stamps, which are stamps related to a specific topic. My best selling topics include Elvis Presley, and believe it or not, stamps featuring Nobel Prize winners, particularly in the sciences. But other topics become hot depending on what's going on in the world. For example, stamps featuring the Olympics sold particularly well during the London Olympics. When Prince William married Kate Middleton, stamps featuring their engagement, their wedding, and even their one year anniversary have sold well, and it has led to a resurgence of Princess Diana stamps, although she has remained popular since her death.
Q: Similarly, are there any kinds of stamps that are not selling well, perhaps due to the state of the economy?
A: Actually, I have not noticed a particular category or type of stamp that is not doing well. Frankly, the stamp market itself has been somewhat sluggish, and I'm sure the economy is a big part of that, but I don't see a specific area within stamp collecting that is doing disproportionately bad.
Q: What would you tell the new stamp seller about how to educate themselves on buying and selling stamps? Any must-have reference books, e.g.?
A: Stamp sellers need to understand that there are a finite number of stamp collectors out there, so they must conduct their business with that in mind. The two big "to-dos" are to take great care of your buyers, so they come back. Over 40% of my sales are to customers that have already purchased from me. Second, think outside the box. For example, I sell stamps featuring Michael Jackson. I'm convinced that most of the buyers of Michael Jackson stamps have never purchased stamps before and don't consider themselves stamp collectors. Hopefully, you can increase your overall sales by appealing to these non-collectors, and maybe even get them interested in becoming collectors.
Q: What marketplaces do you sell on, and which are the best ones?
A: I sell on my own website, www.4stampsales.com, as well as BidStart, DelCampe, Buy.com, and of course eBay. But the majority of my business comes from direct sales, many from customers who originally bought from me on one of the other venues.
The term "Best" can have a different meaning to different people. For example, eBay clearly receives the most traffic. However, their rules are plentiful and onerous, and may be difficult for a new seller to understand and comply. I believe the best strategy for a new seller would be to sell on eBay, and find ways to convert those buyers into buying from your website or through an email exchange.
Q: Are there any fakes or reproductions of stamps out there, and if so are there tips for sellers to identify them?
Frankly, I don't deal in rare or expensive stamps where you may have these types of issues. Yes, they are out there. There are a variety of services that will provide experts and authenticity services. Also, the Scott stamp catalog will provide some tips and guidance on how to spot fakes.
Q: What are some of your favorite stamps?
A: My personal favorites are stamps with people on them that I grew up with. So I'm partial to stamps with John F Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Neil Armstrong, and similar people from all walks of life.
Q: Tell us about your best stamp sale or story related to it.
A: I have many favorite stories about people who have purchased stamps from me that are either pictured on the stamps, or have a relationship with the person pictured. For example, I have sold Star Trek stamps to William Koenig who played Chekhov on the series. I've also sold stamps to one of the first civilians to pay for and go into space. The stamps had his picture. I've also sold stamps to the person who now draws the Dennis the Menace comics, and to the choreographers of the movie Chicago, and to the children of a Nobel Prize Winner for chemistry. In most of these cases, once they've identified themselves, we have had ongoing email communications.
Q: Anything else you care to add?
A: Stamp collecting is a great hobby. It's educational, fun, and the stamps are often incredibly beautiful. If you have young kids, it will almost guarantee them higher marks in school. You can also purchase inexpensive stamps with items of interest, whether that be elephants, or orchids, or Van Gogh paintings, and frame them and hang them in your home for a unique and very inexpensive wall hanging. There are many different things you can do under the umbrella of stamp collecting that provide a rewarding experience.