Chapter 18
Getting an Appraisal

This is a reference chapter. Read it if you want to know how to get your collection appraised, either formally or informally.


Quick I.D. Program

The American Philatelic Society now offers a Quick I.D. Program.  This is available to APS members and to non-members.  The system allows you to upload one of more scanned images of stamps.  This is not a formal expertization, but it may give you lots of information about what you have.  The cost is $2.00 per batch submitted plus $4 per image submitted for APS members or $8.00 per image submitted for non-APS members.  For details, please see the APS web site:


18.1 Formal Appraisals

The easiest way to get a value of your stamp collection is to have a formal appraisal done by a professional. This is especially true if you have many “early” stamps (e.g., stamps from the mid 1800s to 1900). Early USA stamps in particular are hard to identify even with a Scott catalog. The reason is that so many of them look similar. There may be subtle differences: a watermark, the size of a particular line in the design, a perforation difference. That subtle difference could mean a 20-cent stamp is really a $200 stamp or vice versa. Stamp experts know these stamps. They know what to look for because they have been doing it for decades.

Here are the basic steps in how to approach this:

1. Find a dealer who is a member of APS (American Philatelic Society) or ASDA (American Stamp Dealers Association). If you live near a large city, check the yellow pages under “Stamps For Collectors.” If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read chapter 4 for more details. Many stamp auction houses will also perform appraisals for you even if you are not interested in selling the material. (You will have to pay for the appraisal as well as shipping costs both ways.)


If you are selling material at auction, the auction house will appraise the material for you, usually at no extra charge. They assume, however, that you really intend to let them auction off the material.


2. Call the dealer and ask how much he/she charges for an appraisal. Some charge a flat rate by the hour or day. Others will charge a percentage of the appraised value (usually 2% to 5%). If the collection is very heavy (e.g., you inherited a 40-volume album set), you may wish to have the appraiser come to your home. Some will, but you should also expect to pay for travel expenses.

3. Before agreeing to an appraisal, make sure the appraiser knows what you want the appraisal for. (See number 5 below.) Have him/her explain the approach that will be used and the likely total cost. The total cost, however, may not be determinable at this point if the appraisal cost is based on appraised value of the collection.

Note: some dealers may offer to appraise your collection without a fee if you sell the collection to them for the appraised value. This is a tough decision as you may ask, “How do I know the collection that was appraised at $10 wasn’t really worth $1,000?” Hopefully by asking the appraiser questions and looking at some of the other chapters in this book, you will have a general idea of what you’ve got. For example, I covered earlier that first-day covers in bulk sell for 20 or 30 cents each if they have no address on them. So if you get an offer of $25 for 100 covers, you know that’s about right. Also, finding a dealer who is an APS or ASDA member generally assures you that you are dealing with a relatively reliable person.

You will need to weigh the choice between accepting the offer and paying for a second appraisal.

4. Be available during the appraisal, not so much to be sure that the appraiser is not taking your stamps (though that can be a concern), but to be there so the appraiser can explain the conclusions he/she is coming to: price/value as a function of condition, age, scarcity and demand. Also feel free to ask questions. If you have been told the stamps were worth $20,000 catalog value, why are they being appraised at $2,000? Why aren’t the old stamps worth more? etc. etc. You have a right to these answers.

5. Tell the appraiser if you want an appraisal for:
a) Inheritance tax purposes.
b) Selling the collection.
c) Donating the collection to charity.
d) Insurance (replacement) purposes.

Depending on your choice of a,b,c or d, you will get a different number. Choices a and b should yield a number significantly lower than c or d. For example, a and b might be $10,000 while c and d might be $40,000. If you are involved in settling an estate, you probably already have a tax advisor and should consult with him/her about what you plan to do with the collection. Also, if the appraiser is charging a percent of appraised value, you will need to find out if he’s taking a percentage of the $10,000 or $40,000 number.

One thing that surprised me is that a good appraiser can evaluate a collection fairly quickly. It is not uncommon to have an appraiser appraise an entire 30-volume, world-wide set in a couple of hours. Stamp appraisers do this for a living. They know where to look, what stamps to look for, what countries to skip entirely, etc. In a typical collection, an appraiser will not look at each stamp. He/she may only look at a couple of stamps in each country and evaluate their condition. About the only time he/she will look at every stamp is when the stamps are all very high value or could be very high value (e.g., he/she is appraising a box of covers from the 1840s and 1850s). Each will be examined, some more quickly than others.



18.2 Informal appraisals

It may be possible to get an informal “opinion” from a friend or neighbor who collects stamps. You need to be aware, however, that a stamp collector may be more familiar with buying stamps than selling them. If they give you catalog values on any stamps, divide by 4 to get an estimate of what you can expect to sell the stamp for. The collector may be able to point out “valuable”  stamps that you can check out in a Scott catalog.

You might also check to see if there is a stamp club in your area. Your local postmaster should know. If not, send a SASE to:

Linn’s Stamp Club Center
P.O. Box 29
Sidney OH 45365-0029

or check online:


American Philatelic Society
100 Match Factory Place
Bellefonte, PA 16823

They will provide you with a list of stamp clubs near you based on your ZIP code.

If you attend one of the meetings, you may be able to find someone before or after the actual meeting who is willing to give you a quick opinion on what you’ve got. Stamp collectors are normally friendly and try to be helpful.

Another alternative is this: if you only have one album or so, drop in on a stamp dealer and ask if he/she is willing to give a quick opinion on the value of what you’ve got. Most will be happy to tell you if it is worth pursuing.