Just before writing this column I sat down and read the latest
issue of The American Philatelist, journal of the American
Philatelic Association. The story goes back to when I was a student at
Penn State from 1957 to 1960. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner each
day at a popular restaurant adjacent to the campus. I ran a tab,
including tips, and at the end of each month settled my account —
usually about $90 to $110.
In the same era, a room in the Park Sheraton Hotel on Sixth Avenue
in New York City cost $16 or with “free parking,” $20.
At the Corner House, H. Clay Musser, secretary of the American
Philatelic Association based in the same town, had breakfast each day.
We became friends, and I visited his home. One of his activities was
tearing the corners off of stamped envelopes, soaking them, retrieving
the loose wet stamps, drying them, tying them into little “bundles”
with white thread, and selling them to some stamp company. I could not
help but think this was a waste of time — at least from a coin
dealer’s viewpoint. On the other hand, I suppose some dealer spent
evenings looking through change hoping to find something scarce.
Mr. Musser persuaded me as a teenager to become a life member of
APS, which I did. I don’t imagine I was a very good investment for the
society — as here it is 55 years later!
Anyway, in reading the latest issue of the APS magazine I noticed
a letter and discussion about stamp market values versus catalog
values. When selling a general stamp collection it seems that a
philatelist is lucky to get 20 percent of catalog value.
It seems that markups must be very high or else the catalog is
wrong. I do know that as a longtime collector of autographs, prints,
old books and maps, if I pay $10,000 for a rarity on Saturday and
decide that I don’t want it, and try to sell it on Monday, I will get
answers such as, “I will give $5,000,” or “I will take it on
consignment to offer, but will not buy,” etc. Not so with rare coins.
I suggest that if someone buys a 1652 Pine Tree shilling certified
by Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guaranty Corp. for
$18,000 on Saturday, that any number of dealers would be happy to buy
it at $14,000 on Monday. If you buy an American Eagle gold bullion
coin and decided to sell it the same day, you would lose only a few
tens of dollars.
The caveat is that you must be educated and buy carefully, for
many coins are overgraded and overpriced. How lucky you are if you are
a careful, smart buyer.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.