Part 2: Acquisition
In review, I suggested the first thing to do was your research - to gather information from a variety of sources such as catalogs, books, and dealer price lists, and then to physically examine as many stamps as possible, perhaps of other collectors, or from dealer stocks. Then learn to consistently and objectively grade and assess the condition of a stamp, within your realm of knowledge. Having this understanding, the collector must then select the exact grade of stamp which best suits their reasons for collecting, budget and patience for completion, and most importantly, the pleasure to most enjoy them. Having defined that specific condition for your set of duck stamps, one must know how to proceed to the next level - the acquisition process.
AH!! The thrill of the chase!! Whether you realize it or not, there is great pleasure and ample satisfaction in seeking out the right "stamp" for your collection. Enjoy the process, and take your time doing it. There is no clock for completion as it's not a race, but it is a challenge. When you reach the stage of completion, you will look back upon your conquests and remember the time and care of your pursuit. Savor it!
You have now chosen the specific grade of stamp that is best for you - and stay with this choice and do not deviate! The goal is to complete a set of stamps all of the same grade which will look and "feel" as a matched set, and one with which you will be pleased. Overpurchasing a stamp wastes valuable dollars, whereas underpurchasing a stamp allows discontent. Both simply defeat your purpose!
So, where do I buy my duck stamps?
The first place to start is, of course, the latest releases or newest issue at your local post office or philatelic window. I suggest going in early, when the new stamps are released, as the selection will be at its best. If this is not convenient for you, or if the stamps are not up to par, write the Duck Stamp Office and ask for nice centering. They will be more than happy to cooperate and select the best they can. Plus, the last three years are always available.
I recommend that you first "hunt" the later issues of RW39 (1972) to date, as this allows you time to fine-tune your grading process, as well as your grading choice. Most of these issues are relatively inexpensive, for duck stamps, that is.
It is important to remember that whereas the centering of the stamp may be the most important thing to first select a stamp by, it is the gum condition that can more affect the price of the stamp. Please be conscious that small gum disturbances, tiny thins or tears, heavy unnatural creases, etc. will greatly reduce the price of a stamp in any centering grade. Also be aware that on the first dozen issues, regummed and reperforated stamps are quite common. There is a tremendous difference in price between original gum stamps and those with gum added, or fully perforated stamps that have been altered. Keep this in mind throughout your pursuits, not to the extent of paranoia, but do proceed with diligence.
There are three primary ways to purchase back issue stamps - private purchase, auction and dealer direct.
Private purchase is the direct purchase of stamps from another collector, who is liquidating their collection or duplicates. It is a laborious format to pursue as it is extremely difficult to find someone who is willing to sell exactly that which you wish to purchase, and at a mutually agreeable price. But it is possible through local stamp clubs, circuit books, or classified advertisements, and for the potential dollar savings, it does merit discussion.
Auction houses provide a second source of material and sometimes an attractive price - your price. Large auction houses or those that specialize in ducks or revenues, can offer a nice selection on which to bid with prices tending to be close to fair-market. Smaller auctions or mail bid sales tend to have limited selections, but stamps may be obtained at much reduced levels due to "lack of interested bidders." Remember that the burden of grading the stamp, as well as pricing it, finally rests primarily on your shoulders. The principal drawback with auction purchasing is that, except for public auctions where lots are photographed or can be reviewed, the stamps upon which you are bidding cannot be seen until after you have won the bid. Factors such as color, freshness, gum, and paper-quality - intrinsic components to stamp condition at times can't be described by the auction house in its description. Photos sometimes fib as well, with the stamp looking different in person. Even though most auctions have return privileges for misdescription, they tend not to be as forgiving for "qualitative" returns. After all, your bid does represent a contract for its purchase. Auctions do offer a viable method for some collectors to purchase for their collections.
Most collectors acquire their stamps by the dealer-direct method, that is purchasing a stamp from a dealer, whether at a local store, a show or bourse, or through the mail. This method allows the collector to "see" what stamp he is purchasing and at a specific pre-set price, which allows the collector to select the best purchase for the value at that time and with his own choice of priority.
The local store owner may not always have the largest selection, but they do have a great interest in keeping their customers happy and loyal. They do this by offering the pick of new material or by acting on your behalf in seeking out the proper condition stamp, after you let them know your requirements. The face-to-face personal relationship one can start, added to a relaxed and comfortable "close-to-home" atmosphere in which to conduct business, can be very rewarding.
Purchasing stamps at a show or bourse allows the collector to sample the offering of many different dealers at one time and under a competitive environment. This broad exposure may suit you well, but do keep in mind that factors such as improper lighting or hurried inspection could lead you to making a poor choice for your collection. I recommend, for dealers not known to you, obtaining a business card should the need arise for a return. Also factors such as the repeat business relationship and the confidence that goes with it, may be difficult unless the show is held regularly.
Many collectors prefer purchasing stamps by mail. Available are a number of different dealers who specialize in a given area, allowing for a great selection. You can "shop" in the privacy and safety of your own home, and upon receiving the stamps, can examine them leisurely with proper lighting, as well as match and compare them to stamps in your collection. Virtually all mail-order dealers offer a return option if not completely satisfied, so with a little postal inconvenience, you could return any stamp which isn't to your liking - for whatever reason. If centering is your most important concern at first, perhaps requesting a photocopy or fax may assist in making the decision to see the stamp at all. The only negative factor is the personal-face-to- face touch you lose by mail, but the telephone can remarkably make up for what is lost in person.
Regardless of which method or combination of methods you use to acquire stamps, I do
recommend one very important thing after sampling the different dealers, choose one
primary dealer as your main source of stamps as well as information, questions and advice.
Place your trust in the person or firm which best suits you and your needs, as this will
be integral to the building of your collection. In making your choice, keep in mind
factors such as knowledge, stamp quality, service, value, personalities, responsiveness,
personal accessibility, courtesy and overall professionalism. It is comforting to know you
can place your trust in someone who has earned it - as well as being able to count on them
for advise and suggestions throughout the building of your collection and perhaps to rely
on at some future time, should you decide to dispose of it. Happy Collecting!