Collectible Stamps And Coins

Brian Kathenes, ISA S-CAPP
Managing Partner,
National Appraisal Consultants, LLC
(908) 459-5996

Before Beanie Babies - Before baseball cards -- Before Barbies -- There were stamps and coins. Stamps and coins still represent the largest collecting interest in the world. Everyone has seen, held, and used stamps and coins, but few of us know what makes them collectible and valuable. Perhaps you have slipped a valuable silver quarter into a Coke machine or licked a rare stamp to send a letter to a friend. Knowing what to look for can keep those valuable collectibles from being used for soda pop and postage.

The collectible values of both stamps and coins are based upon the economic law of supply and demand. Supply is the number of stamps or coins available to the collector. Demand is the desire to hold, have or own the stamp or coin. The greater the demand, the more valuable an item usually is. The fewer number of items available (less supply) the greater the value as well.

A collector can easily determine the original supply of stamps and coins by researching the quantities produced in most coin and stamp references. These references, available at your local library, describe every coin and stamp issued, and list the quantity minted or printed. The quantities produced do not necessarily indicate the number available today. Stamps are routinely used and discarded. Coins are taken out of circulation as they become worn (or lost through holes in pants pockets).

But quantity is not necessarily the most important factor in establishing value. It is the supply of desirable stamps and coins that create those rare headlines: "Penny Worth Two Thousand Dollars Found in Attic." The most desirable (and valuable) stamps and coins are usually scarce and in excellent condition

One-cent coins known as "Indian-head" pennies are great examples of supply and demand. They were minted in the U.S. from 1869-1909 and show the profile of a Native American princess on the front (most folks think it's a guy). In 1876, approximately 8 million of these coins were minted. About 6 million were minted in 1878. But in 1877 less than one million pennies were minted. The 1877 pennies are valued at approximately 10 times more than coins in similar condition from 1876 or 1878.

The condition of coins and stamps is also an important factor. An 1877 "Indian-head" penny in "uncirculated condition" (really good shape) can be worth ten times more than an 1877 penny in "good" condition. Uncirculated, 1877 "Indian-head" pennies can be found in coin shops selling for over $2,000.00 - (go get you own comps). A similar coin to search for is the 1909 Lincoln-head penny with the mint mark "S" under the date and the letters "V.D.B." on the back under the wheat stalks. Less than 500,000 1909S V.D.B. coins were minted compared to over 100 million other 1909 pennies. This coin was minted to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Linclon's birth - and is a frequent topic of conversation on "Trash or Treasure With Brian and Leon," our weekly radio program. (It seems Leon and our engineer like to remind me of my mistakes).

The same supply and demand rules apply to postage stamps. Generally, unused stamps are more valuable than used stamps. Stamps in superb condition are usually more valuable than stamps in poor condition.

Stamp collectors look for stamps that are well centered and have an even, uniform margins. Stamps that are clean and free of tears are more valuable than their dirty, worn counterparts.

Just because a stamp or coin is old does not mean it will be valuable. A coin from the Constantine Period of the Roman Empire, which is about 330-345 AD. It is over 1,600 years old and can be purchased from a reputable coin dealer for under $50.00. This Roman Empire coin is quite interesting, but for many years these coins were sold by the bag full (high supply, but low demand).

A full sheet of commemorative stamps from the 1940's is worth little more than the value of the postage (dealers pay less than face value). The sheet of stamps, even as an entire sheet, are available in great quantities and there is little demand for them as a collectible or as postage - you would need a huge large envelope to hold 37 cents worth of these stamps.

The good news is that chances are there is a hidden surprise in your drawers. Before 1965 the U.S. mint produced coins containing a high percentage of silver. These dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollars are worth approximately 3 times their denomination value, just based on the silver content alone. Silver coins in excellent condition may be worth substantially more than those that are worn or damaged. If it's a dime, quarter, half dollar or silver dollar dated before 1965, you have a silver coin.

But before you run off to buy or sell (or appraise) stamps and coins, here are a few tips from the professionals. Jules Topfer, an NAC Associate and proprietor of Monmouth Stamp and Coin in Red Bank NJ, suggests that anyone buying or selling should do some research on their own. They should find a dealer that has a history of fair dealings. "Don't rush to buy or sell," says Mr. Topher. "Shop around. Get more than one price or offer, and remember to feel out the dealers knowledge before you make a buying or selling decision." Better yet, consult with other appraisers that specialize in the field.

Leon Castner, ISA CAPP AAA, Managing Partner at National Appraial Consuiltatns and a professional auctioneer and appraiser at Castner's in Branchville, has appraised and auctioned many stamps and coins. "Some of these stamps and coins come from collections, while others are just accumulations," states Mr. Castner. "There is a big difference between a collection and an accumulation. A collection is an organized group of stamps or coins. Collections are usually well-cared for and properly stored and sorted in albums. An accumulation is a batch of coins in a coffee can or a pile of stamps in one big envelope."

The contents of a collections are almost always in better condition than the contents of an accumulation. That means the value of a collection is usually greater than an accumulation containing the same material. So keep you eyes open for the 1877 Indian head penny, the 1909S V.D.B. and good clean collections of stamps and coins. Happy hunting!!