Smart collectors consume knowledge

Stamp collecting is not as demanding as some hobbies, however collectors need a few tools if they want to do it right.

When we think about these tools, our first thoughts are such basics as tongs, perhaps hinges, and perhaps an album or stockbook. Collectors quickly find that they need other tools, such as magnifier, ultraviolet light, watermarking fluid, or digital camera. At the far end of this are the highly complex and expensive machines designed to study documents and stamps in incredible detail.

Somewhere along the way, a collector is bound to find a need for a catalogue. Unfortunately, many collectors see catalogues as little more than a source of current Unitrade numbers, but they can be so much more.

Catalogues also list major varieties, often with a slight explanation, and give a standard “catalogue price.”

Now catalogue prices are not so exactly what a stamp or cover will sell for, but are useful as a benchmark for value, and in indication of how an item is viewed by the market. It isn’t something that is obvious at first, but a collector quickly learns exactly how useful those numbers are in the real world.

Now we are starting to get into what I consider the most important tool for the collector, knowledge.

A dealer once told me the most valuable item he had was not a specific stamp, but was his library.

“I make my money with the knowledge it contains,” he said. “It tells me what I have as well as what it is worth.”

Certainly most collectors refer to a recent catalogue, but also have specialized books on postal history, airmail, cancels, as well as a few dog-eared auction catalogues.

That knowledge extends into almost all aspects of organized stamp collecting.

Exhibiting, in many cases, is about sharing knowledge about postal history, often placed into the context of early Canadian society and history. While having really great stamps helps, some fascinating exhibits are an excellent read on their own.

I once saw an exhibit which used philatelic and supporting literature to outline the complex process used to send cigarettes to Canadian servicemen serving overseas in the Second World War.

A few years ago, a collector spotted a two-cent green large queen on laid paper, just the third known. That stamp wasn’t found in a vault, or a famous collection, but mixed in with a bunch of commonplace stamps of modest value.

On a smaller scale, it is axiomatic that when a buyer and seller of equal motivation start talking price, the one with the most knowledge usually makes the better deal.

That collector made his discovery, and experienced a financial windfall, because he had the knowledge it took to spot something that had been passed over by others.

The Vincent G. Greene Foundation boasts an outstanding reference library, often used by the foundation when forming expert opinions on stamps.

I can’t think of a better plea for the value of knowledge. Make sure your collecting plans include some time and money to learn about the things you love.

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