A philatelic landmark has disappeared from the nation’s capital, with the closing of Ian Kimmerly’s Ottawa stamp shop.
For Kimmerly, the closing is both positive and negative.
While he will miss the chance to deal with customers, he will also enjoy being able to focus more of his time on stamps.
“The store is in part a victim of its own success,” he said. “The staff has done a great job of working with customers, but it came to the point where I was dealing with all sorts of stuff, and I wasn’t getting to work with stamps. It became more of a chore and less of a passion.
“I have barely worked on my stamp collection for five years, and I haven’t exhibited in probably that long as well,” he added.
That doesn’t mean Kimmerly will be vanishing from the stamp scene. He plans to continue as president of Sparks Auctions, also based in Ottawa; he will continue to attend Ottawa’s annual Oraxpex show and sale; and, he will be getting active in the local stamp scene in his new home of Victoria, B.C.
“Victoria has a great philatelic community,” he said, “I’d say as good as Halifax or Toronto.”
Another bonus is that he will no longer have to deal with Ottawa winters, notorious for snow and ice.
“I could sum it up in one word, actually just three characters, I-C-E,” he said.
Slowing down will be a new experience for Kimmerly, who has been a full time dealer since around 1977, and opened his first store in 1984.
At that time he started small, not opening his most recent location on Ottawa’s Sparks Street Mall, until just a few years ago.
His advice to upcoming dealers is start small and build up their business.
“I would not have been successful if I had started with a huge overhead and staff,” he said. “I was successful because of the apprenticeship of hard knocks and the experience I gained. I was so proud when I hired my first employee, but I would not have been as successful if I had tried to start with staff.”
During his nearly 40 years in the stamp business, Kimmerly has seen a few changes.
One thing he has noticed is that while there may be fewer collectors than in the 1980s, modern collectors have more knowledge and an increased appreciation of quality.
“That appreciation was evident then, but now it’s all pervasive. When a collector may have been tempted to choose a less expensive stamp back then, now they usually want XF or better.”
The market for lower-value stamps is still there but it has moved away from stamp shops and into the world of online sales.
“The internet gives us lots of information, but it also contains platforms such as eBay,” he said. “That has been both good and bad for the hobby. Good because it brings people in, but bad for dealers because it makes it difficult to offer relatively common stamps.”
Kimmerly adds: “Essentially those stamps can be bought cheaper online because the seller may just be trying to get their money back. There may be concerns about quality, but because of the lower price, buyers are more inclined to use that market because common stamps can be bought cheaper.
“It should make dealers better, and motivate them to provide more personalized service,” he said. “If you do that, it doesn’t have to hurt you financially.
“We have regular customers who have been treated well for years. There’s no magic bullet, you just try to be fair to everybody and give good service,” says Kimmerly.
“It does mean that dealers end up with a large number of common stamps, which come their way through purchases, but often don’t sell fast.”
“If you want a million bucks catalogue value in stamps, it isn’t that hard to accumulate.”
One of his favourite collecting stories was not as a dealer, but as a collector.
Kimmerly said he bought a large lot about five years ago. There was one item which was about half the value of the lot, but he just thought it looked too good.
“I was convinced it was a fake, for one thing it looked too good. I worked out my limit of what I would pay, valuing the fake at zero.
“I went right to the top but I got it. Then when I got a close look at it I realized it wasn’t a fake at all. So I got a bonus.”
Sometimes, he said, it doesn’t work out that way, and something you thought was good turns out to be a fake.
“You have to philosophical,” he said. “If it is misrepresented you may be able to take it back, but usually you just put it in the reference collection. The good news is that now there are many more collectors of forgeries, so there is often interest.”
Most of the time, it boils down to that most valuable commodity – knowledge.
“If you buy quality, and what is scarce, assuming you have the knowledge, you’re not going to get stuck with that,” he said.
Kimmerly also believes dealers need to contribute back to organized stamp collecting.
“You owe it to help the hobby, and I tried,” he said.
“If you help the hobby, it will help you out. People will come back and sell you the collection that you helped them build.”
During this interview, conducted as the last stamps were being packed up and furniture shipped away, Kimmerly remembers the good and the bad.
“One thing I will miss the most is the interaction with customers that I have daily,” he said,
“But I won’t miss the distractions. Sometimes it can take me an hour to get from end of the store to the other, and when I get there, I forget what I wanted to do.”