A Personal Guide to Buying Australian Stamps and Ebay

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I initially started collecting stamps in my youth, but sold most of my collection in my mid-twenties to pay the deposit on my first home!  Thirty years-on I have re-kindled my passion in a big way, collecting Australian items from 1913 to 2000.  Philately is again fun, but no longer 'child's play'!

For both collectors and dealers, Australian stamps are now a complex and expensive commercial business, full of pitfalls for the unwary and un-inititiated.  Dealing on ebay is no less complicated and many ( including I ) have had to learn from ( sometimes very expensive ) mistakes! 

Once you have decided ( roughly ) on what you wish to collect, the first step is to gain knowledge and become aware of the various means available to you.

Methods of Acquisition

Ebay 'stamps' is a worldwide internet-based auction house and marketplace with an Australian domain ( Ebay Australia ), available to just about anyone.  It is used by dealers, pseudo-dealers and collectors alike, for both buying and selling items.  It is though just one of many ways of viewing, learning about and purchasing items.  Others include local, regional and national stamp clubs / societies, plus fairs / exhibitions - for information contact the Australian Philatelic Federation.  Australia Post, stamp magazines and of course commercial stamp dealers with their shops, postal sales lists, on-line lists, postal and in-house auctions.  Most, if not all, reputable dealers are members of the Australian Philatelic Traders Association.  It should be noted that dealing with any member of the APTA, whether on ebay or otherwise, is a 'money back' guarantee of professional integrity, unlike non-affiliated sellers!

Recommendations and Advice

GENERAL - before starting to purchase or deal on ebay or otherwise I strongly recommend: 

1. Find a mentor, either a trusted and experienced collector or a dealer to whom you can turn for impartial advice and information.

2. Obtain the most up-to-date and informative stamp catalogues.  In my view these are the "Comprehensive Colour Catalogue of Australian Stamps" - currently 3rd edition ( published by Victoria Stamp Traders, ISBN 0-9750341-0-3 ) for the novice and is fairly cheap.  But for the more advanced and dedicated, the "Australian Commonwealth Specialists' Catalogue" ( published by Brusden-White, ISBN 0-9587630-3-8 ), commonly referred to as ACSC or BW.  This comes in 8 volumes covering the period 1901 to 2001and is comprehensive but quite expensive.  The Stanley Gibbons ( SG ) catalogues are intermediate, but I find them more difficult to follow and values are in pounds sterling rather than $Aus.  It should however be borne in mind that catalogue values ( rather like text-books ) are "out-of-date" the day they are printed!  The APTA have their own retail price and value list which can vary quite considerably from the catalogues, particularly for rarer items.  Indeed for these the only true estimates are in fact prices realised at major auctions and these have been rising at a staggering rate, particularly over the last 2 or 3 years. 

3.  Join your local branch of the APF and receive their newsletter, which amongst other things will detail upcoming meetings / exhibitions in your area.  Attending one or more of these is a good way of meeting local dealers / collectors and getting a feel for your chosen market, which will certainly help you to assess offers on ebay.

4. Allocate a budget to your spending on philatelic items.  Like dabbling in the stockmarket, you should only use money which is surplus to your essential needs.  For sure as "eggs is eggs" once you start purchasing there is no horizon and it will become an obsession! 

SPECIFIC TO EBAY - First and foremost, as a buyer, do not "rush in"!  Take time to peruse and understand the system with its multitude of links.  Items you want will usually come  up over and over again from the same or different sellers, so you won't miss out if you are a little patient.  You may even consider the online tutorial ( ebay explained ) or a session with an ebay instructor, available in many areas now.

1.  After registering, open an account with PayPal.  Most sellers accept this ( free to you ) direct account debit or credit card linked payment system.  For the buyer this is the easiest, quickest, cheapest and most secure method of payment.

Unfortunately, despite the good and continually improving ebay screening and security ( ebay Security Centre ) there are a number of bogus, dishonest and deceitfully clever sellers operating, sometimes within, but more often outside ebay, who can easily fool the unwary into thinking they are operating within the system by copying ebay screens.  If uncertain about any e-mail message you receive, check the sender details.  It will be very obvious if it came through ebay or not.

NB If you receive messages purportedly from ebay with regard to "temporary suspension of your Paypal account" delete them immediately.  I must receive one a week!  They are bogus.  Hopefully one day someone will track down their origin and "shut them down"!  

2.  Assess items carefully, and refer to your catalogues / mentor if necessary .  A) The item itself - most reputable sellers will give a full description of the item and its condition with photographs of the front and often the reverse of the stamp.  B) The seller - check their details, reputation, conditions of purchase and feedback score.  Although the latter is rather facile, as it is rare for anyone to register a negative rating for fear of repercussions on themselves or the seller and a bogus rating can be forged. If in doubt do not be afraid to "ask seller a question".  Be extremely wary of evasive or indignant answers.  You also have the option of requesting information or making enquiries through ebay Customer Support. 

3.  Never buy from a seller who says things like " I know nothing about stamps" or " I am selling the listed item on behalf of my grandfather" or as in a recent example " I found this in a collection in an attic"!!  Invariably the offers are for fairly rare and expensive stamps and the descriptions are very limited, mis-spelled and mistaken ( wrong watermark, colour, perforation etc ).

4.  Never Ever send cash for an item, most particularly via Western Union.

5.  Never buy from a seller who does not give an unconditional money back guarantee if you are not satisfied with what you receive.

Then there is the question of stamp "re-gumming", "re-perforation" or "repair"!  Practices condemned by the professional and purist experts.  These are done to sub-standard or imperfect rare and valuable stamps to enhance their appearance and thereby sell at much higher price than they are worth.  Sometimes they are done so expertly that even the experienced are fooled. Clearly this is dishonest practice and is to be reproached .  However, in my view, if an item is openly declared as so and is being offered at considerable discount to the genuine article then you may wish to consider purchase, particularly if the genuine article is one that you may never be able to afford.

At the end of the day the byword is "go for the best quality you can afford".   You will then be rewarded not only by personal satisfaction in your purchases and admiration by others, but by future valuation, for re-sale or otherwise.

Having said all the above, ebay is though an exciting, competetive and often satisfying way of purchasing Australian philatelic items and there are indeed great bargains to be had. One does though need to spend time and take care.  It is all too easy to get carried away and even sometimes pay more for an inferior item then a better one available cheaper retail, through a bone fide APTA member dealer.  Nonetheless enjoy - happy hunting and bidding.

Dr David Saltissi ( saltissi123 )    



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