A buyers' guide for stamp collectors

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Some Potential Pitfalls for the aPPrentice Philatelic Purchaser on eBay.

GETTING CARRIED AWAY

For the new collector, eBay is an Aladdin's Cave filled with glittering prizes at seemingly give-away prices, all shouting "Buy me!   Buy me!"   Restrain yourself.   Focus on what you have and what you need.   Ask yourself, does this lot take me in a direction I want to go?   Does it fill a known gap?   If you do not put a brake on your initial enthusiasm, you will in three or six months' time be looking at an assortment of unrelated items and asking yourself "Why on earth did I buy that?"

BEING IN A HURRY

You've spotted something delectable and the auction closes in half a minute.   DON'T rush in and bid, unless you are positive this is the only one in the entire world.   Remember that stamp lots on eBay are rather like buses - there will always be another one along in a few minutes.    Bidding in too much of a hurry is likely to cause headaches, because......

NOT DOING YOUR HOMEWORK

Does the seller have a good Feedback record?   If he has some negative feedback, read it and find out what went wrong.   If he's a new seller, stop and think.   They all have to start somewhere, but it doesn't have to be with you.  

Does he clearly state his postage rates?   Are they acceptable to you?   A seller who charges $4.00 to send a stamp across town is greedy and should be avoided.

Does he accept a method of payment that you can manage?   Don't be afraid to consider opening a PayPal account; for the buyer, it is free and offers protection against non-performance by the seller.    But check; not all sellers accept PayPal.

Is this the very best example available?   Use the Advanced Search facility to seek out similar lots for comparison.   Don't be afraid to look overseas; philately is the simplest of all collectibles when it comes to delivery, and the U.S. market, for example, is huge.   So look, and compare, and bid only if this particular lot is one you will be happy with.

MAKING ASSUMPTIONS

Does the picture match the text?   (Don't laugh; it does happen, particularly with high-volume sellers.)   If you are buying a First-Day Cover, is the date the correct one?   Not all FDC's get posted  on the first day, and if you can't read the date, be careful. 

  Does the seller know what he's talking about?   Don't assume that he knows more than you do about his lot.   Be particularly wary of listings that proclaim "RARE" or "SCARCE"; they almost never are.   A really desirable item doesn't need to be eye-catching.   Remember too that age, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder; a collection described as "old" might well turn out to be from the 1970's!

Does the seller know the true value of his lot?   There are some who will list their items at very high prices, confident that there is one born every minute.   Don't be that one.   There are many others who look up their item in a catalogue and list it at the given price, regardless of the fact that their example is heavily postmarked, has a corner missing, or is creased.   First-day and modern souvenir covers, generally issued in enormous volumes, are very likely to be listed at a catalogue value that reflects a professional dealer's profit margin rather than what they are actually worth, which is next-to-nothing.   Which leads us to.....

OVER- AND UNDER-BIDDING

So you've found the perfect item to fill that gap on the page.   Now you have to decide how much to bid.  

The seller's starting price is not much of a guide.   Many high-volume sellers will start their listings at 1c, knowing the item will find its own level.   If you have done your homework properly you will have sought out similar examples and put them On Watch, so that you know how high the bidding is likely to go.   Decide what is an acceptable price for YOU; and don't be seduced into a bidding war unless money is no object, because you will inevitably finish up paying more than you wanted to.

Bear in mind that most bidding takes place on the last day and usually with the last hours; and if your lot is the target of a professional "sniper" you will probably lose it anyway.   Bid the most you want to pay, and then LEAVE IT!   Ignore those annoying notices that say you've been outbid, try again.   Don't.   You've made your decision, so stick by it. 

  And always remember: another one will be along in a few minutes.....

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