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Don’t lick these stamps

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Stamp collecting is an expensive hobby. With some stamps worth up to a million dollars, many collectors are worried about what will happen to their collections when they die.

The weekend’s Winter Sacramento Stamp Fair provided a venue for philatelists from all over the Sacramento region to display their collections.

Hundreds of collectors converged on the Knights of Columbus Hall to buy stamps and trade with dealers and each other. Free appraisals of individual stamps and collections were also given to the public.

More than one million stamps, thousands of advertising covers and hundreds of stamp-pricing volumes lined table after table inside two rooms. The show even featured an orchid stamp collection from North Korea.

Organizing a stamp expo is no small feat. Chris Clemens, who has been involved with the expos for more than 20 years, organizes and runs stamp expos in Northern California, including this one.

"I actually got into all of this working for a guy who organized the shows," said Clemens. "I took over and started doing it myself. Now, I collect and deal advertising covers. Each show, I try to have a variety of items available through different dealers. It’s difficult gathering the dealers with unique items for sale. Northern California has a big stamp-collecting following."

Stamps are printed by most countries and have been since the turn of the 20th century. Some collectors prefer items from a particular country, a certain period in history, or stamps with a set design, such as flowers.

Collectors come in all ages, but most of those at the expo were older. They have disposable income and the time it takes for proper storage and care. Attracting younger stamp enthusiasts is the goal of the American Philatelic Society.

"It’s tough trying to get younger children involved," dealer Dave Cobb said. "Stamp collecting can be very good for kids. It teaches them careful handling, history and goal setting and achieving by filling their stamp books."

Cobb started as a collector and slowly made the transition to dealing. He now does it full time. Based in Southern California, Cobb travels the country to stamp expos buying and selling, offering free appraisals along the way.

"Stamps are valued for a number of reasons," said Cobb. "Age is only a factor; condition of the stamp is very important."

A stamp is considered in mint condition only if it never has been used, he said.

"The price of the stamp is also very important," he added. "I have two sheets of 1930 air mail stamps costing $2.60 each at the time. The year coincides with the Great Depression, and the high denomination of the actual stamp drives the price of the sheets over $175,000."

It’s not uncommon for collections to be willed to family members or institutions for safekeeping.

"I’m lucky that my son enjoys and respects the art of stamp collecting," said R.J., an avid collector. "It worries some people I know that collections will be sold at low price or neglected by their heirs."

The American Philatelic Society is aware of the growing problem of its older members. It provides services for collectors and family members who inherit a collection. The society will arrange free appraisals of collections and offer ways to will a collection. It also gives tips on the handling and safekeeping of collections.

Some collectors take a more relaxed approach.

"I told my daughter and her husband to sell everything when I’m gone," said Howard Turner. "They don’t collect and I want all the money to go to my granddaughter’s college fund. That’s what’s important to me."

The next stamp expo at the Knights of Columbus Hall will be June 6-7. The Western Philatelic Exhibition (WESTPEX) will be held in San Francisco on April 23-25.



Photos courtesy of Matthew Ceccato

Photo #1: Rare sheet of air mail stamps valued over $175,000
Photo #2: Rare misprint
Photo #3: Dealers and collectors talk stamps
Photo #4: Folder of stamps for sale
Photo #5: Chris Clemens’ booth at the expo

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