Auction Guide

How do auctions work?  top

This is a complex question which can only briefly be outlined here.

First we solicit consignments of collections, accumulations, and individual stamps from collectors and dealers all over the world. Once we receive the consignments, our auction describers 'lot' the material. Better items maybe listed individually, while other items are grouped with similar material. Some collections are left intact. Although some consignors suggest how the material should be lotted, final decisions are made by our lotting managers.

Once the lots are carefully described and entered into our computer, the catalog for the sale is produced. Our printer takes photos of all the important stamps and covers, prints and collates the pages, and delivers the finished catalogs to us. We then mail the catalogs at least three weeks in advance of the sale date, to customers all over the world, who then send us their bids.As bids are received, they are entered into the computer, making up the bid book. The final bid book is produced by computer just before the start of the floor sale showing the auctioneer the two highest bids that were received by mail, fax or phone.

The floor bidding then commences with the auctioneer calling for bids starting at one raise level above the second highest bid in the bid book.After the floor bidding has ended, successful floor bidders collect and pay for their lots. The remaining lots are then invoiced to the successful mail bidders, packaged and mailed. After payments from bidders are received consignors are paid. Unsold lots are either returned to consignors or re-listed in a future sale. At every stage of the sale, extensive records must be maintained. This is a business only for the detail minded person.

How can I benefit by buying at auctions?   top

You will find that buying at auction can be the least expensive way to buy stamps. You can save money whether you are a general collector, an advanced collector, an investor, or a dealer. Except for unusual, rare, or exceptional stamps, you will usually be paying much below retail. You will be buying from the same sources that dealers buy from and at the same prices that the dealers pay. In effect, you eliminate the dealer's markup.

How does a public auction differ from a mail bid sale?  top

In a public auction such as ours, floor bidding is opened at one bid level above the second highest mail/fax/phone bid. Bidding then proceeds until there is no further bidding from the floor. If the top mail/fax/phone bid is not exceeded, then the lot will be sold to the highest bidder in the bid book at one bid level over the last floor bid.

In a mail bid sale, by contrast, there is no public record or control over how the final price for a lot is made. Quite often the final price is the highest price bid, without reduction. In most mail bid sales, the majority of material is owned by the operator of the sale.

Are all auctions the same?  top

No. Although most auctioneers operate honestly, there are some with shady practices. They tend to over-grade and mis-describe, generally misleading the bidder. It is best to do business only with those auctioneers who supply good references, such as membership in the American Stamp Dealers Association (ASDA), or the American Philatelic Society (APS), who list a phone number and a person who can be contacted for any questions, who list their terms plainly and specifically (not just 'Usual Auction Terms'), and who guarantee all stamps to be as described and offer an immediate refund if the stamps or lots are found to be otherwise.

Who will I be bidding against?  top

You will be bidding against other collectors, investors and dealers. The smart collectors know that this is the least expensive way to buy stamps. The dealer buys here for his stock for his retail customers.

How do I read an Auction catalog?  top

First familiarize yourself with the auctioneer's Terms of Sale which are listed in the catalog. This is the contract which you will have with the auction firm when you submit your bids. The Terms of Sale outline your obligations and rights as a bidder. You must understand and agree to the Terms of Sale in order to prevent any misunderstanding between you and the firm.Also read all of the special instructions paying particular attention to the bidding increments and to the abbreviations used in the descriptions. Also check the headings at the top of the pages to be sure you are bidding on the stamps from the right country and category. Here is a sample lot from our catalog:

1217 o BAHAMAS, 2a, 1p lake, fine, weak cnr pf, pen cc (P) 900.00.

This line would be interpreted as follows:  Lot number 1217, a used stamp from Bahamas, Scott catalog number 2a. It has a weak corner perforation but is otherwise sound with the design clear of the perforations on all sides. The cancel was made by pen. The stamp is pictured in the photo section of the catalog. The latest Scott catalog value is $900.00.

If there is more than one stamp in a lot and the catalog Scott numbers are consecutive, the numbers would be listed as 704-715,  meaning all of the stamps from 704 thru 715 inclusive. On the other hand, a listing as 704/715, 5 diff, means that there are five stamps in the lot including numbers 704 and 715 plus three others between those catalog numbers.

How do I know how much a stamp is worth?  top

You must do your homework. Read and study about the stamps that you want. Study the dealer buy and sell ads in the trade papers. Note the spread between these prices. Learn what your local retail dealer would charge for a similar stamp, What are similar stamps selling for at bourses? Check the prices realized in previous auction for similar stamps.

What about the stamp's condition?  top

Check the auctioneer's grading terms and descriptions very carefully. Not all auctioneers mean the same thing when they describe a stamp as 'fine'. Study the stamps pictured in comparison with the lot descriptions. If them are no photos, or if the terms 'fine, FVF, VF' are not defined, be careful not to expect more than the lot description offers. If you are looking only for well centered stamps without faults, then do not bid on a lot described as 'fine, sp, OG' expecting to get a perfectly centered, never hinged stamp.

How are stamps graded?  top

The grading of a stamp takes into consideration such factors as the centering, color and freshness, visible and/or hidden faults, gum condition, type and heaviness of cancel, if the stamp is used, etc. See our grading page.

How do I make a bid?  top

Examine the catalog and select the lots that interest you. Decide what price you are willing to pay for each lot. Now fill in the bid sheet with the LOT number (NOT the catalog number) and the amount of your bid. Do not bid in odd amounts such as $10.38, $26.10, $51.00, etc. Such bids will be lowered to $10.00, $26,00, and $50.00 and will not beat an earlier bid of those amounts. Follow the bidding levels listed on the bid sheet.

List your bids in numerical order starting with the lowest lot number. RECHECK your lot numbers and bid amounts. You are responsible for any errors that you make on the bid sheet. Finally, complete all of the other information requested on the bid sheet and mail or fax it to the address on the bid sheet. Also see our how to bid page.

How much should I bid?  top

This will depend on such factors as what you can buy a lot for at various retail outlets, how scarce it is, whether you need it to complete a set or album page, its condition, etc. Generally you should bid as high as you are willing to pay for the lot as described. The price you actually pay will be reduced if other bids are more than one level less than yours.

Do not waste time entering unrealistic bids hoping to get a bargain. Bidding a low, flat percentage of catalog will result in your winning few, if any lots. Many auctioneers will toss such bid sheets into the circular file and remove your name from their mailing list. Bargains can be had, but they depend upon your bidding at reasonable levels and then having less than normal bidding competition.

Good stamps rarely sell for low prices because demand for them is too great. Stamps with faults do sell for low prices because there is less demand for them. In general, VF stamps will realize 60-80% of Scott, while XF and Superb will bring much more. FVF quality sell in the 30-50% range, while average can be bought for 20-30%. Stamps with faults will realize 10-30% depending upon the severity of the faults and the overall appearance and scarcity of the stamps.

When should I send in my bids?  top

Your bids must be received by the auctioneer on or before the date of the sale. Send your bids as soon after you receive the catalog as you can. If you wait too long, your bids may not arrive on time to be recorded before the floor sale. You may also lose out to an earlier bidder as bids are recorded on the date received. Most auctioneers also accept phone and FAX bids. Check our bid procedures page.

Can I change my bids after I have mailed them in?  top

You can raise, lower, or cancel any bid up to the time of the sale by calling the auctioneer. Most auction firms will also give you the opening bid if you request it by phone.You cannot make any changes after the floor sale has started.

What happens in the case of tie bids?  top

If identical high bids are received from two or more bidders, and that high bid is not raised on the floor, the bidder whose bid was received first will receive the lot. It is to your best advantage to mail your bids early, especially if you are bidding on a popular item.

How are prices determined?  top

Opening bids for the floor sale are determined by the second highest mail/fax/phone bid on each lot. The opening bids are set by computer at one bid level above the second high bid. In the absence of any mail bid, the opening bid is set at 70% of the auctioneer's pre-sale estimate of the lot.

Bidding then commences until there are no further raises from the floor. If the mail bid has been exceeded by someone bidding on the floor, then the lot goes to the floor bidder. If the floor bidding stops before the top mail bid is reached, then the top mail bidder is awarded the lot at one raise level above the last floor bid. If there are no bids from the floor, then the top mail bidder gets the lot at one level above the second highest mail bid.

For example: If the top two mail bids are $21 and $28, the opening bid would be set at $22. If the floor bidding goes over $28, then the lot would be awarded to the floor bidder. If the floor bidding stops at $25, then the lot would go to the mail bidder who bid $28, but he would get it for only $26. If there were no bidding from the floor, then the mail bidder would get it for only $22.

What are bidding increments?  top

These are the amounts that you should enter on the bid sheet according to the value of the lot that you want. The following is our table of bidding increments:

Bid Level IncrementBid LevelIncrement
$70-$145 $5.00$500-$950$50.00
  $1000 and up $100.00

What this means is that if you are willing to pay between $1.00 and $30 for a lot, the amount you enter on the bid sheet must be inIncrements of $1.00: i.e. $15, $21, $25, etc. A bid of $17.50 or$21.75 would be incorrect and would be lowered to $17 and $21 and would not take precedent over earlier bids of $17 and $21 received from other bidders. Likewise, bids between $32 and$70 must be in even $2 amounts such as $34, $42, $56, etc.

What protection do I have if the lot is not as described?  top

If the stamps are not as described in the catalog, return them immediately in the same condition as you received them. Your purchase price will be refunded. You must return them promptly as we will not accept returns made more than five days after being received by you.

However, before you bid, read the Conditions of Sale carefully, as some lots may not be returned. Read the catalog descriptions carefully as they may vary from your own pre-conceived ideas of stamp quality. There must be a clear discrepancy between the description and the actual stamps before you arc entitled to a refund.

In the processing of thousands of stamps for each sale, some errors are bound to occur for which we apologize, being, after all, only human. Remember, however, an auction is not the same as an approval service. You cannot return a lot if it is correctly described, just because you decide that you do not want the lot.

However, if you are not satisfied with a particular lot, call us immediately.

How will I know which lots I have won?  top

Within ten days after the sale date, you will be notified by mail. Send in the amount of the invoice total. Your lots will be shipped as soon as your payment is received by the auction house.

If you have not received an invoice within two weeks of the sale, you may be safe in assuming that your bids were not successful.

You may call the auctioneer, but please do not call for at least three working days after the sale as you will only slow down the invoicing process.

Why is payment required in advance?  top

Although most collectors are honest, there are a number of persons who are not. To send stamps to all persons who win bids would provide a windfall for those who never intend to pay. Therefore, until your credit is established, you will be billed in advance of shipments.

May I charge my purchases?  
We accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit cards as well as debit cards which bear the Visa or MasterCard logo. Remember to include the expiration date on your bid form. We will then ship your lots with your invoice.

May I limit my purchases?  top

Yes. Just write the maximum that you wish to spend in the space provided on the bid sheet. Please do not make $1000 worth of bids if your maximum is only $50.

You can also submit 'or' bids on several similar lots, while being assured that you will not be awarded more than one of the lots.

When you enter 'or' bids, write each lot number on a separate line and insert the word 'or' between the lot numbers.

Is there a minimum bid or reserve on any lot?  top

The minimum bid on any lot is $10. It is just not economical to list less valuable lots due to the high cost of printing and postage. If a lot is not worth $10 to you, please do not waste your time with lesser bids as we will not record any bid of less than $10. We feel that every lot in our sales is worth at least $10 to somebody.

Most lots have no reserve. However this does not mean that we will give away valuable stamps for unreasonably low bids. The auctioneer has the right to reject ridiculously low bids.

Why is the value for some lots an estimate?  top

Some lots contain specialized items not listed in the standard catalogs or bearing no relationship to normal catalog values. This is particularly true for covers and large lots. On these lots we have placed a fair net value based upon our experience, expertise, and knowledge of current market realizations, as a guide for your bidding. Lots may realize more or less than our estimates, but generally bids of less than 70% of our estimate will seldom be successful as we try to be conservative.

Do you offer prices realized?  top

Yes. We feel that bidders should know what lots are sold for and offer this service for less than the cost of compiling, printing and mailing. We list the actual price at which each lot was sold. For printed lists, we charge S1.00 per sale, or $4.00 for six sales. There's a check off box at the bottom of the bid sheet for your request for prices realized. Payment must be included with your bid sheet. This list is usually available about ten days after a sale. We also post prices from the most recently completed sale on our web site.

Is every lot in a sale sold?  top

Unfortunately no. A few lots are withdrawn because of inaccurate descriptions discovered after the catalogs have been published. A few more are not sold because bidding did not reach the reserve. However, the majority of lots remain unsold simply because no one bid on them.

I bid on many lots but never get any. Why?  top

You are bidding too low. Bids which are too low only waste your time and ours. You must do your homework to be aware of current prices. Demand for good stamps is high, therefore you must bid realistically. To be informed, you should subscribe to trade publications such as Linns, Stamp Collector, Mekeels, etc. To be successful, you must be aware of what fair and realistic bids are. Auction prices for sound stamps in the fine to very fine range fall close to wholesale prices. However, prices for rare stamps with high quality and demand very often exceed Scott catalog values.

Some bidders think they can get everything at 10% of Scott, but this is simply not true. At 10%, if they win anything, it will usually be faulty. If you want quality, you must be willing to pay for it.

How long do you take to process a credit?  top

When you return a lot, we make all refunds and credit all credit cards within 24 hours of receipt of returned lots. It may take 7-10 days, however, for you to receive your refund or credit receipt. Your should see this credit on your next credit card statement or the following one, depending upon your billing cycle.

Why was I charged sales tax?  top

We are required by law to charge Maine state sales tax on all shipments to a Maine address.

When will I receive my lots?  top

We begin shipping usually within 24 hours after the close of a sale. It takes about a week for us to ship all the lots. Expect to receive your lots within two weeks after the sale date.

Will you ship to my P.O. box?

Yes. The vast majority of lots is shipped via USPS, first class, certified or registered mail. Bulky lots are generally shipped via UPS and a valid street address is needed to ensure proper delivery. If a P.O. box is used as a shipping address for bulky lots, it will generally cost you more. Lots to APO, FPO or foreign addresses are generally shipped by USPS registered or express mail.

May I specify a shipping address different from my billing address?

Yes. When you place your bids, just replace your address with the address to which you want your lots shipped.

How are shipping charges calculated?

Shipping charges vary according to weight, value, and destination address.

Final notes for successful bidding.  top