Got your attention! It depends……now read on to save some money!
I thought I will share some information on one of the online trading platforms e.g. eBay and how the prices compare with physical stores and also the vagaries that comes with it. However my review covers only First Day Covers as that is my only area of interest. I am clueless on stamps, postcards, postal history, etc.
Pre-independence, Marai, and the oldies
FDCs are generally cheaper on eBay than in stores. It can be as much as 80 %! Here are the conditions that drives the prices up:
1. Dealers picking up affordable pieces.
2. Collectors collecting doubles.
3. Sellers releasing their stocks slowly.
Let me give you three examples:
Example 1: UPU series: excellent collection, classics and often bid up multiple times above the actual worth.
In reality the UPU covers are plentiful. Not surprisingly the supply is still very much controlled in the UK. If you do your homework a few UK sellers are releasing the same items in a cycle. UPU covers made by an old dealer in Johor “Tan Seow Kiew” are in the hundreds floating in the market for ALL states! So if you are patient, wait for a US seller or a Malaysian seller, you can get it for about RM 30.00 each excluding postage.
So what other covers are common?
Example 2: 1953 Coronation of course! The fair price is around RM 20.00 each for any state. There is no scarcity. By the way, if you are buying the Qantas flight FDC version – always check that the flight card is inside. This can be ascertain by “Ask a Question”. If the FDC has been opened, the flight card has most likely been removed to save on weight! This is done in the old days when the dealers ship in bulk to buyers overseas. This is also why some leaflets are not found in the covers!!! Do note that in the very early days, the leaflets are NOT Free. You need to pay for it, so many early covers do not have leaflets to save cost!
Example 3: Is Cocos Island rare? Nope, not for 1953 Coronation! There is a seller in Malaysia still trying to offload at RM 59.xx.
Cocos Royal Visit is also not scarce. There are stacks of covers made and the release is very well controlled.
Here are some identifiers of “lots of covers” made during that era:
1. Selfridge Philatelic Department
2. J. E. Schelling (he can still make covers during the Japanese Occupation in Syonan!)
3. I mentioned Tan Seow Kiew
4. J F Droucette Dias
5. W A White
6. E E Oatway
7. C Koch
8. W S Magness
9. Ho Ka Moh
10. Minkus Publication
11. K J Tseng
12. Benjamin Dworetzky
12. Hugh & Sons
13. T T L Tan
14. Toh Seng Watt
there are many more to list out… if you want to share your list, feel free.
There is a group of collectors of private covers. These covers then to be bid up quite high above the fair value. I have found that eBay prices is still lower than the stores when it comes to private covers.
Malaysia (circa 1990s onwards)
I recommend the stores. They are much cheaper than on eBay and there are also bargain boxes to search.
Next question, is it cheaper to buy from overseas sellers or local sellers?
A price you are willing to pay will be the fair price in any case. I found that if you look hard enough, the local sellers are also able to offer great value. Let me give you an excellent example.
This item was sold at RM 900++ on eBay by a UK seller: http://www.ebay.com.my/itm/MALAYA-1935-SILVER-JUBILEE-SET-REG-PENANG-A-KEDAH-FIRST-DAY-COVER-/141170624644
The seller actually bought the item from a newbie seller in Malaysia for slightly less than RM 20! Of course the UK seller did not use the selling account so that this cannot be traced back! The newbie seller is dormant now.
Starting at USD 1.00
It really does attract bidders. However from my own studies, the final bid price is often higher than the “Fixed Price” offered online. The trick here is to know how much is being offered on the market before embarking on the bidding war. In a few experiments, I noticed that the buyers skip over high start prices to try their luck on the USD 1.00 start bids on the hope that no one bids on the low value item. Many ended paying more! So remember, find out what is in the market.
I need you raise this red flag. Watch out for damaged items, usually when the back is not shown. Some have the cheek to declare as very nice condition with a ripped back! Others try to lay the cover as flat as possible to hide tears or openings. Others turn the scanner too bright or too low a resolution. You have the right to ask especially when the piece is really good.
They really drive the prices up. Click on the ID to see how many retractions the person makes. The one to look out for (sadly a Malaysian) is a***o (listed as h***a in the seller’s feedback). The person used to trade under another account. Modus operandi: bid you up to your maximum then retract and make a push just below your maximum so that you pay the maximum price. So check your bid when there is a retraction, of if you see a***o behind you. You should retract and re-bid again – no point having to pay more due to joy bidders. Probably after this article is posted, the person will open a new account 🙂
Bringing down the prices
One way the price stays high is hoarding and collecting multiples. Many have the intention to keep and re-sell on a later date. It might not be so easy to sell. Check that the piece is really scarce or does it re-appear a few months later?
Check the Total Acquisition Cost. It is equal to cost of your item + foreign currency conversion charge + POSTAGE! Some sellers make a lot more from postage.
If you have been collecting for 5 years, what is another 5 years?
Did not receive your item?
This is an old trick by some unscrupulous sellers. I have identified one in Australia and another in UK. Your bargain items will NOT arrive. Once you make an enquiry, the normal excuse is that your are in Malaysia and the mail will get lost. Highly unlikely. The seller just did not (want to) send the item and it is cheaper to wait you out. They normally will refund you immediately without any quibble. So remember to watch out. Read the feedback! If there are far too many claims of buyers not receiving the items, it is a red flag.
Summary: Both online trading platforms and stores offer bargains. You just need to do your math and shop wisely. Use “Ask a Question” regularly. Find out the scarcity.
So, if you have anything to share, just post away.