Wednesday, July 28, 2010

APS Circuits

[This post is really part 2 of "Some Preliminary Observations on the Cost of Building a Volume I Collection" that appeared earlier this month.]

I'm currently building my collection largely through American Philatelic Society Sales Circuits. I've subscribed to these several times in the past with previous collections, and know they can be a good way of acquiring stamps at a reasonable percentage of catalog value.

If you aren't familiar with circuits, the APS website provides a succinct overview: The Sales Division acts as an agent for members who wish to sell some of their philatelic material using blank sales books (see below for a page from one of these books). The 42,000 sales books generate more than $1.8 million in sales annually. Books are divided into 165+ categories. "Items priced from one cent to $1,000 -- Majority in $1 to $40 range."

Typically, one receives 3-4 mailings (circuits) in each category during a given year. Circuits typically contain ten sales books each. You keep the circuits for up to 1 week before forwarding to the next person on the list.

I subscribed to six categories a couple of months ago: US Cut Squares, British Pre-Elizabeth, France & Colonies, Global 1840-1940, Italian Colonies, and Portuguese Colonies. (I've just added China.) I chose Cut Squares because this is the weakest US area in my album. Obviously, Global 1840-1940 and Pre-Elizabeth British were added because they match (more or less) the years contained in the Volume 1. France, Italy, and Portugal were selected more for hoping to add to my holdings of their colonies than for the mother country.

Here is a sample page from a recent World 1840-1940 circuit. (Not shown here is that when you buy an item, you use a personalized rubber stamp to mark the now empty space.)

My thought is that I would subscribe to a category for a year or two and when I'm not finding many new stamps to purchase, I will cancel and move on to another.

One thing I particularly like about the circuits is that they encourage you to spend more time studying the stamps. For example, I found that it wasn't obvious where some of the overprinted 19th Cuba stamps in a Circuit book belonged in my Blue, so I took the time to fire up the Scott Catalog (on my iPad!) and write in the numbers for each space in my album. This is something I rarely made the effort to do when I was adding hundreds of stamps at one time from an eBay album purchase. I generally add catalog numbers for at least a couple of countries per Circuit.

You could compare buying albums versus sales circuits to flying in an airplane versus a car trip. The plane takes you to your destination faster but you don't have nearly as good a feel for the journey. And I think every stamp collector would agree that it is the journey rather than the destination that matters to us.

Another bonus benefit is the chance to examine interesting stamps that you might normally not see up close. For example, there have been three of the Cape of Good Hope triangles, even though none of them were inexpensive enough for me to take the plunge. I was sorely tempted by a Suez Canal Company 1868 Blue Local. But these locals aren't in the Blue International so I gave it a by.

So far, the sales circuits are meeting my expectation. As you can see from the table below, I've been able to pick up stamps at no more than 1/3 catalog. Admittedly, this is somewhat skewed because I have control over what I purchase and can always pad my purchases with a few high catalog items that are listed as a fraction of catalog value, usually because of minor faults. So, for example, I picked up a F-VF appearing Great Britain, Scott #96, for $7, catalog $140, because it had a minor hinge thin on the back.

So far I've received circuits in four of the seven categories, one of them twice. Here's a summary of my purchases.

# of stamps
Cat Value
Purchase Price
% of Cat
Avg cost per stamp
World 1840-1940
France & Colonies
Portugal & Colonies
Pre-Elizabethan British

For this group, I paid an average of 79 cents a stamp or 26% of 2007 Scott catalog value.

A goal I've set for myself is to add 2000 stamps a year for the next few years. It will be interesting to see if I can keep this up through APS circuits alone. I would like to bring the cost down though or these 2000 stamps will run me about $1500 annually. Maybe buying another big album wouldn't be such a bad deal! But then there's a big difference in spending this figure over twelve months as opposed to in one fell swoop.

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