Auctioneer shares ‘insider tips’

By Jesse Robitaille

This is the first story in a two-part series highlighting auction tips for bidders.

While philatelic auctions date back more than a century and a half, the level of competition among bidders hit unprecedented levels during the pandemic.

Bidders have always sought the upper hand while competing at auctions – from colluding with other collectors to using individual bidding strategies such as sniping or shading – but several best practices apply to all potential buyers.

StampAuctionNetwork founder Tom Droege, of Durham, N.C., shared 10 “insider tips” for bidders this June at CAPEX 22, of which the firm was a partner-level sponsor. Droege led a pair of seminars during the four-day show in Toronto, where he and David Kern, a partner with the trailblazing auction marketplace, also manned a booth on the bourse.


Droege’s “number one tip” provided some overarching advice for bidders: “Don’t be afraid.”

By conquering any potential fears and diving into the ocean of philatelic auctions, collectors have a lot to gain and little to lose, according to Droege, who created StampAuctionNetwork in 1994.

“You should be participating in auctions, and the reason is the auction industry is essentially the wholesale market. It’s where dealers buy stamps to sell to collectors, and it’s where smart collectors buy stamps.”

A long-time collector who occasionally focuses on stamps but mostly specializes in postal history, Droege said most collectors possess one of two “psychologies.”

“There are people that are willing to wait to get a better price or a better stamp, but on the other hand, you have people that just want to buy it now, so they’re not so concerned about the price; they just want to get it and don’t want to wait until it comes up again for sale.”

Despite varied estimates on the number of stamp collectors and postal historians worldwide, Droege said there’s no doubt only a fraction of those people acquire material at auctions.

“That camp – the folks that buy at auction – are probably 20 per cent of the collecting population at large.”

While there might be 200,000 people buying each new issue from the U.S. Postal Service, that number declines as the level of involvement increases. The American Philatelic Society’s membership includes about 28,000 collectors, but what Droege called “serious stamp collectors” – the top exhibitors with world-class collections – are few and far between.

“When you finally get down to the people that actually buy at auction, it is actually a small number of people,” he said, estimating between 5,000 and 10,000 collectors regularly buy at auctions.


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