How to Buy Stamps
It's nice to find free stamps, from your own mail and as favors from friends, but there are many opportunities to add to your collection by spending some money. The problem is usually too many opportunities and too little money, not the other way around!
The easiest way to find a stamp shop or stamp dealer is to check the AskPhil Reference Library under dealers (coming soon). Of course, you can also look through the yellow pages under "Stamps for Collectors." There are 1,200 stamp stores in the USA with thousands more throughout the world.
Some people are surprised to find out that there are public stamp shows held regularly all over the world. Some shows are very large, in convention centers in major cities, and others are much smaller, maybe in a community center or a small hotel. You can find stamp shows in your region by asking a local stamp dealer, or checking in the philatelic press, or on the websites of some of the major philatelic newspapers. Some shows advertise in local media, but usually can't afford large and flashy ads and you may not notice the ads.
Many stamp shows have exhibits prepared by collectors and entered in competition for prizes, and some have workshops and seminars where you can learn more about the hobby. But one thing that all stamp shows have is plenty of dealers selling all types of philatelic material - stamps, covers, and supplies. Going to a show is one of the best activities in the hobby, to see what is available in the marketplace, to meet and make friends, to see wonderful exhibits, and to add to your knowledge.
Another type of stamp store is any post office in any country. You will find that the postal administrations, or the PTT, have more "retail stores" than any other business in the nation! Not all post offices carry each and every current stamp, but they should have a nice selection. Some post offices in major cities have a special philatelic or stamp window, just to serve collectors' needs.
The U. S. Postal Service also has a mail-order service, the Philatelic Fulfillment Service Center. Through this catalog, you can buy every item currently sold by the USPS, including some that have gone off sale at regular post offices. To get on the mailing list for free copies of the catalog, USA Philatelic, call 1-800-STAMP-24, or send a request to PFSC, P.O. Box 41924, Kansas City, MO 64141-6424. You also can buy stamps through the USPS website: http://www.usps.gov.
The Postal Service also sells some new issue stamps from other countries through the PFSC, and these can be a nice introduction to those countries' stamps. At the moment, USPS' international partners include Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Australia, Mexico, and the United Nations.
Every country in the world has its own postal administration, and most of them are pleased to receive orders for new issues from collectors in other countries. Some postal administrations will accept credit cards, making it very easy to order stamps. Many postal administrations have websites now, and can be accessed through AskPhil. Just go to Worldwide Philatelic Agencies in the AskPhil Reference Library.
The Web itself has opened up a whole new world of opportunity to buy stamps and covers, directly from the many dealers who have sites, and at the many stamp auctions sites. You will find the dealer listing in the AskPhil Reference Library.
There always has been a huge stamp marketplace by mail, through advertising by dealers and collectors in philatelic publications. Even the Internet hasn't changed that - there still are hundreds of ads in each issue of the big philatelic newspapers and magazines. There are dealers who handle all stamps of the world, and there are dealers who handle only very specialized areas.
It's a good idea to subscribe to at least one general-interest philatelic publication, and also to join both a local club and a national stamp organization. Check the AskPhil club or specialist society listings. Doing this will help you to "cover the bases" when it comes to finding material to buy.
The philatelic marketplace, especially the mail sale portion, runs on a lot of trust and goodwill, but no one should take things for granted. As in any business transaction, be careful to protect yourself in philatelic selling and buying. The Internet has made it possible for many types of people to anonymously enter the marketplace and take advantage of an unwary consumer faster than was ever possible before. Commerce on the internet is so new that the legal system hasn't caught up with it - it's not clear even who to complain to if a deal goes wrong. In the USA, dealings by mail come under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
One way to protect yourself in general is to deal with dealers and collectors who are members of a national organization, such as the American Philatelic Society, the American Stamp Dealers Association, or the dealers association in your country. Both the APS and the ASDA have a system for handling complaints against their members, so you have some recourse if a deal goes wrong.
It is always a good idea to keep records of any deals, because complaints must have some written proof to support them. Most stamp collectors are wonderful people, but human nature is no different inside philately than it is outside!