How to Get the Most from a Stamp Show
There are preparations that you can make to get more out of the experience of going to your first stamp show. As a first-time attendee it is not necessary to understand all the specifics about a show, but you should be aware that there will be dealers selling a vast array of stamps, covers, philatelic literature, and supplies such as albums, tongs, hinges, mounts, and so on.
Sometimes the ads in advance of the show will mention which dealers will be there, and this may help you plan your shopping list even better. After reading ads for even a short time, you will begin to associate certain dealers with what they sell, and so you may be able to shop very specifically for certain items you need for your collection, or certain items you want to sell. If a dealer in Chinese stamps, for example, will be at the show, this is the time to check your China collection and make a list of what stamps it would be nice to have. Your list could also indicate what you think is a fair price for those stamps, based on other dealers' ads or the catalog values. It also would be a chance to offer some of your unwanted China material for sale to this dealer.
When you get to the show, ask at the club or front table, if there is a printed program and take a moment to look through it. If there are seminars or lectures of interest to you, make a note of the scheduled time so that you can stop shopping and get to the event. Or, if you want to meet the speaker, this is your opportunity.
Look over the dealer list to see if there's anyone you want to see first; otherwise, a good beginning is to just cruise the aisles slowly to get an idea of the extent of the show, and where you should concentrate your time and energy. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, and leave your excess baggage at home. Very few shows have a coat check area, so you will have to wear and carry whatever you come in with!
Many dealers have copies of catalogs that you can use at their booth, but if you have a favorite special reference book, you might want to bring it along. It's easier to carry a small want list and/or a checklist of stamps you already have. You can purchase small inventory booklets from supply dealers, or make one yourself. Without a list, you run a great risk of buying stamps you already have and missing ones that you need.
If you don't have a want list but only a general interest in mind, try to be as specific as you can when a dealer asks to help you. Try to word your request to match what the dealer's sign says he is selling. For example, if the sign says the dealer sells stamps of Western Europe, you should not ask what he has in Japan, and it also is not helpful to say you collect stamps with castles on them. The dealer will not have any Japanese stamps, and while he will have stamps with castles on them, they will be part of the country collections (under "France," "Italy," etc.) and unless you know the catalog numbers, which is usually how the stock is arranged, the dealer will not be able to find the castle stamps.
On the other hand, if the dealer's sign says "Topicals or Thematics," you can ask for your castle stamps A topical or thematic dealer files his stock according to the design (topic or theme) on the stamp. If you are just exploring a new collecting interest, you may not know how to ask about it, but tell the dealer that this is new to you, and ask for help in getting started. The more information you can give, the better the dealer can help you, or refer you to one of the fellow dealers who can.
While looking through the dealers' stock, be as careful with it as if it were your own. No one can package stamps and covers carefully enough to prevent damage, and every bit of damage lessens the value.
If a show has exhibits, you will see the listings of them in the program and will notice the special tent-like aluminum frames in rows on the show floor. The quality of exhibits at a local show will be different from those at a large, national show, but there always is something ofinterest.
Some shows have special categories for exhibits considered to be of "general" interest --- that is, not too specialized and usually very attractive to look at. But, beauty is really in the eye of the beholder when it comes to stamps: Some of the rarest stamps in the world are not eye-catching -- they are dirty, tattered around the edges, and so on. But the fact that they are the only one of their kind makes all the difference!
There are certain standards for competitive philatelic exhibiting, and so you will notice a pattern after looking at a number of exhibits. Even if the exhibit deals with a philatelic area you know nothing about, you should be able to look at the first several pages of an exhibit and find out something about the nature of the material being shown, and the exhibitor's purpose. The exhibitor is supposed to use those early pages to explain the focus of the exhibit.
Another of the standards of exhibiting is that "the material should speak for itself," so there is not supposed to be a lot of text. This isn't always very helpful to the viewer seeing something brand-new, but consider it a learning experience anyway! If something interests or puzzles you, make notes to yourself and AskPhil!
If you spot an exhibit that happens to cover your collecting interest, this is a wonderful opportunity to see what you are missing and get additional information on certain stamps or covers.
Exhibiting can be an exciting way to share your collection with others - show off what you are proud to have. Seeing someone else's exhibit can give you ideas for creating or improving your own collection, for competition or non-competitive. Winning a "people's choice" award at a show can be every bit as exciting as winning the grand prize!