I think very few people – and certainly not tax and customs authorities – understand what is involved in stamp dealing and how it is different from other retail activities. It has always been the case, and still is, that most dealers are one-person businesses but holding stocks of thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands - of potentially separate items. The standard business model is to buy in bulk and sell individually. The standard business failure is to buy more than you can possibly sell. So stocks accumulate over a dealer’s lifetime.
In the past, dealers made Approval books (carnets a choix; Auswahlheften) which is what I did when I started. Nowadays they sell on ebay or delcampe (which I have never done). Either way, the time it takes to prepare one item for sale is just too much to allow more than a few thousand items to be offered at any one time. For many dealers, they never get past a few hundred.
The time-saving solution which many dealers use (and I use) is to heap cheaper stuff into boxes, load them into a car or even a van and put them out at stamp shows, where like fresh vegetables you try to sell as much as you can in one day. Collectors or other dealers do the time-consuming work of going through the boxes.
So at the annual Sindelfingen Briefmarken Messe, from which I have just returned, there were hundreds – maybe thousands – of such boxes around the hall. The well-known dealer Peter Harlos had a whole corner stand, well-organised with every item at 2 euro and the well-known dealer Christian Arbeiter had his usual big and rather chaotic stand overflowing with cheap and very cheap boxed material. But these are just two from a few dozen dong similar things.
The boxes are often full of things which are valuable to other dealers or to specialist collectors. If you spend a day going through them, you will handle many thousands of items and surely find something and maybe enough to justify the cost of the trip. It is probably less labour intensive than trawling the internet, bidding and so on.
The nature of stamp dealing and of these boxes means that they are only viable if items don’t have to be bar coded. Harlos does barcode for all his stock down to 4 euro but even he does not do it for his separate 2 euro stand. To insist on bar coding there would be like insisting that each apple have its own label because it is potentially a separate item.
Harlos and Arbeiter are two of the big attractions at Sindelfingen; whether they actually make money, I don’t know. If you pay say 3000 euro for a whole stand, and on top of that, have travel and hotel costs and not forgetting the stock costs, you have to sell an awful lot at 2 euro to get your money back. It is a problem which arises from the original business model: you buy too much relative to what it is easy to sell.
Many collectors who don’t go to stamp shows are missing something. Unless your Wants are very specialised or very expensive, a stamp show is still a good place to find material
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