Stamps highly collectible but most not valuable

By Terry Maurer, What's It Worth?December 29, 2013 

A. A friend gifted me this older book of foreign postage stamps. They all seem to have been used and canceled. I think many date to the 1940s and before. Written in German on the first page is that this was a birthday present to a then-12-year-old boy in 1955. Is there collector value to these stamps? -- Terri in Kennewick

Q. There are estimates that 25 million Americans collect stamps and, worldwide, there are about 200 million enthusiasts. That puts stamp collecting and the study of postage stamps -- philately -- at the very top of the "things-collected" pyramid.

By any standard, accumulating stamps is a relatively new pursuit. The first postage stamp was issued in England in 1840 and folks started putting them -- new and used -- into books and assembling collections in the years shortly thereafter.

There are serious professional collectors, casual stamp savers and every level in between. This book is typical of what a young collector would have had in Europe in the decade after World War II.

Some of the stamps date back as early as the 1920s. None seem to be very valuable or of great collector interest.

That is, there were lots of these stamps printed, lots of mail was sent using them and they are not hard-to-find stamps. The perfect thing for a young boy to collect, as a colorful group could be quickly built and enjoyed.

Our research indicates the book contains no individual stamps of great value. Most are easily found and trade in large quantities for very little money. Fifty or 100 of such average foreign stamps can be purchased today from retail sources for less than $10.

On its best day, the book might be worth $40 or $50, if a buyer can be found.

That being said, it is always a good idea to have expert eyes take a look at any multiple object collection such as this -- be it stamps, coins, postcards, buttons or marbles.

It is likely that all of the stamps will be common. However, there's always the chance to "catch lightning in a bottle" and have a very valuable item along with the mundane pieces.

As an antique dealer friend once said, "You never know until you look." And, if you don't know what to look for, you should find someone -- a collector or dealer -- who can help.

Q. This table lamp belonged to either my grandmother or my great-grandmother -- the family history is a bit hazy. There is no mark at all, anywhere. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of damage to the leaded glass shade. Would a lamp like this still have value? -- Bernice in Pasco

A. It's not surprising that the lamp has no marks. Most of the pieces made by the Mosaic Shade Company of Chicago aren't marked. But the firm's styles and patterns are well-known to lamp dealers and collectors.

Not a lot is known about this small, regional electric lamp maker. They were headquartered in Chicago in the early part of the 20th century. Mosaic was most likely in business by about 1900; city directories of Chicago list the company between 1905 and 1914.

Along with many other small makers, Mosaic saw the great success Louis C. Tiffany had with his patented copper foil and glass lampshades. When Tiffany's patent expired in 1903, competition came out of the woodwork.

Firms including Mosaic, John Morgan & Sons, Riviere Studios and Unique Art Glass & Metal Company started making lamps that were less expensive than Tiffany's.

They aimed for the middle of the market. Their lamps were affordable, where a Tiffany could cost $500 or more. Of course, the quality of these lamps was not at Tiffany's level, but they sold for as little as $15.

Today, Tiffany lamps can sell for millions, while the best of Mosaic's table lamps will bring several thousand dollars.

This lamp has serious condition problems. While the bronze base is in excellent shape, the original metal cap and finial -- the top parts that attach the shade to the base -- are missing. And there is dreadful damage to the glass shade. Many of the pieces are cracked, and some have holes where glass has broken away.

Given the extent of damage, our value is based primarily on the base. This lamp would be fairly priced at $200 to $300.

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