Finding that Special Item on the Web!
Last time, I wrote about the Future of Philately and the Internet. The next few articles are dedicated to collectors and will describe helping you search more productively and zero in on what you are looking for.
Everyone knows about Google (www.google.com) and Bing (www.bing.com). Both sites rely on what are called “string searches” to find what you are looking for. Basically they are looking at your search term(s) which they compare to their database to find matching words or terms. The problem with a string search is that you end up with anything that matches, including irrelevant items that have nothing to do with what you want. It is left to you to scroll through the garbage with the hope of finding what you really want. First you need to learn how to search. Rather than trying to give you a complete lesson in a short article I want to direct you to a Google resource that explains how to search. It can be found at https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/134479?hl=en. Pay particular attention to the section on search operators. For example, using keywords such as “stamps dogs -rubber” will help you zero in on dogs on stamps excluding (-) most sites dealing with rubber stamps. Always try to be as precise as possible. Example, if you are searching for stamps of Russia, a search for “Russian stamps” would actually turn up www.russianstamps.com. Can you guess their specialty?
A more productive option would be to find places to search that are already specific to what you want. For topical collectors the American Topical Association (ATA) (www.americantopicalassn.org ) has a section dedicated to topical related websites. They have done some of the work for you by sorting through the maze of unrelated sites. For topics and specific countries the American Stamp Dealers Association (ASDA) (www.americanstampdealer.com) has a great listing of dealers searchable by specialty and topic. Here, you can at least narrow your search to some promising sites. Another source for new country issues are the philatelic agencies themselves. A fairly comprehensive list can be found at Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_philatelic_bureaus. In fact Wikipedia is useful as a search engine in its own right. A lot of information is located in this site.
Should you wish to do some comparison shopping there are multi-dealer sites available. These include Delcampe (www.delcampe.com ) , StampFinder (www.stampfinder.com ), and Zillions of Stamps (www.zillionsofstamps.com ) to mention a few. All have multiple dealers with a searchable database and e-commerce systems.
Have you ever considered auctions? Most of the auctions on the Internet are mail-sale, not live, although with some you can call in. There is a plethora of listings for auctions houses and much like stamp dealers, stamp auction houses come in both multi-dealer and single dealer flavors. The multi-dealer sites give you a large selection of items with rotating auction dates so you can check continuously. Multi-dealer sites include Stamp Auction Network (www.stampauctionnetwork.com ) and of course EBAY www.ebay.com ). Single dealer auction houses may limit auctions to specific dates, but the listings are usually higher end items or specialized area lots – topical and country. The larger houses include Kelleher Auctions (www.kelleherauctions.com ), Siegel Auctions www.siegelauctions.com ) and Philasearch (www.philasearch.com ).
Now, how about something you may not have considered – stamp clubs! Did you know that many local stamp clubs offer small stamp bourses on a regular basis. These can be a lot of fun and younger collectors are always welcome. While not anywhere near as big as the national stamp shows, it is more about collecting and less about business. The American Philatelic Society (www.stamps.org ) offers a list of clubs searchable by state and/or topic as does Stamp Shows (www.stampshows.com/clubs.html ) and StampFinder (listed above).
Something I have not covered is Internet safety. The Internet is full of spammers and hackers looking to trick you and get your money. When buying from a dealer, be sure they are a member of a true dealer organization such as the ASDA. You cannot just sign up, pay a fee, and become a member. True dealer organizations have a vetting process to validate the dealer. Another thing to look for is to check the web address to be sure it is secure. The address must begin with https:// not http://. The three major browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome – also display a closed padlock somewhere in the address bar. When it comes to security, pay attention before you click that link. Not only do you look for a secure link but if the link takes you to an address different than the one you expected – beware. Advertisers and hackers buy domain names similar to genuine ones, and once there, either show you links to sites you might want to visit or ask you to install or run some kind of script. The former is an adwords or link sales site where they make money when you click on a link. The latter is filled with perils from virus’ to ransomeware.
I’ve given you a lot of information in a short article. It is impossible to cover the Internet and its options, although Google and Bing are working hard at it. How you shop is up to you and your imagination. Next time we’ll discuss buying smart a little more about safety.
About the author, Bruce Drumm owns and operates a web design and hosting company, Servers, Inc® – www.servers-inc.com, dedicated to philately and e-commerce. He’s been designing sites since 1997 and has partnerships with Adobe, Google, PayPal, Microsoft, and others. As a collector, he has an understanding of philately and how to do business on the Internet.