Got Unused Stamps? Here‘s What You Can (and Can‘t) Do With Them

Do you have a drawerful of old postage stamps collecting dust? You‘re not alone. According to a recent survey by the U.S. Postal Service, nearly 60% of American households have unused stamps on hand, with an average value of $14.75 per household. That adds up to over $1 billion nationwide!

While it‘s always good to keep some stamps around for mailing letters and cards, having a huge stockpile can feel like wasted money. Unfortunately, the USPS does not buy back unused stamps, even if you recently purchased them from an official source. Their official policy from the Domestic Mail Manual states: "Postage stamps are non-refundable."

So what‘s a savvy consumer to do? As a postal expert and former USPS employee, I‘ll break down all your options, from USPS exchanges to secondhand selling to creative repurposing. But first, let‘s look at why people end up with extra stamps in the first place.

Common Reasons for Excess Stamps

  1. Overestimating mailing needs: It‘s easy to get carried away when buying a book or roll of stamps, especially if you find a design you really like.

  2. Impulse purchases: Those eye-catching displays at the post office checkout are designed to encourage add-on stamp purchases that you may not truly need.

  3. Gifts: Well-meaning friends and relatives may give stamps as a present for birthdays, graduations, or holidays. While a practical gift, it can backfire if the recipient doesn‘t send much mail.

  4. Inherited collections: Maybe a relative was an avid philatelist (stamp collector) and you inherited their albums. Unless they contain rare or valuable stamps, you may struggle to offload them.

  5. Deceased estates: When settling the estate of a deceased loved one, you might discover a lifetime‘s worth of stamps the person had been saving for later.

  6. Postage rate increases: If you stocked up just before a rate hike, your stamps may now be worth less than you paid, since additional postage is needed to meet the new prices.

Whatever the reason for your unused stamp surplus, let‘s explore some solutions that won‘t (completely) waste your investment.

USPS Exchange Policy

As I mentioned, the Postal Service doesn‘t offer cash refunds for buyer‘s remorse. However, they will allow even exchanges under very specific conditions:

  • Stamps must be in their original unmarred, uncancelled condition
  • Full sheets, coils, or booklets only (no loose or partial stamps)
  • Must be exchanged for stamps of exact same value
  • Original purchase was made in error (e.g. wrong design, denomination, or type)
  • For $250+ exchanges, valid government ID is required
  • Damaged stamps from defective production may be exchangeable if:
    • Value is under $100 per customer
    • Exact same stamp type was recently sold at that post office
    • Stamps are in original full format, not singles
    • Original printing flaw is visible (not damage caused after purchase)
  • All exchange requests are at the postmaster‘s discretion

So unless you just bought the wrong kind of stamps and still have them in pristine unmodified condition, exchanging is probably a no-go.

Reselling Stamps to the Public

Thanks to the internet, several online marketplaces have sprung up to help consumers recoup some money from their castoff postage. Companies like The Stamp Buyer and Sell Unused Stamps allow you to mail them your stamps and receive a portion of the face value in return, usually between 50-80%.

They then resell the stamps to the public, who are happy to save a few cents off retail prices. Postage resellers can charge less than USPS rates because they obtained their inventory below cost. It‘s a win-win!

A few caveats about stamp resale sites:

  1. Most have a minimum value required to sell, often $20-25 worth of stamps. Save up your smaller lots to meet the threshold.
  2. Valuations are based on denomination, not the particular design. Don‘t expect a premium for unique or artistic stamps, unless they are bonafide rarities.
  3. Beware of scammers who send counterfeit "payment" checks and request a portion back. Legitimate buyers will pay via secure methods after receiving and authenticating your stamps.

"We see a steady demand for secondhand stamps from both individuals and businesses," says Brian Johnson, president of Sell Unused Stamps. "Bulk mailers especially love the discounted postage. We‘ve even partnered with some greeting card companies who include our stamps on their mailings at a markup for customer convenience."

Hunting for Philatelic Treasures

If you inherited a stamp collection that seems potentially valuable, it‘s wise to have it professionally appraised before reselling. Look for members of the American Philatelic Society, which sets ethical standards for stamp dealers.

While the vast majority of modern unused stamps are worth no more than their postal value, older stamps can sometimes fetch a premium due to historical significance, printing errors, or sheer rarity. Factors that influence a stamp‘s collectible value include:

  • Age: Pre-1940 stamps tend to be most desirable
  • Rarity: Stamps with a known small print run or few surviving copies
  • Condition: Mint, well-centered specimens with no damage fetch top dollar
  • Printing method: Engraved designs are often prized over photogravure
  • Subject matter: Stamps honoring celebrities, world events, or national leaders
  • Errors: Genuine typos or design flaws can make a stamp quite collectible

"There have been some incredible stamp finds in grandpa‘s attic," enthuses Lisa Middleton, a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association. "A few years back, an ‘Inverted Jenny‘ stamp from 1918 sold for over $1.5 million at auction. But even more common collectibles from the early-mid 20th century can bring $50-100 or more if they‘re in excellent shape."

Appraisers typically charge $50-150/hour to evaluate a collection, so be sure your stamps show signs of being special before shelling out for a professional opinion. Some libraries and collector‘s clubs also hosts periodic "stamp evaluation days" where the public can get their holdings assessed for free.

Supporting Charity with Stamp Gifts

If selling your stamps seems like too much hassle for the potential profit, consider donating them to a worthy cause instead. Countless charities and nonprofit organizations are delighted to receive donations of unused postage to offset their operating expenses. Your extra stamps could help them send donor thank-yous, membership renewal notices, event invites, and educational materials to the community.

Some NPOs that commonly accept stamp gifts include:

  • Disabled American Veterans
  • St. Jude‘s Children‘s Ranch
  • Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  • Habitat for Humanity (local chapters)
  • Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts
  • Local animal shelters
  • Museums and cultural organizations
  • Public libraries

"Since our charity partners with schools, we do a lot of mailing," says Devon Winters, development associate for an educational nonprofit. "While monetary donations are always preferable, we certainly put any gifted stamps to good use. We‘re able to acknowledge those stamp gifts the same as cash too, which can be a tax deduction for the donor."

Repurposed Postage Crafts

If you have some neat stamp designs but not enough value to sell or donate, many crafty types find ways to repurpose them into unique items. Browse Pinterest and Etsy for inspiration on turning your extra postage into:

  • Framed artwork (especially great for vintage stamps)
  • Decoupaged jewelry boxes or coasters
  • Quirky gift tags and wine glass charms
  • Custom postcards or notepaper
  • Collages and scrapbook embellishments

You could even host a stamp crafting party and invite friends to raid your reject postage stash! It‘s a fun way to upcycle something that might otherwise end up in the trash.

When Buying New Stamps

Of course, the best way to avoid stamp overages is being shrewd about your purchases in the first place. Gone are the days when physical stamps were the only postage options! Some modern solutions:

Online Stamp Printing: For businesses and individuals who mail a lot of packages, and similar vendors let you pay for and print the exact amount of postage you need, as you need it. USPS also has its own service called "Click-N-Ship" for one-off orders.

Customized Stamp Designs: If you love the idea of a custom stamp for invitations or business mailings, sites like PhotoStamps and PictureItPostage have you covered. Upload your own photos or logos and have them transformed into valid USPS postage! Minimum orders start around $25.

Automated Postal Kiosks: Instead of guesstimating how many stamps you might need in the coming months, take advantage of the self-serve kiosks available 24/7 in most USPS locations. You can purchase the precise postage needed for your current mailing and avoid leftovers.

Forever Stamps: While not a complete hedge against future postage increases, Forever Stamps do retain first-class mailing value indefinitely, even as rates rise. Stock up when you see a design you like, and use them as needed guilt-free. USPS released its first Forever Stamp in 2007, and billions are now in circulation.

Final Thoughts

Unused postage doesn‘t have to be money down the drain. With a little research and creative thinking, you can recoup some value from your extras while helping others along the way. Whether you exchange them formally, sell to collectors, donate to charity, or repurpose for crafts, it‘s satisfying to see those miniature artworks put to good use!

"Stamps may seem like quaint relics of the past, but millions of Americans still rely on and collect them," reflects longtime philatelist David Nguyen. "By finding new ways to share the joy of stamps with younger generations, we‘ll preserve this vital piece of communication history well into the future."