Refresher Course

Proper hinging techniques can prevent damage to stamps

By Janet Klug

If you have ever purchased a collection or part of a collection on album pages, you have undoubtedly run into a variety of creative hinging methods.

Figure 1. The back of a stamp with the hinge properly applied and ready for mounting on the album page. Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 2. The stamp properly placed on the album page with a scant amount of moisture added to the bottom third of the hinge. Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 3. The stamp properly hinged and resting lightly on the album page among other stamps previously mounted. Click on image to enlarge.

When stamps have not been properly hinged to the album page, it makes transferring them to your own albums quite challenging, especially if you hope to accomplish the process without damaging the stamps.

In recent months, I have come across stamps that were hinged upside down. In another instance, all of the stamps were attached with hinges that had been formed into tubes so that they were stuck solidly on the page without any chance of movement.

In both of these cases, removing the stamps from the pages was frustratingly time consuming and netted a few stamps damaged in the process.

A hinge is called a hinge for a good reason. When done properly, the stamp is supposed to move back and forth on its top side just as a door opens and shuts on its hinges.

This might seem counter intuitive. Why would anyone want their stamps to flop up and down on a hinge?

There are many good reasons for doing this, but the most important one is that a properly hinged stamp does not get stuck on the page when the album is correctly stored in an upright position and in an environment with reasonably controlled humidity.

A stamp hinge is a piece of glassine paper gummed on one side. Most hinges today come prefolded, with one third of the hinge folded over onto the longer side, gum side out. The short end is affixed to the back of the top of the stamp. The long end is affixed to the album page.

Many hinges that were produced from about the 1930s through about the 1960s were truly peelable. They held the stamps securely on the album pages, but they could be easily removed without damaging the stamp or the album page when the time came.

Today's hinges are not as good as those earlier peelable hinges, but careful use of them still makes hinging a viable option for collectors who don't want to spend a lot of money on mounts.

Hinges are fine for used stamps that no longer have any gum on their backs. Because most hinges today are not peelable, used stamps can easily be soaked to remove old hinges without doing any damage to the stamp.

There are some things to consider before using a hinge on an unused stamp that still has its original gum.

Applying a hinge to a mint never-hinged stamp automatically changes its condition to unused, hinged. This can greatly affect the resale value of the stamp.

Some collectors shudder at the thought of using a hinge on a previously mint never-hinged stamp, even those valued at the catalog value minimum.

Others, reasoning that such stamps will never be worth much anyway, have no qualms about hinging such a stamp.

Applying a hinge to an unused stamp that has already been hinged or has disturbed gum is less of a problem. Just remember that you will not be able to soak the stamp to remove the old hinge without removing the stamp's gum as well.

Even though they are far from perfect, hinges have some undeniable advantages. They are inexpensive. You can mount a thousand stamps for a few dollars worth of hinges, and one size fits all stamps. Hinges do not add a lot of extra bulk to albums. With practice (and luck) you can remove a stamp from an album page without doing damage to either.

I'm sure every collector has their own method of hinging stamps that they have developed over time. This is the multi-step process that works for me:

Using tongs, grasp the stamp you want to hinge. Identify the top of the stamp.

Flip the stamp over and put it face down on a clean, solid surface.

Pick up the hinge and make certain you have only one. They frequently nest together, an annoying characteristic of some particular brands.

Apply a very small amount of moisture to the long cut edge of the small end of the hinge. Do not apply moisture to the entire flap. Concentrating the moisture into a small area will improve the peelablity of the hinge.

Apply the short end of the hinge to the top of the stamp as shown in Figure 1, but do not allow any part of the hinge to peek out over the top of the stamp when viewed from the front.

Use the blunt end of the tongs to press down on the hinge for a second or two.

Using tongs, lift the stamp that now has a hinge on the back of it and apply a scant amount of moisture to the bottom third of the hinge.

Next, use tongs to place the stamp onto the album page as shown in Figure 2.

Flip the stamp up and use the blunt end of the tongs and lightly press the hinge onto the page.

Hold the stamp up and away from the page for a second or two. This will assure that the stamp does not become stuck to the album page if any of the gum from the hinge bled outward. Then allow the stamp to rest lightly against the album page as shown in Figure 3.

These techniques take some practice, but once the skill is acquired, it takes less than 10 seconds to hinge a stamp onto an album page.

I have a final piece of advice about hinging that will keep you from ruining your stamps and albums. If you find you have placed the hinge in the wrong place in the album and want to remove it, wait 20 minutes for the hinge to dry completely. Then remove it slowly using your tongs.

If the hinge is stuck fast to either the album page or the stamp, use a clean, soft artist's paintbrush to apply a tiny amount of water to the hinge. Allow the drop of water about a minute to soften the gum and then try again using tongs.

A future Refresher Course will discuss stamp mounts, the primary alternative to hinges.