Refresher Course

Stop bad things from happening to your good stamp collection

By Janet Klug

"Stamps are small pieces of paper, and therefore, a collection of stamps does not take up much room."

Figure 1. Stacks of mint U.S. stamps that spent too much time in the basement.
Figure 2. Part of an album page where stamps were affixed using cellophane tape — a very bad idea. The tape adhesive migrates through the stamps and damages them.

Those of us who have been collecting for more than a few years laugh at that statement.

The truth is that a stamp collection has the capacity to grow to fit whatever space is allotted to it. Albums, stock books, supplies, catalogs, reference books and shoe boxes full of stuff multiply and creep into other rooms in the dark of night.

Your quick fix might be to put some of the overflow on shelves in the basement. This is not a good idea. Most basements are more humid than the upstairs living areas of the house. Even just a few percentage points of humidity can mean the difference between proper stamp storage and a disaster waiting to happen.

Figure 1 shows some mint United States stamps that spent too much time in a basement. The combination of humidity and stamp adhesive melded the plate blocks into solid bricks that were all firmly stuck inside glassine envelopes.

The solution is to keep stamps and covers out of damp basements and attics. Stamps are best stored in the same sort of temperature and humidity level enjoyed by human beings.

If you have a spare closet in your stamp room, perhaps you can re-purpose that into dedicated storage for your collection. Installing a steel shelving unit is an inexpensive solution and is something that you could probably do yourself. Since the unit will be behind the closed closet door, it only needs to be functional, not fancy. The big plus will be that your materials will be better organized and easier to find and enjoy.

Have you ever been happily hinging stamps into one of your albums when you unexpectedly ran out of stamp hinges?

You spot a roll of cellophane tape nearby. You reach for it and begin pulling little strips of tape from the roll. You bend one in half and put part of it on the stamp and the other part in the album. You flip the stamp up and down. It works. You are happy. It is easier and cheaper to buy a roll of cellophane tape than it is to buy a packet of hinges – but it most certainly is not a good solution when you run out of hinges.

Figure 2 illustrates a part of an album page on which stamps were affixed using cellophane tape.

Over time, the adhesive on cellophane tape turns brown and greasy. That discolors the stamps, removing their value as collectibles.

Eventually, the tape loses its stickiness and the stained stamps fall off the album pages, leaving only greasy brown spots behind to remind you that you once had a nice stamp collection, but now it is ruined.

Here is the solution. If you use hinges to mount your stamps, buy packs of them in quantity – five or 10 packs at a time. Attach a note to the last pack in the stack to remind yourself it is time to reorder. Linn's readers can easily obtain stamp hinges and other hobby supplies from advertisers in each issue.

It is a good idea to have a spare empty stock book handy for occasions when you do run out of hinges. A stock book has pages with horizontal strips of paper or plastic, behind which you can insert stamps. The strips hold the stamps without requiring a hinge or a mount. The stamps in the stock book will be safe until you get the proper hinges or mounts for your album.

It is handy to have a few stock books that are not already dedicated for specific purposes. Put new additions for your collection directly into a stock book instead of leaving them on top of your desk, where they can intermingle with other papers and get lost, damaged or thrown away. When you are ready to put the new stamps into albums, you will know where they are, and you won't have to spend hours in frustration looking for them.

A pair of stamp tongs is an essential tool for anyone who collects stamps. Tongs help keep stamps free from any dirt or oil that your hands could transfer to the stamps. That kind of soil might not show up immediately, but over time, a little dirt or oil from your skin will leave discoloration on stamps that you touch.

Using tongs is strongly recommended. It takes a little practice, but eventually you will find that the tongs become an extension of your fingers and you can actually work faster with them than without them.

The problem with tongs is that they are easily lost. Sometimes they fall between the cushions on your sofa or easy chair. Other times tongs hide in a stack of papers or get closed up inside a volume of Scott catalogue.

There is nothing more frustrating than getting all set to work on your collection and being unable to find your tongs. The missing tongs problem has caused me to be the owner of more than a dozen stamp tongs.

After losing tongs, buying new tongs, then finding the lost tongs, then repeating the entire process, I have finally figured out how to keep the tongs safe in one place. I put a small basket on my desk, and the dozen or so tongs live there. When I use a pair, I put it back in the basket. It has become a habit, much like switching off the light when leaving a room. The tongs go in the tong basket and are not lost – except for when they fall in between the cushions.

Do you use social media such as Facebook or Twitter?

Help promote stamp collecting by occasionally showing a picture of a stamp and telling a one-line story about it.

You can reach hundreds of people that way. One of them might say "wow, that looks like fun!"