Refresher Course

Weeding your collection of problems from mold to stacked stamps

By Janet Klug

I spent a good chunk of the day weeding the flower beds. It is sweaty, hot work, but the payback of a tidy garden filled with pretty flowers is worth it.

Figure 1. This Swiss cover has distinctive rusty colored blotches from mold, often called foxing.
Figure 2. The back of this stamp is dotted with black powdery spots characteristic of mildew.
Figure 3. Not recommended: hinging stacks of stamps so they will overlap each other.
Figure 4. Books about different stamp forgeries.

As I yanked the weeds it dawned on me that weeding is a useful activity in stamp collecting, too.

A periodic examination of every page in your albums is one of the best practices stamp collectors can adopt.

Not all of the albums have to be examined at the same time. Spread out the pleasant task of looking at your stamps over weeks or months.

Pulling the albums off the shelves and turning each page gives you the opportunity to check for insects or mold. Just as a gardener looks for insects or mold in the flower beds, a stamp collector should be just as vigilant to eliminate them from the collection as soon as they are spotted.

Mold and mildew can appear on album pages that are improperly stored in humid conditions, as might be found in a basement. Damage from mold is frequently called foxing and is identified by distinctive rusty colored blotches.

Foxing is shown on a Swiss cover in Figure 1.

Mildew is usually characterized by powdery black spots, as shown on the back of a stamp in Figure 2.

Both mold and mildew can spread if left unchecked. If you spot mold or mildew on album pages, the best practice is to remove those pages from the album. Remove the stamps from the pages and isolate them in a stock book stored away from the rest of the collection. Check the stamps periodically for infection. If there is sign of mold or mildew on easily replaced stamps, discard the infected ones and replace them. It is best to take rare or expensive stamps that have become infected to a paper conservator.

Gardeners eliminate destructive insects from their garden. Stamp collectors should do that as well.

A stamp collection is an attractive feast for silverfish, roaches, termites and other paper-chomping bugs. Although insect infestations can happen anywhere, careful stamp collectors can minimize the possibility by keeping food well away from a collection. That means no eating while mounting stamps in an album. Food crumbs attract insects. You may not see them, but the insects will find crumbs and eat them as appetizers and follow up with a stamp or two for the main course.

Insect damage is easily spotted. Ragged holes and specks of insect dirt remain as insects chew their way through your albums. If you have this kind of damage, first eliminate the insects. You may need to call a professional exterminator.

Then clean out the albums of all the damaged pages and stamps. Use an artist's soft paintbrush to brush away any remaining specks and check the binding of the album very carefully for insect eggs. Finish by putting sticky baited insect traps near the stamp collection and other paper collectibles you may have and check them frequently to see if you have really controlled the insect infestation.

Weeding your stamp collection of potential hazards is a much easier task than cleaning up mold or insects. If you have the kind of album where stamps are mounted on both sides of a page, watch for stamps that get hooked together. If this is a persistent problem you can buy glassine interleaving for most albums, a purchase you can make from your favorite hobby supply dealer.

Reaffix any mounts or hinged stamps that have come loose from the pages. If using hinges, remember the proper method of hinging. The short one-third of the hinge should be moistened lightly and affixed to the top back of the stamp just below the perforations. The long two-thirds of the hinge should be moistened lightly, but only at the bottom third. This gets attached to the album page.

Use your tongs to gently lift the mounted stamp up and away from the album page and hold it there for a few seconds so any moisture that could seep out from the hinge evaporates. This reduces the risk of the stamp sticking to the album page.

Sometimes buying a collection that is contained in an album or on album pages uncovers some ill-advised practices.

One such problem is stamps hinged in a stack so that they slightly overlap one another. A stack of hinged French stamps is shown in Figure 3.

Presumably, this is a method of mounting that allows varieties and shades to be kept together. It is not recommended.

Stamps can become stuck together, ink can rub off from one stamp to another, corners can become bent, and all sorts of other problems occur. Furthermore, what is the point? If stamps are stacked one on top of the other, you can not see the varieties or the shades or enjoy the attractive qualities of stamps that are beautifully arranged in an album.

Check for damaged stamps that could be replaced easily with stamps in better condition. Put those stamps on your want list. Replace the damaged stamps just as a gardener would pull up a plant that is struggling and switch it with a healthy specimen.

Have you ever noticed footnotes in Scott catalogs that refer to stamps that have known forgeries? Pay attention to these heads-up statements. You can learn a lot about the stamps in your collection if you pick a few stamps that could be forgeries and read as much about them as you can.

There are many resources that will help you learn.

Album Weeds by Robert B. Earee did a fine job of describing the differences between genuine and forged worldwide classic stamps. The Serrane Guide by Fernand Serrane did the same, but with better illustrations.

You can also check specialized works for single countries or issues. Finding these publications has gotten easier. You can search a union catalog listing all of the books, journals, and catalogs held by seven major philatelic libraries at www.stamplibrary.org. Click "Search our Catalog" and the Union Library Search will appear. There are links to instruct you on how to use the union catalog in the box at the right of the screen. Some books about forgeries are shown in Figure 4.

Care for your collection as a horticulturist would tend the plants in a garden. Careful collection practices bring beauty to a collection that will delight you and those with whom you share. Additionally, good stewardship helps retain the value of the collection.