Refresher Course

Organize and protect your cover collection for more enjoyment

By Janet Klug

Many stamp collectors also collect covers, which are envelopes, postcards or postal stationery, usually examples that have been postally prepared or mailed.

Figure 1. Mismatched covers held on stock pages in a ring binder: protected, but not organized.
Figure 2. A two-page spread from a Cincinnati cover collection organized chronologically by year date.
Figure 3. Four styles of cover albums.

Covers can be stampless, first-day covers, airmail, illustrated advertising covers, hometown covers, military and a nearly endless parade of other special interests. Organizing those covers so they are protected and can be enjoyed is a challenge. You cannot buy preprinted albums for covers like those available for stamps.

Some collectors put covers in a shoe box or other type of container. Although the covers may be in glassines or Mylar sleeves to help protect them, this is not the ideal storage for cover collections.

Covers can be bent or torn when stored this way, and boxes full of covers sometimes get dropped when being removed from a shelf or cupboard. Any organization is lost and a few covers are likely to emerge with bent corners.

The good news is that there are many binder and page combinations that work beautifully for covers. However, to really enjoy thumbing through a cover collection, it should be organized first. Depending on how many covers you have and their current state of organization or disarray, bringing order to the assembled covers could take a few days, a few weeks or several months.

Figure 1 illustrates mismatched covers held on stock pages in a ring binder. While the covers are safe and secure in this picture, finding a particular cover consumes hours of time wasted when there are several binders full of dissimilar items having no relationship to one another.

If your covers span many countries, time periods or topics, then before you start shoving material into albums you need to think about what you would like the collection to be when it grows up.

Write down all of the categories of covers you have assembled. Are there defining reasons why you acquired them? Perhaps you only collect cacheted FDCs created by a single cachet artist. That is an easy collection to organize. You would probably begin with the first cachet done by the cachetmaker and then proceed in a chronological order by date or Scott number from there. That is a fun way to arrange the collection because when it is completely organized you can see a progression in the artistic style and ability of the cachetmaker.

A collection of FDCs for a single stamp or stamp series might contain many different cachetmakers’ works. That is still a fairly easy collection to organize, but this time you have more options. You can group together covers by how the cachet was made on the envelope, such as lithography, handdrawn/handpainted, thermography, intaglio, silk screened, mixed media and so on. Or you might choose to organize the covers by theme, or alphabetically by cachetmaker. How would you like to view the collection when you open the album?

A hometown collection can be arranged in a number of different ways. Chronological arrangement gives you the opportunity to appreciate the evolution of the place from its founding right up to now. Figure 2 shows a two-page spread of a Cincinnati cover collection organized chronologically by year date. In addition to showing the evolution of the city, one can also see the evolution of the stamps that were issued over time and handwriting styles as well as trends in illustration.

There are other ways to organize a hometown collection, too. A collection organized by the types of postmark usually ends up being chronological by date, but things can get complicated in a large city with many post offices, each of which might use different types of machine or hand cancels at any given time. Another possibility is to organize by types of mail, such as mail carried by train, steamboat or air.

You might choose to focus on the business and industry of a particular city and organize your covers by the business correspondence generated by them. Hotels, liveries, dry goods stores and manufacturers all used return addresses in the upper left corner of the envelope. These are called corner cards. Fancier envelopes might have illustrated advertisements. Those can be organized by business or theme.

A collection that is based upon a topic might have covers from all over the world. This type of collection could include first-day covers, covers with pictorial postmarks, covers with stamps showing the topic and illustrated advertising covers that have a connection to the topic. While organizing by these cover types might seem logical, it would be more fun to arrange a collection to show a connection and progression of the topic. Using cats as an example, you could begin by sorting large wild cats from domestic kitties, and then make additional categories for habitats, symbolic uses of cats, cats at play and so on.

A worldwide collection becomes much more challenging to organize in a meaningful way. Sorting all the covers by continent might be a good first step, followed by a second sort by country. As you progress, you may find additional methods to organize the collection that suits you and your style of collecting.

Once you have the organization in check, where are you going to put the covers?

There are many choices of loose-leaf binders that hold special pages designed specifically for covers. Your favorite supply dealer should be able to show you many different kinds of albums.

Figure 3 shows four different styles of cover albums. The largest (top center) is available with many page formulations designed to hold oversized or odd-sized covers. Below that is an album designed to hold the longer and wider sizes of postal stationery or business correspondence. At the far left is an album that will hold standard No. 6¾-size envelopes, the size of most cacheted FDCs, with two covers on each side of every page. This is also a good size for picture postcards. On the far right is a flip-style album.

All of these albums are good homes for your cover collection. Now you just need to get organizing. You will enjoy the process, and once the project is completed, turning the pages and seeing the result of your work will be a pleasure.