Refresher Course

Stamp album quandary: hinges, mounts or something else

By Janet Klug

Starting a stamp collection involves some decisions. What should I collect? Shall it be a country, a topic, postal history — or everything? Then, you need to decide how to save the collection and enjoy it.

Figure 1. A stamp hinge properly affixed to a postage stamp.
Figure. 2. The proper way to hinge a stamp on an album page.
Figure 3. A stamp inserted into a mount with an open top.
Figure 4. A stamp placed inside a split-back stamp mount.A Belgian pane of five stamps from 2009 honoring the Catholic missionary Father Damien.

Will you use albums, stock books, envelopes, boxes, file folders or some other method?

The choice is yours to make, but there are best practices that all collectors should recognize and abide by.

Most collectors will use stamp albums to house all or parts of their collections.

A collector might start with one album that attempts to contain all the stamp-issuing countries in the world. Because of the millions of stamps that exist, this collection morphs into many albums over time.

Some collectors concentrate on a single country, which also can grow into many stamp albums.

After the album decision has been made, you have to decide whether to use stamp hinges, stamp mounts or a combination of both to affix the stamps to the album pages without damaging them.

I have had the misfortune of seeing collections with stamps pasted in using glue or the gum on the back of the stamp.

In either circumstance, the gum is destroyed, and the stamp is impossible to remove without also damaging the album page.

Cellophane tape has been used with tragic consequences. Over time, the tape discolors, turns sticky and greasy and eventually fails, leaving behind brown, greasy stains on the stamps as well as the album pages.

Old-fashioned photo corners also have been used to mount stamps or souvenir sheets. Invariably, those mount corners damage perforations and leave creases in the corners of the sheets.

I thought I had seen it all, and then someone showed me an album with every stamp stapled into place. Needless to say, opening the album and turning the pages was a challenge as the staples hooked themselves onto one another. And, every stamp was ruined.

Stamp hinges are little pieces of glassine paper that are gummed on one side. Most hinges today come prefolded so that one-third of the hinge is folded with the gummed side out.

To affix the hinge to the stamp, lightly moisten the short end of the hinge and affix it to the back of the stamp, near the top, just below the perforations. Figure 1 shows a hinge properly affixed to a stamp.

Give the hinge a few seconds to dry on the stamp, then lightly moisten the bottom half of the hinge and place the stamp where you want it on the album page.

Next, use stamp tongs to lift the stamp up and away from the page and hold it there for a few seconds until the hinge is dry. This simple trick will save the stamp from becoming firmly stuck to the album page because of moisture seepage.

Figure 2 shows a stamp properly hinged on the album page. Notice that the stamp can flip up and down on its hinge.

There are pros and cons to using hinges. The pros: Hinges are inexpensive, easy to use, and don't add a lot of bulk to a stamp album. The cons: Using a stamp hinge on a mint stamp will disturb the gum, and today's hinges are no longer uniformly easily removed from the stamp or the album page, as was the case 20 years ago.

If you want to remove a hinged stamp from an album page, use tongs to grasp the stamp as close to the top as you can. Pull gently but firmly downward. Some of the hinge is likely to remain on the page.

Place the stamp you just removed face down on a paper towel. With a small, clean artist's paintbrush very lightly paint with water the part of the hinge that is affixed to the stamp.

Wait several seconds for the hinge's gum to soften, and you should be able to remove the hinge by peeling it off with the tongs. If this doesn't work the first time, try again.

Because currently available stamp hinges are not easily peelable without causing damage, some collectors have taken to using a popular brand of removable tape that holds paper securely enough and makes it easier to remove or reposition stamps. However, be warned that hidden in the description of this product is the phrase "designed for temporary adhesion," which means that it is probably not appropriate for long-term use in a postage stamp collection.

Stamp mounts are made from thin archival-quality polyester material, usually Mylar or Melinex. The material is made into strips that vary in sizes to accommodate a variety of stamp shapes and sizes.

Some mounts consist of two long strips sealed at the bottom. To start, measure the stamp and then cut the mount to the correct width, leaving a little space on both sides in case the stamp should shift. Insert the stamp between the two strips through the open top, then lightly moisten about a third of the back of the mount and insert it in the album.

Figure 3 shows a stamp inserted in a mount that opens at the top.

Some brands of mounts have seals at both the top and bottom of the strips. To use these, first measure and cut the mount to the right size, leaving a little space all around. The back is split and the stamp is inserted through the back. The bottom of the stamp rests against the bottom seal. The top of the split back is raised and lifted over the stamp.

Lightly moisten part of the top split back and affix to the album page.

Figure 4 shows a stamp inside a split back mount before the top of the mount has been brought over the top of the stamp.

Both types of stamp mounts are available with clear or black backs. Black backs make the colors of the stamps pop, but can draw attention to imperfections, such as thinning or damaged perforations. Clear mounts are preferred by some because they are less likely to highlight imperfections.

If cutting the mounts to size is too much work, you can purchase precut mounts in selected sizes. Check with your favorite philatelic supply dealer or look at the ads in this issue of Linn's.

As is true with hinges, stamp mounts have pros and cons. The pros: They protect stamps far better than hinges and they do not damage the gum on mint stamps. The cons: They are much more expensive, they add considerable bulk to an album, the long strips require careful cutting, and there is some waste involved.

It doesn’t have to be an either-or decision with mounting stamps in an album. You can use both hinges and mounts.

Some collectors use hinges for postally used stamps and mounts for mint stamps.

Take care when mounting stamps in an album, and they will delight you for decades to come.