Refresher Course

Basic collecting tools provide protection

By Michael Baadke

Got stamps?

Figure 1. Stamp tongs allow you to handle stamps without touching them directly. Tongs are made for the stamp collecting hobby and should not be confused with tweezers.
 
Figure 2. Mint or used stamps can be organized and protected in stock books, such as the two shown together at left, or individual stock pages, such as the example at right.
 
Figure 3. Glassine envelopes also provide protection, but the thin envelope material can crease under pressure.
 
Figure 4. Magnifiers help collectors spot defects in stamps. They also help you to look more closely at design details.

Now what are you going to do with them?

Taking care of a stamp collection is at least as important as choosing, buying or trading for the stamps you want to collect.

There are some basic tools that stamp collectors use to help reduce the chance that their stamps will be harmed. These same tools can also make it easier for you to enjoy your collection.

It is very easy to damage stamps. Damaged stamps don't look good, and damaged stamps don't have much value.

If there is a No. 1 rule in stamp collecting, it is: Take care of your stamps.

We've chosen to collect one of the most fragile items possible.

If we collected china plates with pictures painted on them, we could at least hold the plate in our hands, as long as we were careful.

That's not a good idea with most postage stamps.

Even if you carefully wash your hands before you start enjoying your stamps, your hands still have a residue of skin oil that can stain the front of your stamp and leave fingerprints on the gum.

Because stamps are so small and so thin, it is also possible to crease a stamp if you try to pick it up with your fingers.

The best way to handle stamps without touching them is by using stamp tongs.

In Figure 1 you can see a collector picking up a single stamp using a pair of tongs.

Stamp tongs look a lot like the tweezers that people use for cosmetic reasons or to remove splinters.

Collectors should never use tweezers as stamp tongs, however, because tweezers can injure stamps.

Tweezers have a fine edge and tight grasp to make plucking a splinter easy. That same edge can cut and crease stamp paper with ease.

Stamp tongs are different from tweezers in that they have rounded edges so stamps can be grasped firmly without damaging them.

Stamp tongs come with several different tips and in a couple of different lengths. It seems that every collector has a different preference.

Stamp tongs sell from about $3 to $7 for basic nickel-plated models, a little more for gold-plated versions (good for those who may have a skin sensitivity to the nickel finish).

With your tongs in your hand, you're ready to put your stamps into a safe place for storage.

Before you invest a lot of money in stamp albums and supplemental album pages, you may wish to purchase a stock book or stock pages to keep your stamps protected and organized.

Each page in a stock book has horizontal strips of plastic, glassine or manila paper attached to form convenient pockets for your stamps.

Two stock books of different sizes are shown together at left in Figure 2.

The larger book with black pages is holding mint (unused) stamps, while the smaller book with white pages is holding postally used stamps.

All of the stamps in the stock books are held firmly in place, yet they can be easily moved from one location to another as your collection grows and evolves.

The pages are bound into the books, and many stock books have protective leaves between the pages to cushion the stamps and keep them separate from stamps on the opposite page when the stock book is closed.

The prices of stock books vary considerably, depending upon the material, workmanship and number of pages.

Simple manila stock books with a dozen or so pages can be found for less than $10. Though small, these books will hold hundreds of stamps.

Larger books with more pages, transparent sleeves, padded covers and so on can cost $20, $30, $40 or more.

At right in Figure 2 is an inexpensive manila loose-leaf stock page.

Stock pages use the same principle as stock books to hold and protect your stamps, but the loose pages can be stored in a three-ring binder.

A manila stock page such as the one shown costs about 25¢ to 35¢.

Sheets made of vinyl are more costly but allow you to view the entire stamp while it is being stored.

Glassine envelopes, such as those shown in Figure 3, are made of a semitransparent paper that protects stamps from grime and handling.

The thin material of the envelopes doesn't protect the stamps from creasing, though, so stamps stored in glassines also need to be stored within a sturdy container.

There are a lot of different uses for glassines. They can hold stamps after soaking and drying until the collector has an opportunity to sort them and put them into a stock book or album.

Glassines are also useful for holding blocks of stamps, as shown in the illustration.

A magnifying glass rounds out the basic shopping list for the new collector.

Stamp collectors rely upon magnifiers to see important details in stamp designs and to detect faults in stamps they are examining.

Though a magnifier doesn't protect your stamps from damage, it can protect you from buying a damaged stamp.

Three very basic magnifiers are shown in Figure 4. The handheld magnifier at left has two-power (2x) magnification, meaning objects viewed through the lens appear two times as large. It also has a small lens insert near the handle that has more powerful magnification.

The magnifier in the center of the illustration has a folding lens so it can be easily carried in the pocket. The 6x magnification provides a closer look at smaller details.

The object at right in Figure 4 is known as a loupe. It has a fixed focal point and rests upon the stamp on a flat level surface. The example in the illustration has a magnification of 8x.

As collectors become more specialized in their needs, they may decide to purchase more powerful and more precise lenses. It is possible to spend hundreds of dollars on sophisticated devices that magnify, illuminate and measure with extreme accuracy.

Stamp tongs, stock books and pages, and glassine envelopes are all specially made for stamp collectors, and should be purchased from stamp shops or stamp supply dealers.

Similar products manufactured for other purposes may contain chemicals or have other characteristics that can damage stamps with which they come into contact.

Each week in the pages of Linn's Stamp News you'll find advertisements for numerous stamp hobby suppliers offering the tools you need to enjoy and protect your collection.