Refresher Course

Starting out with hobby 'dos and don'ts'

By Michael Baadke

Stamp collecting is known as a hobby where you can collect any way that you like and follow any interest that you have. Collectors throughout the world enjoy the fact that you can create a collection based on whatever you like about stamps.

Figure 1. Reading about the stamp hobby is the best way to learn what you need to know to build your collection.
 
Figure 2. Stamps should always be separated by hand, not cut by scissors. The neat and clean-cut edges of this perforated stamp are actually considered damaged.
 
Figure 3. Stamp tongs keep your fingers off the stamp, thereby reducing the chance for damage.

There are few hard and fast rules about collecting, but there are a number of "dos" and "don'ts" that will help you along as you learn about the hobby.

I've collected a few here for you to consider. Because I like to encourage collectors rather than discourage them, I've tried to limit the "don'ts" and emphasize the "dos."

Some of these things you may already know, but that's why the column is named Refresher Course.

DO look at your stamps.

That might seem like an unusual statement to make to stamp collectors, but I think it's an important one.

Many collectors simply buy stamps and put them away in an album or stock book, glancing at them now and again as they page through their collection.

How often do you actually take a long look at your stamps?

Some of the most interesting details of stamps go unnoticed by many collectors, and some of the most unusual varieties are discovered by those who examine their stamps.

By looking at your stamps with a magnifier of 8-power or greater you'll see characteristics of printing that you won't notice with a naked-eye glance.

By comparing similar stamps, you'll see how shifts in color can cause two stamps of the same issue to appear to have different shades.

You may discover a double transfer on a stamp printed by intaglio (engraving), or a startling shift in the design of a combination press issue.

What does all this mean? How do you find out more?

DO read about stamps.

You're off to a great start by reading Linn's Stamp News. That way you'll learn about new issues, modern varieties, postal history, collecting ideas and much more every single week. You can learn what other collectors have to say, and you have access to stamp dealers and suppliers from around the world.

But keep going. I think every collector should sit down with the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue and the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and read all the pages of introductory material. It's one of the best places to learn what you need to know about the stamps you collect.

Part of the Scott catalog introduction is shown in Figure 1.

Other reference works will help you to continue that education. Stamp collectors increase their understanding and enjoyment of the hobby by learning what has been discovered in the past, and then studying their stamps to make their own discoveries.

Linn's Stamp News publishes many useful reference books, including the annual Linn's U.S. Stamp Yearbook. The 1996 edition is shown in Figure 1. The 1997 edition, describing all of last year's stamps in outstanding detail, will be available this spring.

More information about Linn's books and ordering details can be found at www.linns.com/books/default.asp

And how can you learn about other books that are available?

DO consider joining a stamp club.

Let's start with a biggie, the American Philatelic Society.

The APS is simply an international club of stamp collectors. Though most of its members are from the United States, many live in other countries around the world.

The APS offers a number of publications for sale, and membership includes the monthly magazine, American Philatelist, filled with feature articles about all areas of the stamp hobby.

The APS also has the most extensive public-access philatelic library in the United States, offering books, journals, auction catalogs and other materials that can be loaned to members by mail.

Other benefits, like the APS expertizing service, stamp sales division, educational programs, insurance and estate services, make APS membership a great idea for any collector.

For more information write to the American Philatelic Society, Box 8000, State College, PA 16803.

I think that membership in your local stamp club is at least as important as your APS membership, and will help you to learn more about the hobby through personal interaction with other collectors.

Most local clubs meet once or twice a month, and collectors enjoy presentations, club auctions, swap meets and mixture nights. Larger clubs put on stamp shows and exhibitions, and members help one another learn about other stamp-related activities.

You can learn where your local stamp club meets by watching for a notice in your local paper or checking at the philatelic window at your post office.

If you still don't know where the local group is, send an addressed, stamped envelope to the APS at the address given previously, and ask where a club near you is located.

If you have access to the Internet's World Wide Web, you'll probably be able to find a nearby local club by checking the APS site: www.west.net/~stamps1/aps.html and clicking on the phrase, "APS Chapters."

The APS Internet site is also a great place to learn much more about this friendly group.

Now's as good a time as any to throw in a "don't."

DON'T trim your stamps with scissors.

I've seen this a few times recently, and I thought it might be good to pass along the fact that stamps cut from a sheet with scissors are considered damaged by most collectors.

An example is shown in Figure 2. The 50¢ Cycling stamp isn't all that common on cover, but the stamp on this envelope I received has scissor-cut perforations.

Although the edges are all perfectly neat and straight, the proper way to separate stamps is through the perforation holes by hand.

Most lick-and-stick style stamps should be folded first in one direction along the perforations, and then back in the other direction. Always fold slowly and carefully, and try to avoid touching the design or gum side of the stamp excessively (and do make sure your hands are clean).

Some collectors have noticed that self-adhesive commemorative stamps (the larger, more colorful issues with the removable backing) actually separate easier without folding back and forth. No matter what you do, the backing paper on these stamps often separates less gracefully than the individual stamps, so you may have to try a couple of times before you get acceptable results.

Now, when you're all done separating your stamps into singles and blocks . . .

DO use your stamp tongs whenever you can.

Even if your hands are clean, your skin can deposit natural oils on stamps that will discolor them over time (or immediately on some darker offset- or gravure-printed stamps).

Using your fingers to pick up stamps from a table top or out of a stock book could cause bent corners or creased stamps. That's the kind of damage you want to avoid.

Stamp tongs, like those shown in Figure 3, are inexpensive, and can save your stamps from injury.

Although they look like tweezers, stamp tongs have smooth polished tips that won't damage stamp paper. They might take a little getting used to, but you can practice with some common duplicate stamps until you feel confident enough to use them on any stamp in your collection.

You can get stamp tongs from any retail stamp dealer or a mail-order supplier who advertises in the pages of Linn's.

Here's one more "do" that I'd like to add as a personal favorite.

DO use commemorative stamps on your mail.

That's right, even though the United States Postal Service has been discouraging it, use those colorful postage stamps on everything you mail.

Most folks in this country are using peel-and-stick Flag stamps on mail and it is getting harder to find postally used commemorative stamps. I'm talking about stamps like the Classic American Aircraft, the Classic Movie Monsters, the Composers and Conductors, the Marshall Plan, and so on.

Use them on your letters. Use them on your bills. Use them on your thank-you notes and use them when you pay your income tax.

One of the Monsters stamps might be good for that last one.

Instead of hiding them away like the Postal Service suggests, just hide away what you need for your collection, and buy a bunch more to use as postage.

When you use these fun stamps on your mail, you just might get your friends to look at the stamp on the letter, and maybe see it for the very first time. These stamps are bound to inspire more interest than the same plain design that everyone sees a dozen times every day.