Refresher Course

Worthless stamps can inspire a new collector

By Rachel Supinger

If you are fortunate enough to have collector-friendly correspondents, you know how wonderful it is to receive letters and packages franked with colorful varieties of stamps, such as the covers and pieces shown in Figure 1. If you don't have such friends, you get to clip a lot of stamp singles from many envelopes. But the result is the same. You'll eventually have pounds of beautiful used stamps, with much duplication and some inevitably damaged by rough handling in the mailstream.

Figure 1. Stamp collectors love receiving bright, colorfully franked mail, but inevitably such mailpieces include a great deal of stamp duplication and damage from handling. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. Use your better quality stamp leftovers to make up packets for youth groups, schools and senior centers.
 
Figure 3. Stamp canisters have a million uses, and they give otherwise worthless stamps the opportunity to be noticed and maybe spark some interest in collecting. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 4. Stamps decorate this greeting card for a cat lover. Click on image to enlarge.

I suspect that many stamp collectors are like me by nature and have a great deal of difficulty throwing away stamps, even if they are not prime examples. But these leftovers don't have to be relegated to a shoebox shoved in a closet somewhere. Or worse — to a trash bin. These leftovers are perfect to share your love of stamps with others.

Start with your pile of envelopes. The first step is to decide which stamps to soak and which stamps to save on cover. This depends on your personal collecting interests and potential value of the stamp or cover, which is a subject for another time.

Once you've clipped the stamps you want to soak, separate those that may cause problems in soaking, such as those on colored paper, those with colored cancels or those printed with questionable inks. After your stamps are soaked and dried and you have sorted out everything you want for your own collection, make good use of the ones you have left.

Separate from your remainders the nicest examples that bear light cancels or have no cancels and no damage. Some sharp, contemporary cancels are worth saving, so do not forget to consider their possible value when sorting stamps.

Divide the higher-quality stamps into packets of 50 or so, as shown in Figure 2. For these packets, use glassine envelopes, which are inexpensive and available from most stamp or stamp-supply dealers. You may wish to group the stamps according to topic or country. Also, try to avoid too much duplication within each packet.

Donate these to a local youth stamp club. If you don't have a club near you, watch the pages of Linn's and other stamp-hobby publications for requests from these organizations. Youth clubs often face severe shortages of nice, used stamps because so few commemorative stamps are used on mail. Youngsters also are less likely to have collector-friendly correspondents. If you have the time, you might even want to volunteer your expertise to help these new collectors get started.

Local schools also can make good use of your stamps. Suggest that they be used in history or geography lessons or in art projects. You also can donate your leftover stamps to a local senior center or to a retirement community connected with a recreation department. You can donate your time and expertise there as well.

After the best of your leftovers are taken care of, you will probably find that you have many leftover stamps with slight damage or somewhat heavy cancels. This is where you have to get creative. Some purists believe that stamps belong only in albums or on a piece of mail. That's it. Others, me included, believe that stamps are to be enjoyed in many ways. And, anything that gets noncollectors to really look at stamps can have only good results for the hobby of stamp collecting.

Stamps with severe creases, very short perforation teeth or severely torn corners usually are considered worthless to collectors, unless they are very rare. Duplicates of very common stamps, such as definitives (regular-issue stamps), are considered to be worthless as well by most collectors.

Many countries market huge quantities of beautiful canceled-to-order stamps and souvenir sheets. These are usually topical stamps that have been printed in quantities far larger than would ever actually be needed for postage in these countries. The excess stamps are invalidated with postmark-like markings and then sold to stamp wholesalers at a sharp discount from face value.

Canceled-to-order stamps, or CTOs, often are considered to be mere products. They were never intended for legitimate postal use, although the underlying stamps are genuine. Serious collectors also often look down on CTOs as being worthless. But those same CTO stamps can help convert a novice into a brand-new stamp collector.

Slightly damaged or heavily canceled stamps are ideal for craft projects for children. Children love to create. Take advantage of this. Figure 3 shows a coffee can covered with stamp decoupage. This is an easy project that gives the stamps center stage. Make several such decorated canisters using stamps with various themes or from different eras or countries.

Color coordinate and use them in every room. The canisters have a million different uses, cost practically nothing, and they give otherwise worthless stamps the opportunity to shine. Kids' rooms always need containers for catching those small things that are lying around. Use a can covered with cartoon stamps, or horses, or dogs, or sports. You'll think of other possibilities.

Add stamp accents to the fronts of children's dresser drawers or to their lamp shades. Use stamps in a border around the room. Or, cover the pencil holder on the desk. Anything that kids see everyday, even in the most mundane circumstances, can plant the seed of the love of stamps.

You can decorate or create your own greeting cards with topical stamps. Figure 4 shows a greeting card created with a computer printer on card stock. It is decorated with stamps for a cat fancier. The inside of the card was left blank for a personal message. Those ubiquitous definitive Flag stamps are perfect for creating patriotic craft projects to give as gifts or display at a family Fourth of July barbecue.

Working on the craft projects with the kids often leads to them spending more time looking at the stamps than doing the project. They pick out the stamps they want to keep and use the others on the project.

This leads to another project — making an album. For a casual collector's first album, there's no need to go out and spend a fortune on an expensive, too-advanced stamp album. A simple 5-inch-by-8-inch, three-ring binder will do. Cover it with more of those leftover stamps.

Fill it with good quality, heavy paper and hinge the stamps to their appropriate places. The kids will have something they created themselves, and you may have created a new stamp collector. You may even find that you have increased your own enjoyment of the hobby.

At this point, the only stamps you have left from your original pile of leftovers are severely damaged or totally obscured by the cancels. Some collectors put them in the trash bin, but they can be used as paper samples or examples of damaged stamps.