Refresher Course

Stamp mixtures, packets add to collections

By Michael Baadke

What if you've decided to collect postally used stamps from around the world, but everyone you know lives in the same country as you?

Figure 1. A mixture usually consists of stamps on pieces of envelope paper. Most mixes include some duplication.
 
Figure 2. Off-paper stamps that have been sorted are called packets. Most packets do not include duplicates.
 
Figure 3. Definitive stamps are often small and single-color, such as the British 2½-penny example at left. The $1.50 New Zealand stamp at right is a commemorative. It is larger and more colorful. Collectors desiring one stamp type or the other should use care when ordering mixtures.
 
Figure 4. Some mixtures specify that they do not include "dunes" issues, such as the stamp from Fujeira at top, or canceled-to-order stamps (CTOs), such as the Romanian stamp at bottom.

There are a few different answers to that problem. You could try to find a trading partner in another country. You could buy someone's ready-made collection. You could travel a lot and send yourself plenty of postcards.

If you're looking for an answer that's a little easier and less expensive, you could try buying stamp mixtures.

A mixture is traditionally a group of stamps that have been used on mail and are still affixed to envelope paper. Someone has torn away the corner of the envelope that bears the stamp, and the dealer sells you anywhere from a handful to a trunkful of these paper corners.

Smaller mixtures sell for as little as $1, or you can spend a lot more money for a king-size version.

Sometimes these miscellaneous mixtures are referred to as "kiloware," meaning a heavier package of envelope stamp corners packaged by the kilogram or half kilogram.

Part of a recent mixture of worldwide stamps is shown in Figure 1.

Collectors soak the paper corners in water until the stamps float free. Then they dry the stamps and flatten them so they can be added to a collection.

Mixtures are usually thought of as unpicked, meaning no one has gone through the stamps ahead of you to pick out the best ones or to weed out the losers.

As a result, you may find a gem or two from time to time, but you may also turn up a lot of duplicate stamps.

That's a traditional definition of a stamp mixture, but collectors find the exceptions are more common than the rule in this case.

Stamp dealers often assemble their mixtures with considerable care these days, offering mixes that consist of selected countries or a particular type of stamp.

Some dealers even use the word "mixture" to describe a selection of off-paper stamps that has been sorted to certain specifications.

Collectors commonly think of off-paper, sorted stamp selections as packets, rather than mixtures.

Some packets in retail stores come carefully arranged on a flat board and covered with clear plastic so the collector can take a look at what's being offered.

Other packets sold by mail often come packaged very modestly, with the stamps placed inside a small paper or glassine envelope.

Packets are almost always considered to be a selection of all-different stamps.

A packet of 50 different postally used United Nations stamps is shown in Figure 2.

When a collector buys a mixture or packet by mail, what he ends up getting depends a lot upon the description offered by the dealer.

Often, what the advertisement doesn't say is just as important as what it does say.

For example, a packet described as "100 different stamps" may contain only smaller definitive stamps, such as the 1952 British 2½-penny stamp shown at left in Figure 3.

Definitive stamps are printed again and again in enormous quantities, so they are often pretty easy to obtain.

Some collectors enjoy collecting definitives, but the mix might be a big disappointment to a collector who wants to find larger, colorful commemorative stamps, such as the 1996 $1.50 New Zealand Fur Seal stamp shown at right in Figure 3.

Because commemorative stamps are printed in limited quantities, they are often harder to come by.

Christmas and holiday stamps are usually common, and they may appear in many mixtures.

The phrase "100 different stamps" could mean all the stamps are from one country. To describe a selection of stamps from many different countries, dealers usually add the word "worldwide."

Here are some other terms used to describe stamp mixtures and packets.

The stamps may be described as "on paper" or "off paper." The "paper" in this case refers to the envelope corner the stamp was placed on. Stamps "on paper" are usually soaked off by collectors after they receive them. Stamps "off paper" have already been soaked off.

Because stamps are so fragile, it's not unusual to get some damaged stamps in your mixture from time to time. The damage is easier to see if the stamp is "off paper," and dealers usually discard the damaged stamps they can see.

Therefore, an "off paper" mix may have fewer damaged stamps.

The words "all different" are easy to understand: All of the stamps are different from one another. Collectors also understand, however, that if the description does not say "all different" that they are likely to receive some duplicate stamps.

"High values" can mean one of two things, and it is often hard to tell which meaning the dealer intends.

The term can be used to describe postage stamps that are listed with a higher retail value in the stamp catalog, such as a stamp listed with a value of $3, rather than the catalog minimum, which is often 15¢.

The term may also be used to describe the face value of the stamp, rather than its retail value.

Some dealers advertise "No dunes" or "No CTO."

"Dunes" refers to a specific group of Arab sheikhdoms known as the Trucial States: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujeira, Manama, Qatar, Ras al Khaima, Sharjah and Umm al Qiwain. The Mutawakelite Kingdom of Yemen is often included in this group.

For many years these entities issued enormous quantities of colorful pictorial stamps that today are rarely listed in stamp catalogs. A mixture advertised as "No dunes" is not supposed to include these issues.

One stamp created for the area known as Fujeira is shown at the top of Figure 4.

Because so many stamps were issued for these areas that have relatively small populations, it is assumed they were made and sold just to create stamp packets, rather than to use for postage.

Many of the "dunes" area stamps are also "CTO," which stands for "canceled to order."

Often you can tell a CTO stamp because it has a neat cancel in one corner and full, undisturbed gum on the back.

Because the gum is intact, the stamp obviously was not used for postage. Instead, it was "canceled to order" and sold to packet makers.

Some collectors like CTOs because they often have colorful topical designs. Others do not like them because the canceled stamps never served a genuine postal use.

Many eastern European communist bloc countries issued CTOs during the 1960s and 1970s. A 1978 CTO airmail stamp from Romania is shown at the bottom of Figure 4.

The term "bank mixture" is sometimes used to describe a group of stamps obtained from the correspondence of a bank or similar establishment. The implication is that the stamps in the mixture may be high-value foreign stamps or of similar high quality.

A "mission mixture" often consists of many definitive stamps and a few commemoratives, presumably clipped from daily mail by church parishioners or other contributors.

Stamps sold on paper are sometimes offered by the ounce, such as, 1 ounce of stamps from Finland for $4. An average 1-ounce lot of stamps will have around 100 stamps, though lots consisting of mostly larger stamps may have fewer.

If you would like to learn more about stamp mixtures, take a look at the Kitchen Table Philately column in Linn's Stamp News. Each week one of two mixture reviewers using the pseudonym "E. Rawolik" (which is the word "kiloware" spelled backward) reviews a mixture ordered from stamp dealers who advertise in Linn's and elsewhere.

The reviewer's comments and criticisms provide detailed information about different mixtures, including a listing of the stamps received, the cost of the mixture, and averages that help determine the mixture's value.

Every stamp mixture is a little bit different, but the KTP reviewers provide the kind of detail that a collector usually can't get from a small classified ad.