Refresher Course

Stamp hinges aren't perfect, but they do help

By Michael Baadke

Stamp albums are great for showing off a stamp collection, but the collector has to be careful about affixing his stamps to the album page. Over the years some terrific stamps have been ruined because collectors used glue, paste or tape to stick the stamps onto album pages. The chemicals in these adhesives will stain stamps, and of course, it is just about impossible to remove a stamp that's been glued to an album page.

Figure 1. Prefolded adhesive stamp hinges are often sold by stamp hobby suppliers in packages of 1,000 for less than $2. Hinges can be used to affix stamps to stamp album pages.
 
Figure 2. The short part of the folded hinge is lightly moistened with the tongue (top) and then applied to the back of the stamp with the fold close to the top of the stamp (center). Next, the bottom one-third of the long part of the hinge is lightly moistened, and the stamp is positioned in the album space. When the hinge is dry, the stamp remains attached to the page, but the stamp can be lifted to see its reverse (bottom).
 
Figure 3. When a stamp hinge is removed from a gummed stamp, the gum shows a disturbance called a hinge mark. The removal of a stamp hinge created the roughly triangular mark at the top of this stamp.
 
Figure 4. The application of gentle pressure with a blunt edge (the welded end of a pair of stamp tongs) on the surface of a stamp hinge is one way to loosen a hinge that won't peel off.

Other collectors have simply used the gum on the stamp to stick the stamp to the page. That's not a good idea, either. You can't remove the stamp from the page without damaging the page, and quite possibly the stamp as well. Don't use glue, don't use tape, and don't lick the back of the stamp. Just how do you stick stamps in an album?

Collectors use two popular methods. Stamp mounts are plastic see-through stamp holders with adhesive on one side. Mounts enclose the stamp so it can be placed onto the page. Mounts are attractive and they do a great job of protecting the stamp, but they can be expensive. A very common stamp could have less value than the stamp mount holding it.

Many collectors use inexpensive stamp hinges to affix stamps onto album pages. Hinges are small bits of glassine paper about ¾-inch long and ½-inch wide with a light adhesive on one side. Most hinges are prefolded: about one-fourth of the paper is folded under, with the adhesive on the outside. Stamp hinges are shown in the photo in Figure 1. A package of 1,000 hinges usually costs less than $2.

Some collectors use stamp mounts for mint stamps — stamps that have never been used and have undisturbed gum on the back — and hinges for postally used stamps that have no gum or unused stamps that were previously hinged. As you learn more about hinges, you'll discover why.

There are four easy steps to using a stamp hinge. The first step is to very lightly moisten the short folded side of the hinge with the tongue, as shown in the photo at the top of Figure 2. Don't apply too much moisture to the hinge. You'll actually dilute the adhesive if you do, and the hinge won't hold your stamp very well. An overly moist hinge will also wind up moistening the back of the stamp, causing that part of the stamp paper to expand or bow.

The second step is to position the moistened short side of the hinge on the back of the stamp, as close to the top of the stamp as possible without touching the perforation holes. The photo in the center of Figure 2 shows a stamp face down with a hinge affixed to the back. Notice that the long part of the hinge is sticking out.

The third step is to moisten the bottom one-third of the long part of the hinge. Once again, just touch the hinge lightly to the tongue: don't get the hinge too wet. Take care as well not to moisten the back of the stamp in the process.

When the long part of the hinge is moistened, it's time for the fourth and final step: placing the stamp onto the album page. Position the stamp where you want it on the page and smoothly press down the rest of the stamp. The hinge will cling to the page where it makes contact.

Once the hinge adhesive dries you'll be able to lift the stamp up to examine the back, if you wish, as shown in the photo at the bottom of Figure 2. Notice how the stamp swings up as though it is attached to the page with a tiny door hinge.

If you don't like the way you placed the stamp on the page, or if you accidentally put the stamp in the wrong spot, don't pull it up right away. That may damage the page or the stamp. Give the hinge about 15 minutes or so to dry completely. Then you should be able to gently remove the hinged stamp from the page, remove the hinge from the stamp, and start from the beginning.

Most hinges on the market are advertised as peelable, meaning the hinge can be peeled from the stamp after it is dry without harm to the stamp. Unfortunately, this description too often cannot be relied upon, so test your hinges first before mounting important stamps.

One way to remove a hinge from a stamp is to grasp the hinge at the top, near the fold, using stamp tongs. Gently tug the hinge off, either by pulling it smoothly from one side to another, or by rolling it down the back of the stamp. Stop if you meet any resistance, or you may begin to damage the stamp.

Anytime a stamp hinge has to be removed from a stamp, the collector must proceed with great care. With any luck, a gentle tug on the stamp should pop it off without undue stress on the stamp. That's the beauty of a truly peelable hinge. If the hinge is at all stubborn, you run the risk of damaging the stamp while trying to remove the hinge.

When a hinge is used on a mint stamp, the moisture from the hinge disturbs the stamp gum. That disturbance may be slight or it may be considerable. It will become apparent when the hinge is removed.

Figure 3 shows a once-mint stamp with a serious hinge-mark near the top of the stamp. Not only is the gum disturbed, but some of the stamp paper fiber has pulled up as well. It's easy to create a thinned area of paper on your stamp by tugging on a stubborn hinge. Once the paper is thinned, the stamp is considered to be damaged.

If you need to remove a hinge from a stamp but it just won't let go, you have a couple of options. Some hinges will respond to the firm but gentle application of pressure using a blunt edge, such as the welded end of a pair of stamp tongs. Figure 4 illustrates this method. With the stamp face down on a smooth, hard table, slowly and carefully press down on the hinge where it is attached to the stamp and rub back and forth, as though you were trying to scratch off the coating from an instant lottery ticket.

Don't press so hard that you'll mar the stamp paper, and don't go so fast that you might bend the stamp. Work on the entire area of the hinge where it is attached to the stamp. This action loosens the adhesive, and within a few seconds you may be able to roll the hinge off the stamp.

If this method doesn't work, dabbing at the contact point with a lightly moistened cotton swab or a small, clean, damp artist's brush may loosen the hinge enough that it can be removed. Here is a warning, though: if used on a gummed stamp, the moisture method may also activate surrounding gum, and it can cause a moisture bump in the stamp paper.

Another option is to remove all unattached hinge paper by carefully trimming the hinge, leaving a small remnant of the hinge on the back. Stubborn stamp hinges on postally used stamps can be removed by soaking the stamp in water until the hinge floats free. The stamp is then simply dried and flattened as usual.

You can see why some collectors don't care for using stamp hinges on mint stamps. The hinge disturbs the mint stamp gum and can be difficult to remove. For other collectors these problems are unimportant. They use hinges on all of their stamps.

Stamps that are hinged onto album pages don't get a lot of protection, so it is important to handle the pages with care. It is possible for stamps to fall off their hinges, and for a hinged stamp to fall off the album page. Album pages always should be turned gently to reduce the chance of stamps flying from the page. The album binder should not be stuffed with pages because this makes it easier for stamps to suffer damage or fall off because of pressure.

Although there are some problems associated with using hinges, they remain one of the most popular ways to affix stamps to album pages. Hinges are available from local stamp dealers and from mail-order stamp hobby suppliers.