Refresher Course

Quickly fill your album pages by buying stamp remainder collections

The fastest way to build a collection is to buy other collections.

The joy of incorporating many new stamps into your albums all at once is almost indescribable. It is truly one of the best experiences in stamp collecting.

Pages of a France and area remainder collection purchased by the author. This column tells how to approach buying such a collection.

I recently wrote in this column about a very inexpensive collection of Hungary that filled a lot of spaces in my album and taught me a great deal about the post-World War I period of Hungarian history.

Finding and working up a collection, even the small Hungarian one that I wrote about, can be daunting if you have never done it before.

Let's fix that by starting with what to look for.

If you are a general worldwide collector, almost anything can be of interest to you. You can find collections of different sizes and levels of completion at stamp shows, club meetings, auctions, mail order dealers, stamp shops and on the Internet.

If you specialize in only one or two countries or areas, finding a collection to buy will be more difficult but not impossible. Try all the previously mentioned sources and look in the classified ads in this issue of Linn's.

What exactly do I mean by a "remainder collection?"

Most collections consist of album binders filled with album pages onto which a collector has hinged or mounted stamps.

Some collections will be in stock books and even glassine envelopes. Usually there will not be a lot of duplication, but it always helps to inspect the collection in person before you buy it, to make sure you are getting something that satisfies you.

Don't expect to find valuable stamps in top grade and condition, unless you purchase a very high-end collection.

Most dealers and collectors will sell the big-ticket items separately to maximize what they bring. The collections from which the best material has been cherrypicked are called "remainders."

Remainder collections often still contain plenty of interesting stamps.

I recently purchased the thick stack of France and Colonies pages shown nearby. This was a remainder collection from which the best items had been removed, but it still contained many wonderful stamps.

Don't worry about the condition of the album or the pages themselves. Look at the stamps. If you are a stickler for very fine or better grade or for mint, never-hinged condition, buying a remainder collection is probably not for you.

Condition is likely to be mixed in collections that you will find for sale.

Examine the stamps you want most for your own collection. The overall condition of most of the stamps in a remainder should be sound and without tears, thins or visible damage.

The majority of the stamps should not be stuck down and should lift easily from the pages.

The pages and stamps should not show damage from mold, moisture, smoke, insects or rodents.

Consider how many stamps within the collection you are contemplating buying will duplicate what you already have in your own albums.

If you do buy the collection, have a plan for what you will do with those duplicates.

Sometimes you get a usable album as a bonus. I have purchased collections in Scott Specialty albums that were in good enough condition that I was able to incorporate stamps from my own collection into the album.

If you want to do this, look very carefully at the album and pages to make sure that there are no paper-chomping bugs or mold that could damage your stamps or could spread to your other albums.

You are the best judge of how much you can afford to pay for a remainder collection.

The price for a remainder collection is almost always negotiable. Factors to consider include catalog value, condition, overall desirability of the collection and how much enjoyment you will have working with it.

Once you buy the collection, you must figure out how to work it up to fit into your collection.

You bought an album chock full of stamps that was once another collector's pride and joy. Now what do you do with it?

Your first inclination might be to begin immediately putting those stamps into their proper places within you own collection.

Before you do that, take some extra time and look through your new acquisition with great care.

Remove the badly damaged stamps, but don't throw them out just yet. If they are less common varieties or forgeries, they might be useful in a reference collection.

You can always discard them later after you have verified they are not useful in some way.

Check for stamps that are stuck down and take the necessary time to remove them carefully from the pages.

This can be done by clipping them from the page and soaking them, as you would to remove a used stamp from an envelope clipping.

If the stamp is unused and you want to try to save the gum, you need to use a sweat box.

A sweat box can be made from any large plastic container or shallow bowl and a lid. It is a closed area that employs a support to hold the stamp above a water source.

After a few days, the moist air in the sweat box should soften the gum and allow you to remove the stamp from the paper.

Some of the gum will be lost, and all of it will be damaged, so the best that you can hope for is part original gum condition. But you have saved a stamp that can fill a space in your album until a better example comes along.

Watch for interesting or unusual postmarks.

These can include markings of small towns, special postal services or traveling post offices.

The interesting cancels of post offices on ships, railroads, buses and other types of transport might surface in a remainder collection.

Some collectors dislike perfins (perforated initials or insignia) that have been punched into stamps by businesses and governments as security devices.

Other collectors love them. Whether you like them or not, some perfins are scarce and very desirable. It is worthwhile to check them in specialized catalogs.

You also might find precanceled stamps. Precancels are stamps that are canceled before being used.

Precancels, as with perfins, are loved by some collectors and loathed by others. But some of them are scarce and worth investigating.

Finding out more about them will teach you about yet another interesting byway of philately.

Keep your Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue volumes close at hand and really look at what you have.

Verify watermarks and perforations, if more than one type exists. You might luck out and find a scarce variety lurking in an otherwise ordinary collection.

Many collections also contain some nonpostage stamps, include revenue stamps, telegraph stamps, advertising labels, charity stamps or other types of cinderellas or oddities.

These are all interesting and very collectible, but you might not want them in your album. Save them in a stock book until you decide whether to collect, swap or sell them.

I once purchased a collection that, in addition to a lot of great stamps, also had some pages of cut squares or cutouts from postal stationery.

While I would much rather have had the postal stationery entires, the cutouts were neatly done and looked good on the pages. I didn't have the heart to eliminate them from the collection.

Later I found out that one of the cutouts was actually a scarce variety and had value even though it was only a part of the entire piece of stationery.

Once you have carefully examined the collection and removed those items that are damaged or that you have decided not to incorporate into your own collection, it is time to start having the fun of mounting them into your albums.

Once you are done, you have to decide what to do with the leftovers.

You will probably be left with material that duplicates what you already had in your collection, perhaps even quite a lot of duplicate material.

If it was a large collection, you can break the leftovers down into smaller units by time period or country and offer them as smaller lots at your local stamp club auction or for sale on the Internet.

Individual items can be sold by making sales books for the American Philatelic Society or other specialty society sales circuits.

The dealer from which you purchased the lot might take your remainders in trade for credit on future purchases, especially if you save him work by identifying them and putting them in catalog order. You don't know unless you ask.

You can always donate your duplicates to a charity.

The American Philatelic Society, Boys and Girls Town, the Cardinal Spellman Museum, the Postal History Foundation, Scouts and some churches are among many nonprofit organizations that accept stamps as tax-deductible charitable donations.

Or you can give your leftovers to a youngster or adult who shows interest. Make sure that you spend a little time introducing a new collector to the joy of stamp collecting.

Take the time to really look at the stamps in the collection that you bought.

Appreciate their beauty. Let the images on the stamps make you inquisitive.

Find out who that guy is on all those French stamps. Discover why the stamps from Middle Congo are overprinted "Tchad" and "Afrique Equatoriale Francaise."

The more you delve into the history of the stamps, the better you will enjoy them.

You don't have to spend a lot of money to build a stamp collection.

Buying remainder collections can economically fill lots of album spaces and provide hours of stamp collecting fun.