Refresher Course

To heighten enjoyment, plan new stamp collecting projects step by step

By Janet Klug

New projects can be daunting, even if they are hobby related. Sometimes we just pick the wrong projects, but most often we simply bite off more than we can comfortably chew. The cure for that problem is to take smaller bites.

Figure 1. The first page that the author produced for her one-of-each covers of the world project. A cover mailed from the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean Sea is mounted on the page. Click on image to enlarge.

Nearly every project can be broken down into smaller tasks that, once accomplished, will move the project closer to completion.

A good example of this is moving a collection from one album to another.

The goal is to get all of the stamps into the new album. If there are thousands of stamps to move, it is not going to happen in one sitting. Even if that were possible, it would not be the best way to manage the project. Nor would it be very enjoyable.

You can maximize your enjoyment by approaching the task in a systematic fashion.

Recently I acquired album pages for my Australian states collection that I had previously housed in stock books.

Mounting those stamps in the proper spaces on the new pages was going to require diligence. Many of the stamps have identical or similar appearance but are distinguished by different watermarks, gauges of perforation, and methods of printings or design types.

The plan that I established for this project was to select all of the stamps with similar designs first, and then to do all of the necessary checks of watermarks, perforations, types, printing methods and colors.

It is time consuming. In fact, I started the project two years ago, and I am still working at it, a little at a time.

Once I had the stamps with similar designs sorted and safely ensconced in a stock book, I could return to the project whenever I was so inclined. Stamp collecting is a hobby to enjoy on your own schedule as the mood strikes.

Like many other collectors, you might have the habit of acquiring new stamps or covers and putting these treasures on your desk or in a box that you shove in the closet.

After a while, your desk is covered with stock cards or glassines of stamps, and your closet is full of boxes of covers. You do not know where a given item is. You cannot find anything. You do not even know what you have.

This can lead to needlessly acquiring multiples of stamps or covers that you already have and for which you have no use. If you ever do get a handle on your acquisitions, you will have the additional task of disposing of the duplicate material.

Worst of all, you do not know what you do need for your collection. That could lead to passing up an opportunity to add something wonderful to your collection because you cannot remember whether you already have it.

Dealing with years of accumulated stamp treasures is indeed an overwhelming undertaking.

The simplest solution is never allowing this to happen to you. Put your acquisitions away in albums or stock books as soon as you receive them. If you keep a want list or an inventory list, check new acquisitions off the list immediately.

Putting stamps away immediately, however, does not help if you have an overflow of stamps on your desk or in a box in the closet. Tackling that problem requires a series of steps to sort the material.

A few years ago, one of my Refresher Course columns described a new collection I was forming, a one-of-each collection. My goal was to collect one cover from every stampissuing entity and then mount the collection on my own pages with a description that I had written myself.

Now, several years later, I have a number of covers from countries throughout the world. The covers are stacked in small piles on four different desks.

Other covers for this collection are sequestered in cover albums, and yes, even in a box in the closet. Shame on me.

So what am I doing about this burgeoning accumulation of stuff?

I am following my own advice. I have broken the big job of organizing what presently appears to be the untameable into these steps.

Step one: Sort the material. Before I could begin sorting, I had to decide what my eventual goal would be. Did I want to set this collection up as a time line? If so, I would have to sort the covers by date. Did I want this to be a more traditional worldwide collection arranged alphabetically? If so, I would have to sort the covers by the first letter of the originating country.

Neither of these methods of organization appealed to me. I decided I wanted to organize this collection geographically, so I began sorting the material by continent: Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica.

Here's a tip: Figure out where you are going with the collection first so you can plan on how to get there.

Step two: Create a checklist. Sorting the material that I had already accumulated demonstrated to me that I really had no idea what I had been purchasing. Some countries that should be very easy to acquire were not represented at all. For some of the more difficult ones, I had acquired multiple examples.

If I truly limit this collection to one of each, then I will have some items to trade or sell. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is more work, and I have squandered time and money purchasing material I did not need.

For a checklist of all known stamp-issuing entities, I photocopied the index pages from a recent edition of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. There might be other stamp issuers that will need to be added to the checklist, but it gives me a starting point from which I can begin crossing off the countries that I have already acquired a cover from.

Here's another tip: If there is an easy way to do something and a difficult way to do the same thing, take the easy way.

Step three: Plan how you want the albums and pages to look. I know I will use a computer to generate my pages, and I know I will be using my software of choice, Microsoft Publisher. I can make a template for the pages that will provide consistency in appearance. But before I can start making pages, I have to decide what information I want to include on the page.

If I were going to do this project by hand or by using a typewriter, I would still have to do this planning step first. Using a computer is easier because it is faster and more forgiving. If you make a mistake, just fix it on the screen before printing out the page. Fixing a mistake on a page created by using a typewriter or handwriting usually means doing it over. Remember, there is no right way or wrong way: there is only your way.

Here's another tip: Try making several pages in different styles to see what works best for you. The only person you must please is you.

Step four: Gather the materials you will need. For me, that means acquiring archival-quality paper. I use a 65-pound index stock that I can order in bulk from the Internet or a local office supply store.

Because I am intending to mount covers on these pages, I need archivalquality mounting corners.

Once the covers are mounted, I will slip the pages into archival-quality sleeves, which are also available from office supply stores or the Internet. I also acquired binders and boxes to hold my pages.

One other tip: Use the best materials available to mount your collections. In the end, it will save you time because you will not have to remount your collection in a few years because of yellowing and disintegrating pages. It will also save you money because the stamps and covers you mount will be well protected.

Step five: Create the pages and mount the material. Shown nearby is the first page that I produced for this project. A cover from the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean Sea is mounted at the center of the page.

At the top left of the page, I have the continent associated with the island (North America) and the region (Caribbean Sea). At top right is the country name: Guadeloupe.

Above the cover, I include a map of the island and the immediate area of the sea around it.

Next to the map, I place a box with some basic information about the island: date discovered, capital, language, land area and population.

Below the cover is a brief description of the cover as well as the stamp-issuing history of the island. At the bottom of the page, I insert a picture showing a scenic view of the island.

Mounting your stamps and covers is the fun part of collecting, where you really get to see the fruits of your labors. Enjoy the process.

If you find something you do not know anything about, take the time to investigate and learn. This is a hobby. It is supposed to be relaxing, educational and enjoyable. You do not have to do it all in one sitting. Relax and have fun.

Here's another tip: Be proud of your creation. It is a true reflection of you.

It has taken me four years to assemble the covers I am now mounting.

I expect that it will take me at least four years to get my one-of-each project under control, but I am not on a deadline.

Another great thing about the stamp hobby is that stamps and covers sit patiently until we have the time to give them the attention they deserve.