Refresher Course

Easy tips for wrecking a stamp collection

By Janet Klug

Stamps and covers are fragile pieces of paper. They will deteriorate quickly if subjected to mistreatment. Wrecking a perfectly good stamp collection that took years to assemble is easy. Just follow these simple steps.

Figure 1. Cramming too many stamps into a stock book causes creases and pulled perforations and ruins the stock book. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 2. Food and drink don't mix with stamps. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 3. Tired of the same old colors on your stamps? Leave your collection near a sunny window and watch them change. Click on image to enlarge.
 
Figure 4. Writing on the backs of stamps and covers will greatly detract from their value and appeal. Use ink or press really hard with a pencil to ruin a stamp completely. Click on image to enlarge.

No. 1. Keep your collection in your basement. It is humid there and humidity is the enemy of stamp collections. Mint stamps will become stuck to the albums, mounts, glassines or stock books in which they are housed.

Humidity also breeds mold and mildew, which will attack your albums and stamps.

No. 2. Keep your collection in the attic. If the basement is a bad place for a stamp collection, the attic is even worse. At least the basement has a fairly constant temperature. The attic does not.

In the summer, the temperature in an unfinished attic might soar well over 100 degrees. In the winter the temperature can go far below freezing.

The humidity swings are just as dramatic, moving from too dry to too wet, sometimes in just a few hours.

Attics and basements also attract uninvited houseguests in the form of insects and rodents that might enjoy nibbling on your tasty collection.

No. 3. Cram as many stamps as possible in your albums and stock books. This will almost certainly result in folded corners and pulled perforations, and it might also make the stamps stick together.

An overstuffed album or stockbook, such as the one shown in Figure 1, will put added stress on the binding and wreck not only the stamps but also the storage medium.

No. 4. Pick your stamps up with your fingers. If you want to damage your stamps, go ahead and use your bare hands instead of stamp tongs.

Your hands have natural oils that will transfer to the stamps, which will cause them to discolor over time.

You can accelerate the process by eating while you work on your stamps.

Figure 2 shows food wrecking an album page. Go ahead and eat that greasy hamburger or jelly doughnut while hinging stamps in the album. Your hands will become even oilier, and if you are lucky, you will drip crumbs into the album, staining the pages and stamps and attracting more critters to come and feast upon your collection.

Do you like health food? Even tofu and trail mix aren't good for stamps.

If you are prone to spilling, working on your collection while drinking milk, coffee, tea, soft drinks, wine or other beverages can also be extremely helpful in wrecking a collection.

If you don't like to handle your stamps with your fingers, use cosmetic tweezers instead of stamp tongs. Why go to the added expense of buying a set of tongs when you can use your old sharp-tipped tweezers to gouge and pull your stamps?

No. 5. Leave your stamps where they will be in direct sunlight. Even artificial light will cause photochemical color changes in stamps, but sunlight is particularly good.

Leave your open album on your desk that sits in front of a sunny window, as shown in Figure 3, and see how quickly the stamps will change colors.

Frame your best stamps and hang them on the wall in a sunny location. A year from now, or sooner, they will be wrecked.

No. 6. If you use hinges to mount your stamps, slobber all over the hinges before sticking them to the stamp and album page. Excess moisture makes the gum from the hinges flow out and will stick the stamp to the page almost as well as if you had used a glue stick.

If you use mounts, slobber all over the backs of the mounts. The stamp dealer description "slightly disturbed gum" sometimes reflects a situation wherein a collector's excess saliva oozed through the slit at the back of the mount, leaving his mark in the otherwise pristine mint never-hinged gum.

No. 7. Store your albums horizontally rather than vertically. To do the maximum amount of damage, stack albums and stock books horizontally, one on top of another.

The pressure will stick the stamps to the album pages. This is especially effective if used in conjunction with step No. 2 (keeping the albums in the basement or attic).

No. 8. If you use mounts, use the wrong size. A too tight fit will damage a stamp in time because the mount will shrink a bit over time. The porous stamps also are subject to minute size variances according to the relative humidity.

Stamps will buckle if the mount is too tight. If the mount is too big, the stamps will fall out and become creased or lost.

While we are on the subject of mounts, to score additional bonus points in wrecking your collection, you can cut the mount strips with the stamps already in them. Doing so entertains the risk that you will lop off the perforations or cut right into the stamp if you are careless or if the stamp slips in the mount.

No. 9. Use your stamp albums as filing cabinets. If you see an interesting article about German inflation issues, cut it out and put it in the Germany section of your album.

Over time, the acid from the newsprint will leach onto the stamps and album page, darkening them and making them brittle.

Put loose covers in the albums too. That way when you turn the pages, the covers will shift around and crease the stamps that have been affixed to the pages.

No. 10. Write on the backs of your stamps and covers. This is an all too common practice.

Many collectors write the catalog numbers and values on the backs of the stamps in pencil.

Even if such writing were not destructive to the stamp, the utility of it is false. Catalog numbers can change, catalog values do change and not all catalogs use the same numbering systems and values.

Some writing on stamps is in ink. Some collectors write in pencil but press so hard that their wretched scribblings are embossed into the paper. All types of writing on stamps, as shown in Figure 4, are excellent techniques to use to wreck a stamp collection.

If writing on the backs of stamps is bad, need I say that writing on the front of the stamps will make the damage even more obvious? I guess I do, because I've seen it done.

No. 11. Children love to draw and color in books with their crayons and markers, so be sure to leave your stamp albums where your kids and grandkids can get to them. Think of the pleasure their decorations will give you both in years to come.

No. 12. If you leave your collection where the youngsters can get to it, presumably any household pet can play with it too.

Dogs and cats are especially fond of stamp collections. Dogs love chewing them. Cats are more partial to lying upon them, rolling around on them or chasing individual stamps across the floor with their claws extended.

Your beloved pets can be almost as adept as your precocious children in wrecking your stamp collection.

What's that you say? You don't want to wreck your stamp collection?

Well, that's easy enough. Just assiduously avoid all the handy tips in this article and your collection will stay in the best possible condition.

My thanks to Ken Stewart for suggesting this article.