By Michael Baadke
Getting a stamp collection organized is one of the most important things a new collector has to learn. Sometimes it's a vital lesson for the longtime collector as well.
The Refresher Course column in last week's Linn's Stamp News was all about how collectors can find stamps to add to their collections.
Some of the suggestions included obtaining stamps from dealers with retail stores or at local shows, from mail-order dealers or postal agencies, and even from the daily mail that you get at home or from businesses that save their envelopes for you.
There are a lot of different sources for stamps, so collectors can often find many ways to build their collections.
Unfortunately, it is actually possible to be too successful at obtaining stamps.
Some collectors are quickly overwhelmed by the stamps they've accumulated, and it becomes nearly impossible to put it all together into a reasonable collection.
Collectors may find that they have less time to devote to a collection than they once anticipated, but they don't want to fall behind in their stamp purchases.
As a result, the stamps keep accumulating, but they don't get organized into a collection.
Figure 1 shows what happens next: stamps are tossed into a box, on top of a desk, or just about anywhere, exposing them to possible damage from creases, light or dirt.
Before long, the collector is frustrated with a collecting project that looks like it will never come together.
Organization is a crucial step in building a successful stamp collection, whether the collection consists of mint stamps or postally used, foreign or United States issues, or topical stamps.
The first step is to decide what you want out of your stamp collection.
Too many collectors begin by accumulating stamps without a clear game plan. The stamp pile continues to grow until the collector has a tangled accumulation of unsorted issues instead of a growing stamp collection.
Your best bet is to plot your collecting strategy. What kind of collection do you want?
If you're collecting new issues such as those shown in Figure 1, decide exactly which countries or geographic regions interest you, and get the stamps from that area.
Choose a point where you would like your collection to begin, and decide if there is another point where you want the collection to end.
To help you in this project, you'll probably need a good stamp catalog that covers the area that you want to collect. That may mean the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue or a specialized catalog for your particular area of interest.
The next step is to divide your stamps up to follow your organizational plan.
While you're doing that, you must also make sure that your stamps are protected from potential damage.
If you are collecting stamps from more than one country, you'll want to begin by keeping the stamps from each country in a separate place.
Some collectors start by putting stamps into glassine envelopes, as shown in Figure 2. While the envelopes provide some protection from grime and moisture, they should only be considered a temporary solution.
You can make notes on the glassine envelope to identify the stamps inside, but write on the empty envelope before you put the stamps in. The pressure of a pen or pencil can go through the glassine and leave the impression of letters and numbers in the stamp paper.
An easier way to organize your stamps so you can keep track of your collection is to invest in a stock book or stock pages, as shown in Figure 3.
If you're collecting three countries, you may want to invest in three stock books.
As the illustration shows, the stock pages allow you to see the stamps in your collection, and you can easily arrange them to fit your collecting plan.
Individual stock pages, as shown in the illustration, can be kept in a simple binder and can be removed or rearranged to fit your needs.
Most bound stock books have transparent strips holding the stamp on the page, so you can see even more of each stamp.
Don't just stick stamps into the stock book any which way. Remember your organization plan and put your stamps in some order that you can follow.
Where did you decide to begin your collection? Make those stamps the first ones on the first page of your stock book.
If there are some stamps you still need, leave a little room for them on the page, so when you do add those missing stamps to your collection you'll have a ready-made space for them to fill.
If you don't know where a stamp fits into your plan — such as a new issue that hasn't yet appeared in the catalog — you can keep it on one of the back pages of your stock book until the catalog update appears.
Some collectors prefer to place their stamps directly into an album as soon as they get them. An album of United States stamps is shown opened up in Figure 4.
Stamp albums can be very handy for keeping your collection organized because such albums often have pages laid out following the order the stamps were issued or a catalog organization plan.
One drawback is that you can accumulate more than a year's worth of new-issue stamps before a new set of album pages is released by the manufacturer.
Once again, the stock book or stock pages are very useful for keeping stamps organized and safe until the album pages are available.
Although the examples in this article have described how new issues can be organized, the stock book can also help the collector of postally used stamps.
It's a lot easier to tell which of the U.S. Celebrate the Century stamps you have, and which are missing, if you keep the stamps you've collected in a stock book or on stock pages.
Some collectors make notes on the pages that identify the stamps they already have and that tell which stamps are still missing from the collection. This can be very helpful if you are collecting older postally used stamps.
Stock pages, stock books, binders, albums and stamp catalogs are all available from dealers in stamp collecting supplies. Several dealers advertise regularly in Linn's Stamp News, with display advertising located throughout the paper, with word ads in classified sections 160-66, or search online.
Retail stamp dealers usually carry many of the supplies that can help you keep organized. If there's a stamp shop near you, stop by and ask about the different accessories that are available.
When you finally get that accumulation organized, you may find you have a lot more time to really enjoy your favorite hobby.