By Michael Baadke
One of the most familiar components of the stamp hobby is the stamp album, a book filled with pages that have designated spaces to mount and display stamps.
Stamp albums with printed pages appeared in the United States as early as 1863, just 16 years after the first U.S. stamps were issued.
For many years, stamp albums were manufactured much like ordinary books, with the pages bound into a spine between two hard covers.
A postage stamp album from the 1930s is shown in Figure 1.
Early bound albums had several drawbacks.
As years went by and new stamps were issued, there was no way to update the album with new pages.
The slim volume in the illustration boasts that it "contains spaces for postage stamps from every stamp issuing country in the world," but many countries in the album are represented by just a handful of spaces on a page, even though they may have issued hundreds of stamps before the album was produced.
Most stamp albums today are designed to hold the stamps of just one country or geographic region.
Larger countries that have issued many stamps, such as the United States, may even require more than one album to hold all the pages needed to accommodate each stamp.
The spaces on album pages often include images of the stamps that are supposed to fit in the space.
Some album pages provide catalog numbers along with the illustration to further help the collector identify the proper stamp.
Figure 2 shows an illustration from a current Scott album page for the stamps of Austria.
Scott Publishing Co. is a major distributor of postage stamp albums in the United States. Like Linn's Stamp News, Scott is a division of Amos Press of Sidney, Ohio.
As the stamp collector obtains stamps, he adds them to the album pages. On Scott album pages, the stamp fits within the framing borders of the designated space and covers the illustration and catalog number.
The preprinted album pages are neatly organized and help the collector create an attractive display for his collection.
The spaces are generally arranged on each page in the order the stamps were issued.
That means the earliest stamps are shown on the first pages, with later stamps following.
Stamps with special designations, such as airmail, semipostal and postage due, may appear on separate pages near the back of the album.
Because stamps are damaged by glue, tape and other commercial adhesives, collectors use only stamp hinges and stamp mounts that are specially designed for postage stamp display.
A stamp hinge is a tiny bit of gummed glassine paper that many collectors use to affix postally used stamps to album pages.
One side of the hinge is lightly moistened and attached to the back of the stamp. The other side is then moistened so the stamp can be positioned on the album page.
Hinged stamps on an album page are shown at left in Figure 3.
For mint or unused stamps, many collectors choose to use stamp mounts when they arrange their stamps on the album page.
A stamp mount is a transparent sleeve made of a special plastic that is safe for stamp storage. A gummed flap on the back of the mount can be lightly moistened to affix it to the album page. The stamp then slides inside the mount and is displayed through the transparent front.
Stamps inside mounts on an album page are shown at right in Figure 3.
Special hingeless album pages are available for some countries. On these pages a clear mount is already affixed to each space.
This extra option saves the collector the trouble of purchasing, sizing and affixing stamp mounts, but it adds to the price of the pages as well.
For unused stamps, a collector may choose to use stamp mounts or hingeless pages so the gum on the backs of the stamps is not disturbed.
A stamp hinge affixed to the back of a mint stamp will leave a mark on the adhesive. This disturbance is usually minimal, but most collectors prefer to avoid it.
Some collectors use hinges on inexpensive mint stamps because hinges cost much less than stamp mounts.
Stamp albums come in all sizes. Some are very comprehensive, with spaces for virtually every stamp issued by a certain country or geographic area.
Others are less complete, or they offer fewer spaces for the beginner collector.
The pages in albums differ as well. Some basic albums have pages printed on white paper similar in appearance to standard photocopy stock, while more expensive albums have pages printed on heavyweight archival quality paper.
These two types are represented by the Scott Minuteman album of United States stamps shown at left in Figure 4, and the more advanced Scott Specialty album shown opened up in the same illustration.
The Minuteman album is sold complete with pages and binder, but the components of the Specialty album are sold separately.
Figure 5 shows how a Specialty album of Great Britain is made available to the collector.
At left is a sturdy binder that holds the pages of the album.
In the center of the illustration are two sets of album pages for stamps of Great Britain. Depending on the size of the country, the pages may come in one, two, three or more sets.
Specialty pages for Great Britain are currently sold for the years 1840-1973 (part I) and 1974-96 (part II).
To bring the album up-to-date, the collector can purchase annual supplement pages that match the album page sets and contain spaces for stamps issued in recent years.
Supplements for 1997 and 1998 are currently available for Great Britain collectors, and 1999 supplement pages will be issued next year.
The 1998 Great Britain supplement pack is shown at right in Figure 5.
Some album manufacturers also offer a boxlike slipcover that protects the binder and its pages from dust.
As collectors begin to seek out special varieties of stamps, such as some perforation or tagging varieties, they often find that preprinted pages may not have spaces for all of the stamps that interest them.
To help such collectors, many album manufacturers offer blank pages or pages with a lightly printed grid pattern with borders that match the preprinted pages.
The collector can use these pages to design his own album supplements. The grid pattern helps the collector align the stamps on the page.
Although hundreds of different album styles are available, some collectors prefer to design their own page layouts using blank pages.
Matching stock pages, with rows of transparent sleeves that hold many stamps, are also available in some cases.
Some collectors choose not to use preprinted pages, and instead, they create their own albums using blank paper and standard notebook binders.
This method is fine if the collector uses high-quality materials.
Some plastic coated binders may include chemical softeners that can damage stamps if they come into contact with them.
Paper that is not of archival quality may discolor, and this chemical change can affect stamps as well.
Stamp albums, supplement pages, binders and similar stamp collecting supplies are available from most stamp dealers. Many dealers in stamp supplies advertise weekly in the pages of Linn's Stamp News.
Collectors can get more information about Scott album products by writing to Scott Publishing Co., Box 828, Sidney, OH 45365, or by calling toll free, 800-572-6885, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT.