By Michael Baadke
One common concern among stamp collectors is keeping the stamps they have accumulated properly organized and protected.
It's easy to fall into the trap of amassing a huge quantity of stamps, either in mint condition or postally used, without taking time to find a safe way to store them.Stock books and stock sheets (or stock pages) can be vital tools in this important effort.
The end result can be stamps that are creased, dirty, stuck to each other or stuck to something else.
That makes the effort of collecting stamps of quality rather meaningless.
Stamp collectors are notoriously fussy about the condition of the stamps they collect and with good reason. Stamps that have suffered even very minor damage generally have substantially less value than undamaged stamps.
If you buy a terrific stamp in excellent condition from a stamp dealer, it makes sense to be careful about preserving that condition as you include the stamp in your collection.
Many collectors will immediately add the stamp to an album page, using either a stamp hinge or a stamp mount. Properly mounted stamps are usually safe in a stamp album of good quality.
There are times, however, when it's not possible or convenient to add new stamps to your album right away.
For example, collectors usually have to wait several months for album supplement pages to be released after they have purchased the newest stamp issues.
Collectors of postally used stamps often accumulate many duplicate stamps that they set aside for trading purposes.
In such instances, many collectors make use of stock books and stock sheets to organize their stamps and keep them safe.
Stock books consist of several pages of firm material, usually a heavyweight paper or card stock, bound between two covers. The number of pages may range from eight to 64.
Most stock books have pages measuring approximately 8½ inches by 11 inches, but smaller sizes are also available.
Two standard-size stock books are shown open in Figure 1.
Each page of the stock book has long horizontal pockets that run from one edge of the page to the other. The pockets are created by strips of acetate, glassine paper or other suitable material affixed in horizontal rows.
Stamps fit into these pockets easily and are held in place by the fixed horizontal strips.
Figure 2 shows a close-up of several German stamps held in place on the page of a stock book. Reflected light on the clear acetate strips shows how the stamps are held in place.
Most stock books also have glassine paper interleaving between each page to protect facing pages of stamps from one another.
The terms "stock sheet" and "stock page" are used interchangeably to describe any number of different loose-leaf pages that are specially made to hold stamps securely.
Each stock sheet is made out of a firm material: either heavyweight paper, chemically safe plastic or manila-style card stock.
Stock sheet sizes may vary, but most are 8½ inches by 11 inches.
Examples of two different stock sheets are shown in Figure 3. Both styles have punched holes along the left edge of the page so they can be kept easily in a binder.
The manila-style stock sheet shown at right in Figure 3 is one of the more inexpensive versions that can be purchased.
Many collectors like to use this style because it is easy to make notes directly on the page identifying specific stamps.
At left in Figure 3 is a black stock sheet with only four pockets. The deeper pockets are convenient for holding blocks of stamps. In the example, several recent United States plate blocks are placed on the stock sheet.
Many different stock sheet formats are available, ranging from pages with just one pocket to pages with eight pockets.
Some pages are available with two or three different-sized pockets on a single page for specialized uses.
It's usually best to keep stamps separated from one another on the stock page so they do not overlap.
This is particularly true for mint stamps that have gum on the back.
The closed pages of a stock book will apply some pressure upon the stamps on the page. If the stamps are exposed to humidity, they may adhere to other stamps they are touching.
To help prevent this problem, stock books should always be stored upright, never lying flat, and they should be kept in an environment with low humidity.
The book should not be squeezed into a tight spot on the shelf, as the added pressure may activate some of the stamp adhesive. Though it must be stored standing upright, the book should have at least a little bit of wiggle room.
Along the same lines, when the collector carries the stock book or stock sheets from one place to another, care must be taken to ensure that the stamps and pages are upright, so that none of the stamps can fall out and be lost or damaged.
Some collectors choose to overlap postally used stamps on the stock page because such stamps no longer have gum on the back.
This saves space when a large number of loose stamps are being stored.
However, the collector should take care not to overstuff the horizontal strips that create the stock-page pocket. The pressure of many overlapped stamps bulging in a single pocket can loosen acetate strips or rip out glassine strips, and make it easier for individual stamps to fall out.
When adding stamps to the stock page or when removing or rearranging stamps, the collector should use stamp tongs rather than fingers.
It is hard to grab hold of a stamp on a stock page with fingers, and the stamp or the stock page may be damaged in the attempt. Besides, fingers can also harm stamps by contaminating them with dirt or skin oil.
Figure 4 shows a collector placing a stamp on a stock page using stamp tongs with angled tips.
The angle at the end of the tongs gives the collector a little easier approach to stamps arranged on a flat page. Any style of stamp tongs may be used for this purpose, however.
Other temporary stamp storage options for collectors exist.
Figure 5 shows a smaller stock card, a dealer sales card and a glassine envelope.
While these items do provide some protection for the stamps they hold, they are susceptible to damage themselves under certain circumstances.
These smaller storage options should be kept secure in a container that will protect them from creasing or sudden contact with heavy items that can harm the stamps they hold.
Stamps in these smaller holders should not be placed loose in drawers or kept in large boxes with books, magazines or other large objects.
All of the stamp storage items described here are available from stamp supply retailers.
Many such dealers advertise regularly in the pages of Linn's Stamp News.
Stock books and stock pages are usually available from local stamp dealers as well, or from dealers participating in stamp shows and exhibitions.