By Janet Klug
It is hard to believe how quickly home computers have changed our lives.
Even ignoring business applications, using a computer can enhance your enjoyment of the hobby in hundreds of ways. This article will focus on just one of the ways to use a home computer in stamp collecting.Developed originally as a tool for business, personal computers jumped to home usage with user-friendly applications that have made them ubiquitous. Most of us who have and use them would say they are indispensable.
I got my first home computer in the mid-1980s, and the first thing I used it for was to make pages for some of my socked-on-the-nose cancels. These are stamps bearing a circular datestamp that is perfectly centered on the face of the stamp or nearly so.
I had a dot-matrix printer that produced mediocre results, but the pages I made enabled me to get a small box full of nice stamps organized for ready access and enjoyment.
Computers and printers have improved since those early days. Dot-matrix printers have been replaced by ink jet or laser printers that can produce photographic quality text and images in color or black and white.
Prices for this advanced technology have decreased dramatically. A high quality ink-jet printer is now roughly one-third the price I paid for my first dot-matrix printer.
Computer software is now much easier to use, and making simple pages with or without text is incredibly easy.
Let's quickly run through the process of making a page similar to the one shown in Figure 1 that is part of a reference collection I have made for color identification.
Most computers come with some sort of word-processing software already installed. Mine came loaded with Microsoft Word, and the following instructions are specific to that program. Most other word-processing software works in similar ways.
Start your word-processing application and open a blank document. On the toolbar is an icon or a word that says "Table." Click that, and then click "Insert Table."
You will probably get a box that will ask you how many rows and columns you want your table to have, and whether you want your columns to be a fixed size or to adjust automatically to fit the contents of written text or illustrations.
The page illustrated in Figure 1 has boxes of a fixed size that will accommodate most definitives and commemoratives. I have also included smaller boxes underneath the stamp boxes so that I could add a handwritten caption identifying the color.
Actually I show the Scott catalog description under the stamp and the Stanley Gibbons color name in the caption box. The table I created for this page is one with five columns and 10 rows — five wide rows for stamps and five narrow rows for captions.
In the "Insert Table" box, key in the number "5" for the number of columns and "10" for the number of rows, and fix the column width to 1.5 inches or a size appropriate to the stamps you will be mounting in the spaces.
A table will be drawn on your screen that will look like the one shown in Figure 2.
Place your cursor in the first box and hit the enter (return) key on your keyboard six or seven times. Skip the following row. Place your cursor in row three and again hit the "enter" key six or seven times.
Continue with the table in the same way until all five wide rows have been set up. You can change the way the table looks by altering the size or color of the lines.
You can also add titles or text if you desire. When you have your page completed, save it and then print as many copies as you need. A basic page is illustrated as Figure 3.
Standard homemade album pages such as this one are nice to have for mounting duplicates for trading purposes, back-of-the-book stamps that do not fit in printed albums, postmarks and so on. Clubs might make use of this kind of page for swaps, sales or auctions. Their preparation is fast, economical and easy.
A word of warning seems appropriate at this time. Ink-jet printers use water-soluble ink. If your pages get damp, the ink will feather or bleed. The worst-case scenario is that the ink will run and ruin the stamps.
Try to make sure that none of your stamps will come in direct contact with the ink on the printed page. If the pages should happen to get wet, remove the stamps from them immediately.
Computers can be a big help for collectors wishing to make more personalized collections or exhibits of their specialized material. Word-processing software such as the previously mentioned Microsoft Word works well and has many useful features that allow users to move and place text exactly, add illustrations and change fonts.
For exhibit pages I prefer using a home publishing application called Microsoft Publisher. This program combines all the important features most collectors would want in a very easy-to-learn-and-use format.
Figure 4 shows an exhibit page that was made using Microsoft Publisher. The page shows different sizes and styles of fonts, the use of an imported scanned image and precise placement of all the printing.
When creating album or exhibit pages, make certain you use archival-quality paper that won't damage your stamps and covers over time. Use a paper stock heavy enough to safely hold the material you will be mounting on it.
I have two Hewlett Packard ink-jet printers, one in the 500 series and another in the 800 series. Both easily accept heavy 110-lb. card stock, the use of which provides a firm mounting surface for heavy covers.
If do-it-yourself album pages are too time consuming or not to your liking, there are other resources.
Stampalbums.com (www.stampalbums.com) is a web site that has more than 30,000 album pages you can download to your computer and print on your own printer. The $20 subscription fee gives you access to the site for a full year and as many pages as you care to download during that period. You can also order the entire 30,000 pages on a CD-ROM for $30. For more information, contact William Steiner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Publishing Co. has software called Album Wizard that enables computer users to create album pages from template styles. A full kit includes the Album Wizard and U.S. Stamp Images CDs, 100 pages of Scott archival printer paper, the Scott 2002 U.S. Pocket Stamp Catalogue and a three-ring binder and slipcase. Cost for the complete kit is $69.99, or Album Wizard alone is $39.99.
Creating your own album pages can be a relaxing and rewarding experience that allows you to customize your collection to your specific interests.
Give it a try. The computer makes it easy.