Traditional stamp albums have long been used by stamp hobbyists to house their collections. Annual supplements for your chosen album product line are necessary if you want to stay current and have pages for the new issues.
There is expense associated with buying and updating albums, of course, as there is with the pursuit of any hobby.
In addition to standard albums, other stamp storage options exist. Stock books are excellent for safely storing stamps waiting to be mounted and can be used in place of stamp albums. Possibly the biggest benefits of stock books are that they are self-storing. You don't need mounts or hinges to secure the stamps — just insert them directly into the stock book's liner strips.
Later, you can move the stamps around in the stock book without having to cut new mounts or consider the probability of damage from hinges. A new 16-page stock book retails for approximately $15, and it's even possible to buy used stock books through Internet auctions.
That said, most collectors like albums and album pages that have specific spaces for stamps. There may be pictures of stamps to assist in correct placement. Printed albums often have catalog numbers, dates of issue and a little background information about the country, among the other attractive elements that make stamp albums so popular.
An alternative to standard albums, stock books and other storage methods puts the burden of work and research on the collector to create the stamp album, but the process can be a lot of fun and lead to results to be proud of.
Making your own pages also can solve the problem of housing a very specialized collection for which no standard commercial album exists.
The fastest do-it-yourself method involves the use of a home computer, a printer and some basic software that already resides on most personal computers or that you can acquire for free.
You also will need a supply of good quality paper and nice loose-leaf binders. If you want your collection to look its best and remain in good condition, buy materials that are archival quality. Safe materials might cost a little bit more, but in the long run the expense is worth it.
If there is a younger member of the family who has so far resisted sharing your interest in stamps, asking him or her for help with this project, where technology intersects with stamp collecting, might provoke their curiosity about the hobby.
Many personal computers come with Microsoft Word or Microsoft Office already loaded on them. If you have this software on your computer, you have everything you need to quickly make a serviceable album page that will accommodate stamps of any size you need.
The following instructions are for Microsoft Word 2010. Earlier and later versions might not work precisely this way, but the general features will be the same. If you do not have Microsoft Word or similar kind of word-processing software on your computer, you can download a free complete software suite called Open Office that works amazingly well.
Download this software at no cost at http:openoffice.org. The instructions that follow for Microsoft Word will be close to those for making a basic album page in Open Office's word-processing software.
Open Microsoft Word (or similar program) and click "File" on the menu bar at the top of the screen. A drop-down menu will appear; click "New."
A "New document" window opens. Click "Blank document" and then click the box that says "Create." A window with a blank page will appear.
Click "Insert" on the menu bar at the top of the screen. A new "ribbon" will appear; click "Table." A new box will open. Click "Insert Table," the first line under the grid of boxes.
Here is where you design your layout. Let us assume that you wish to mount a page of standard definitive-sized stamps. Enter a "6" for the number of columns, and "12" for the number of rows. Click the button that says "Fixed column width" and then adjust the column width to 1.0 inches by using the "up" arrow in the box next to "Fixed column width." Click "OK." A table grid will appear, centered in what was formerly the blank document you created.
Insert your cursor into the first box in the grid. Tap the Enter (or Return) key five or six times. Skip down and move your cursor into the first box of the third row and repeat the tapping of the Enter key. Tap the Enter key in the first block of every other row in the grid until you run out of rows. In only a minute and a half you will end up with a page that looks something like the one illustrated in Figure 1, on which Queen Elizabeth II "Wilding" issues have been mounted.
The larger boxes will contain stamps, and the smaller boxes are there if you wish to make notations. You might want to add catalog numbers, the dates of issue, when you acquired the stamp, its subject or anything you wish to mention, to personalize the display of your collection. Type the information in while you are producing the page on the computer, or add it later with pen or pencil. You can also add a title to the top of the page before you print the sheet.
Other stamp sizes can be accommodated by adjusting the number of rows and/or columns in the table layout described in step two. The height of a space for a stamp is adjusted by using the Enter/Return key until the size is right for the stamps you will mount. To make wide boxes on a page set up for single individual stamps, you can merge two or more adjacent boxes by highlighting the boxes you want to merge and clicking the "Merge Cells" button on the "Table Tools Layout" tab.
When you have the page the way you want it, print it. Once the page is printed, use hinges or mounts to secure the stamps to the pages.
If you're using a standard three-ring binder as your album, you can insert the finished pages into a plastic page protector with pre-punched holes on the side, or just punch holes in the page and insert it as-is into the binder.
This is a fast, inexpensive way to make serviceable album pages for your collection, but there are some pitfalls. Most of us use inkjet printers, and the ink in these cartridges is water-soluble. If a page gets wet the ink will run and ruin your stamps. That can be avoided, of course, by making sure your pages are never exposed to liquids. You also could avoid the problem by photocopying your printed pages and mounting your stamps on the copies instead of the originals. This method also conserves your expensive printer ink, as copies will be less costly.
Another downside is that pages made with the method just described are not particularly attractive. If you want to create fancier or more complex pages with blocks of text, illustrations or other additions, a preferred method would be using desktop publishing software. This gives you many more options for layout and design. Popular desktop publishing software being used today by stamp collectors and exhibitors includes Adobe InDesign, Adobe Pagemaker and Microsoft Publisher.
Figure 2 shows a more complex page made using Microsoft Publisher. In addition to stamps and text, this page for Tonga's 1897 King George II stamps contains a table that provides information about watermarks and vignette types.
Desktop software can be expensive but there is a free alternative developed by Serif called PagePlus Starter Edition. Download it from http://www.serif.com/desktop-publishing-software.
The starter edition has enough muscle to make beautiful album pages, and if you want it to do more, you can always upgrade (cost involved) to the full edition or select different desktop publishing software.
An excellent primer on the subject of making custom album pages is online at http://album.dweeb.org/albumguide.html.
Exercising your creativity by making your own album pages can add new dimensions to your collecting enjoyment, even if you use them for only part of your collections.
Once you start making your own stamp albums you might find you are enjoying collecting even more.