Take more than yourself to a stamp show

Jun 11, 2001, 1 PM

By Charles Snee

These days, there are numerous ways for a collector to acquire stamps, covers and other related items for his collection. From auctions (both traditional and online) to mixtures, the sources of supply are numerous and varied.

Before going to a show, though, a little advance preparation can make the experience much more fun and rewarding. Of course, you first need to find a show to attend. A great place to start is the Stamp Events Calendar near the back or middle of each issue of Linn's Stamp News and online at The paid ads in Stamp Events Calendar list a show's date(s) and time(s), location and contact information. A stamp dealer in your local area also may have information on nearby shows.For me, though, nothing can beat attending a stamp show for acquiring new goodies for my collection. When collectors speak of a stamp show, they mean a gathering of exhibits, coupled with a sales area of dealers, called a bourse.

Once you've found a show to fit your schedule, you need to get a few things together. The items shown in the accompanying illustrations are somewhat tailored to my own collecting interests. But nearly all collectors use one, some or all of them.

First, you need some of the basic tools of the trade, such as those pictured in Figure 1. Perhaps the most important tool is a pair of tongs, shown at far left, along with the carrying case, right. These tongs (made by Showgard) have slender tips and require only a light squeeze to hold a stamp securely. Tongs allow you to safely handle and examine stamps without touching them with your fingers. This is important, as oil from fingertips can damage stamps.

To the immediate right of the tongs case is a small magnifier. I often use mine to examine the details of a stamp or cover. The model shown here also has a built-in light to allow for easier viewing up close.

To the right of the magnifier is an ultraviolet lamp, handy for detecting tagging on a stamp. Tagging is applied to stamp paper and activates postal facer-canceler machines.

At far right are plastic sleeves that I use to house covers purchased from a dealer's $1 cover box. In most cases, such covers are not sold in protective sleeves.

Finally, at bottom is a small perforation gauge. A slot in the gauge allows one to measure the gauge of on-cover stamps. A stamp's perforation gauge is the number of perforation holes (die-cut valleys for self-stick stamps) or teeth (die-cut peaks) within the space of 2 centimeters.

Many supply dealers stock all of these items (or similar ones). The most expensive item shown is the UV lamp — I paid $20 for mine.

It can be frustrating to return from a show, only to find that you bought something you already own. An inventory list can help you avoid this. Figure 2 pictures two lists that I take to shows. At left is a photocopied portion of the Ireland listing from Vol. 3 of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, and at right is a 1992 Brookman Stamp Prices United States United Nations & Canada, opened to the page listing U.S. Scott 643-68.

The photocopied Scott catalog pages eliminate the need to take the heavy volume with me, and the Brookman catalog is my U.S. inventory record — I take the whole catalog because it is small and lightweight.

Once I buy a stamp, I note that fact by circling the appropriate Scott catalog number on my inventory list. Figure 3 illustrates my inventory method. It is a close-up of the Brookman catalog page shown in Figure 2.

While I attend stamp shows mainly to buy stamps and covers for my collection, occasions for selling and trading also arise. So I typically bring a few duplicates that I might trade to a dealer or collector attending the show.

The modern U.S. covers illustrated in Figure 4 are franked with an assortment of interesting commemorative and definitive (regular-issue) stamps. I have sold (typically at 50¢ or $1 per cover, sometimes a wee bit more) or traded similar covers at past shows. Underneath the array of covers is a rigid U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail flat that I use to protect the covers when they aren't being examined.

To me, trading is much more fun because both collectors get something they are happy to add to their collections. It can also be a great way to make new friendships and renew old ones. In fact, the interaction with fellow collectors is one of the most pleasant benefits of attending a stamp show.

Another helpful item (not pictured) to take to a show is a business card. It provides a way for a fellow collector to keep in touch with you after the show is over. And if you jot some of your collecting interests on the back, a dealer may contact you if he subsequently obtains an item of interest.

Trying to carry all of this stuff would be a real hassle, not to mention tiring, without some help. Therefore, I use an oversize handbag to house my stamp-show wares. The bag comes with several slots and deep pockets and easily holds all of the items discussed here, as shown in Figure 5. What's more, there's plenty of room left over for all the treasure to be mined at the show.

A flap covers the pockets in the front and is secured to the bag's bottom by two clips. One of these clips is visible at bottom right in Figure 5. A convenient shoulder strap makes carrying the bag a breeze, even when fully loaded, as demonstrated in Figure 6.

Now that your bag is packed, head to the show. Better still, take a noncollector friend with you. Who knows? You might ignite the passion for collecting that draws so many of us, time and again, to a stamp show.