Map out a plan for a productive stamp collector’s winter

Oct 27, 2017, 12 PM

By Janet Klug

Winter is a good time to work on your stamp collection, especially if you live in an area where the weather keeps you indoors. 

There is always something in your collection needing attention, but with busy lives we tend to put things off, even if they are pleasurable stamp chores. 

Pamper yourself this winter by blocking out some time every week to attend to your collection. Schedule the tasks you have been setting aside and then make a firm commitment to get them done.

A good starting point is also one of the most enjoyable: It is called “looking at your stamps.”

Now how difficult is that?

Stamp albums benefit by being examined periodically, page by page.

Check to see if there is evidence that insects have been attacking the album pages and stamps (stamps picturing insects, however, as in the illustration here, are fine).

If you find pages that have been visibly gnawed, or have dark specks that indicate insects or rodents have been dining on your collection, then it is time to take quick action. Get a pest exterminator to inspect and eliminate the problem. While this is being done, move your collection to a safe, pest-free location.

Suggestion: You lessen the risk of inadvertently inviting insects and rodents into your collection if you avoid eating or drinking near your stamps. 

Album inspections do not end there — you also should look for signs of mold or mildew. This can happen if you live in a humid region and don’t use appropriate climate control, or if you store your stamps in a damp basement, for example.

Should you find album pages that have mold or mildew, remove the pages from the album. Check the entire album and then leave it out to air in a dry area. 

Mold can spread, so keep those contaminated pages separate from the rest of the albums. Paper conservators can rehabilitate pages that have mold or mildew, but it is an added expense.

Suggestion: Keep your collection at a comfortable temperature and humidity level, usually 30 percent to 50 percent humidity, and temperatures that vary between the mid 60s and low 80s, depending on your personal tolerance.

What feels best for you is probably going to be best for your collection, and maintaining stable conditions reduces the likelihood you will ever have mold or mildew problems. 

As you turn the pages in your stamp albums, look for loose mounts or stamps with faulty hinges. If a stamp is not stable it is prone to being damaged, and it needs to be remounted. This can be done with either hinges or mounts, whichever is your preference.

As you carefully turn page after page in the album, do you find stamps on opposite pages that have hooked together? The easy way to avoid this is to use album pages that are printed on only one side. Unfortunately, many of our favorite albums have pages that are printed on both sides.

You are less likely to have hooked stamps if you use mounts rather than hinges, and you will have zero hooked stamps if you put glassine interleaving between each page or use only hingeless albums. 

Hingeless albums provide pages that have properly sized mounts or Mylar strips already in place. This type of album is more expensive, but it is also very easy to use and definitely showcases the beauty of your stamp collection.

Suggestion: Use mounts rather than hinges for expensive stamps: They are less likely to be creased, hooked, eaten by insects or attacked by mold.

The page-by-page review of your stamp albums also gives you the opportunity to make a want list of stamps you are missing and would like to have.

As you peruse your albums, you are likely to find pages that are missing a single stamp or a set that would finish the page.

A want list helps you when shopping or swapping for your collection. If you rely solely on your memory when acquiring new stamps, you are likely to purchase stamps you already have, and that is a real waste of money.

Suggestion: A pocket-sized notebook can serve as a simple and handy want list, or you can create a want list on your smart phone or tablet device.

The length of time it takes to complete the inspection of your albums depends, of course, both on how many albums you have and how long you linger over the stamps contained within. 

If your collection is housed in one or two albums, you probably can get the job done in one evening. If you have dozens of albums, it could take months.

Regardless of the time investment required, such a survey is an essential undertaking to make certain your collection does not suffer from neglect.

Do you have stamp duplicates scattered throughout your home? Do you even know where they are? And what are you planning to do with them?

Stamp collectors who have enjoyed the hobby for many years often end up with an overflow of duplicated stamps. Having your duplicates sorted and carefully placed in stock books, glassines or stock pages means that they are readily available should you find someone who wants to swap, or in case you decide to sell them or donate them to charitable causes.

Suggestion: Gather your duplicates in one place. Sort them and house them so they stay flat and do not stick together.

And while you’re examining your collection, how are you fixed for supplies? Are your stamp catalogs more than five years old? If so, it might be time to consider an upgrade to more current editions.

Do you have a good supply of hinges and mounts? It is annoying to settle down for an evening of adding new stamps to an album only to find that you don’t have enough mounts or hinges for the project, so check your inventory and restock as needed.

While you are at it, locate your stamp tongs, perforation gauge, watermark tray, and other philatelic accoutrements. Once you’ve found them all, gather them together in a box so they do not wander when you are not looking. It’s odd how that happens with stamp-collecting tools. 

Suggestion: Use some of the winter months to protect and maintain your collection. If you are a careful curator, your collection will be around to give you (and future collectors) much pleasure for a long time.