Caring For Your Stamp Collection
If you spend enough time in philatelic circles – and there are certainly worse ways for one to spend one’s time – you will inevitably come across some horror stories related to stamp collection condition. These include true tales of people permanently encasing stamps in Lucite (not a good idea), shellacking stamps mounted on wood (also bad), attaching hinges to the front of stamps (that must have looked attractive), and the presumably run-of-the-mill act of gluing mint stamps directly onto album pages. I am, myself, guilty of this last crime; my only excuse is that I was six years old at the time of the incident.
Amusing as the above stories might be to those of us who know better, there is nothing amusing about finding out that one has turned a potentially valuable stamp collection into a worthless possession as the result of improper care. In this article, I will discuss stamp care in the most basic and general of terms. As time permits, I will add articles to this website on other, more specific areas of caring for one’s stamp collection. I’ll also cover items other than stamps (e.g., covers, sheets) in separate articles.
The three basic steps to caring properly for your stamp collection are these:
- Always handle your stamps with care, using stamp tongs.
- Mount your stamps in albums or place them in stockbooks using proper methods.
- Store your albums, stockbooks, and any loose stamps properly.
Step 1 is self-explanatory. Again, I eschewed the use of stamp tongs in my youth, but the sooner one gets used to using them, the better. Stamp tongs keep dirt, grease, and perspiration from traveling from the hand to the stamp. If you’ve never used stamp tongs before, practice with inexpensive stamps until you get used to them. There are all sorts of exotic choices to make concerning stamp tongs. (Should they be bent spade tip, or some other configuration? Nickel or gold-plated?) The choice is yours, but they must be stamp tongs, not tweezers. Avoid anything too sharp or pointy.
One could write a small, if boring, book about Step 2. Most collectors and dealers would agree with me that mint stamps should be in stamp mounts. Hawid and Prinz are two brands that come to mind, but there are others. I vaguely recall that there is some study somewhere as to which mount is best, but for now let it suffice that a good-quality mount is much better than no mount at all, and in the case of mint stamps, much better than a hinge. Don’t place a mount in an album with the stamp in the mount. You need to moisten the mount, and you don’t want moisture near the stamp. Let the empty mount completely dry before you put the stamp in the mount. I’m also against cutting mounts with stamps inside, since there’s a danger of cutting the stamp.
I mentioned the “H word:” hinge. Should you or shouldn’t you hinge less valuable used stamps? There’s a subject for a high school debate class! Some are of the opinion that one should never hinge anything in a stamp collection, others heatedly disagree. I personally stopped using hinges years ago in my albums.
Less valuable stamps may be placed directly in stockbooks, but valuable stamps may benefit from being put in a mount, and then slipping the stamp and mount in the stockbook.
Stamp collecting need not be an expensive hobby, but one area in which one should not economize is the quality of stockbooks and albums. You’ll have these for years, perhaps for the rest of your life; don’t pinch pennies here. Regarding albums, I’ve covered the use of mounts, but one can also consider hingeless albums that already have a mount for each stamp. Hingeless albums are expensive, unquestionably, but they do save a great deal of time and effort. It depends on your budget.
Regarding Step 3, bear in mind that albums and stockbooks should be placed standing up, like books, not laid on top of each other. Albums, stockbooks, and loose stamps should be stored indoors, in an area without great swings in temperature and, more importantly, in an area that is free of excessive humidity. For many of us, this rules out the basement, the attic, the garage, and the barn. Humidity disturbs gum, and can cause mildew. Also avoid placing anything that is mildewed or that has a musty odor near your stamp collection, as mildew is contagious.
Take care of your stamp collection, and it will repay you with a lifetime of enjoyment.