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"It has been said that 'Civilization' began in the East, and it must be true, as the organization of the first postal system by 'couriers' in the world is attributed to the Persian monarch, Cyrus the Great. In B.C.536, this Oriental Monarch after the sweeping victories and far-reaching conquests found that he could not keep in touch with his vast empire. Therefore, he ordered all the commanding officers of his large army and governors of his various provinces to write regularly to him about all that occurred in their districts. And to ensure regular deliveries of these reports, he built 'post houses', and stables at regular distances for the convenience of his postal-runners known as 'couriers'. At every 'post house' a postmaster was kept in charge of receiving the message from the couriers on their arrival and giving them other-orders and instructions from the Monarch to his governors and commanders on matters of State affairs and changing their horses and looking after the other comforts of these first postal runners."

From "A Short History of India" at Sukhani Europhil of India


Caring For Stamps

Most 'Beginner Information' provided to new collectors suggest soaking stamps off of the paper on which they're found but I suggest you delay a while before you do.

Soaking stamps has a few risks. (especially watch for stamps that are heavily colored or canceled with red or green ink, self-adhesive stamps or stamps on colored paper - set them aside for individual treatment). a riskFor example, a new collector I know plunged right in and soon found that at least one variety of the recent U.S. Christmas Issue (1999 Raindeer - "a lick and stick" as she called it) didn't soak well; it literally turned to 'mush' - and it met none of the criteria above.  If you're the curious type, don't waste a stamp just experimenting until you know you have a duplicate as you don't yet know if it could be useful ...

Note: Al Harris of Alabama has his 'solution' for the risk of dealing with those pesky US self-adhesives (reprinted by permission c.2008).

My best thinking for a new beginner is to trim stamps still on paper (from envelopes or flyer covers etc.) with scissors - and, while you're at it, why not keep the entire postmark: these are known as Japan - 'cut square' 'cut squares'. Or perhaps keep the entire envelope especially if it has interesting origins or labels or markings from its travels (these are called 'covers') ...

Tip: You can use a 'Morley Bright' to check watermarks of stamps still on paper.

Sort and store them in acid free (i.e. archival quality) 'stock books, pages and cards, or protective 'sleeves' and pocket  pages...  (look for Mylar Type D)

'Glassine' envelopes are commonly used for short-term storage (oh, ..a few years... 20 or so is not uncommon) but:

An APS committee puts it this way: "Avoid glassine envelopes and any product made from glassine like the plague." (citing an example of color changes on the 1 cent green stamps of Canada from the 1930's and 40's turning to blue and "Bend the stamp slightly and it will break into pieces. The chemical migration from glassine is severe.".)

Further: "Glassine paper is not acid-free, so it is not a good idea to leave stamps and covers in glassines indefinitely. Also, the glue holding the glassine envelope together sometimes leaves stains on covers stored in them. Glassine envelopes also can trap moisture if your stamp room is humid, and your stamps will stick to the inside of the envelopes. The only way to get them out is to soak them in water." (from AskPhil)

Cigar and shoe boxes, not to mention cookie tins with a silica packet, work too.

But when you are ready seperate them from the envelope or wrapper (or each other); check out this video:

When you get around to mounting your stamps in an album or displaying or exhibiting a collection you will probably have learned much more about each stamp especially if you've read any of the numerous magazines, articles, books and other publications - like stamp catalogs that also help identify each variety. (Many are available at a local or philatelic library.)
 


And don't neglect thinking about creating an inventory of what you collect... (keep track of what you paid and when as well as all the other data).

Steven Haddock's - Caring for your stamps notes, as many do, "A stamp's
number one enemy is sticky tape ..." - use hinges or mounts or, my favorites, stock books and 'archival quality' philatelic albums - note: photo albums, usually present PVC and acidic black paper concerns. Though it seems hinges pass in and, mostly; justifiably for expensive stamps, out of favor, the ISWSC usually has a US$1 packet of glassine hinges (as well as a few free stamps) for kids who are new collectors and an address to the supplier for near-kids like me - and you perhaps. Hinges leave a mark and should not be used on 'mint'/uncanceled stamps but using them on 'cut squares' or 'covers' you gather around the house or from friends etc. keeps them one more layer from the stamp itself and if you get around to soaking any - no hinge mark is left on the stamp.

In general don't touch stamps with (blah, blah, blah) ; things that'll hurt 'em - but don't let all these cautions get in the way. Do the best you can and to put it in the words of Ron Alfin "There is no wrong way to be a stamp collector."

Here's a link to a page I researched on various storage materials useful in philately.



Collectors

Joining A Stamp Club like The American Philatelic Society or, better yet, a local club in your local area (or area of interest) is a good gateway to becoming informed on our subject. Also, you might investigate philatelic chat rooms or email (usenet) newsgroups or forums (message boards) and stamp traders on (or off) the 'net.


Q: Are Collectors Crazy? by Hugh (Big Mel) Goldberg / *_* \
A: Aren't you? ;)




Perforations
Image from Henry Gitiner Philatelists, Inc.

A Brief Essay on Postage Stamp Perforations - from University Philatelics

"The tooth, the hole tooth and nothing but the tooth!" --Anon.
"You may well ask, can there possibly be a less significant subject than this? To the philatelist these perforations are significant indeed. The number of such holes along a 2-centimeter distance on a stamp's edge is often an identifying characteristic. The perforation may dramatically influence the value of a stamp. Thus, if you are the proud owner of an unused US 50 cent stamp issued between 1916 and 1919 it might be worth $1,500 if it measures 10 holes/2cm (called perf.10) or $110 if it is perf.11. Otherwise, the stamp design is the same and the colors similar. ..." (check it out! - aj)

See Also: What Philately Teaches, John Luff c.1899, "... In 1847, Henry Archer, an Irishman, began experimenting with machines for perforating stamps. ..."

A Few Holes, More or Less by Jerry Jensen

"The Michel Specialized catalog was the first postwar catalog to list German stamps having three sides with normal perforations and the bottom side imperforate (much like many booklet pane issues today - aj). Since then, there have been a number of new listings. Today, some of these have impressive catalog prices.

A brief review of perforation methods in use will help us understand the nature of these imperforate at the bottom varieties. ...

Tip?:

"You have a nice sheet of stamps or a plate block and you notice some of the perfs are separating. How can you keep them together without having to affix unsightly hinges on the gum?

For this job, you will need a tube of Duco cement. It comes in a green tube and is available at hardware stores. With the plate block or sheet face up, hold the perfs together with one hand. Put a small amount of the cement on the tip of your index finger and smear it down across the separated perfs while at the same time blowing on the cement to instantly dry it. If you look at the perfs under magnification, you will see that the perfs are separated, but with the naked eye they look together. Try this on stamps you would only use for postage first to get the hang of it." (from the old stingraystamps.com stamp site)

A 'filler' in Chris' collectionThe above process simply creates 'filler' material - much like the damaged stamp in Chris' collection pictured at the left; note the upper left corner - it shows that you, at least, have something. Other options might be to turn a plate block into a plate single if that section of it is good, split up a sheet saving the plate block(s), if possible, and sell or trade the remaining singles.  Seems obvious when you consider that most modern stamps can still be had inexpensively. aj.


The Hall of Shame - 'Reperfed' stamps by Henry Gitner Philatelists, Inc.
"Perhaps the single most common type of problem stamp that we encounter is the reperfed stamp. A reperfed stamp is a stamp to which perforations have been added or modified after leaving the post office or vending machine (Privately perforated and Postmaster perforated stamps are a different topic)." - Read all about it! aj. (a re-run from the above perf image)
The Hall of Shame - Reperfed stamps - part 2
"Getting a reperfed stamp is certainly a danger when buying regular stamps, but it is even more of a danger when buying coil stamps! The problem is tied up with the history of the coil stamp: ..."




Hinges

From: Jim McCain's Hinging and How to (c.1998) Determine It

"From the beginning of stamp collecting until about the 1930s (my guess), stamps were mounted in albums with hinges. These hinges could be made of glassine (thin clear special paper) or plain paper itself of varying thickness. Hinges were the instrument of attaching the stamp to the album page. Stamp mounts, which did not affect the gum of mint stamps, came along much later. ... (hinge marks can greatly effect value - aj)

"There are many degrees to the condition of being hinged. I will describe the categories I use... For a stamp to be Extra Light Hinge (XLH), the hinge mark on the gum must not be visible to the naked eye when (casually) viewed gum side up ... (H)ow you detect Extra Light Hinge (XLH) - There are three ways to check for it. First, if you have a Signoscope, you can check by using it. The Signoscope (The first - and only - optic-electric Watermark Detector) not only brings out watermarks but will show up XLH marks. The second way is ...gum up in a dark watermark tray in watermark fluid... (third).. the one I prefer ... takes much less time and subjects the stamp to no possible damage. Take the stamp in a pair of stamp tongs. Extend it a full arms length toward a strong light source ... reflection of the light off the gum surface will expose any gum disturbance... "

Suresafe and Dennisen make about the best...
(Even a good ad reveals the truth - aj.)


Removing Old Hinges

"Mint stamps sometimes have hinge remnants on them. They can be easily removed. Some early hinges are very stubborn and can't be removed, but the majority of hinges can. First you will need a nice quality artist's paint brush (or a Q-tip/cotton swap - aj.). Turn the stamp over, gum side up. With a small amount of saliva, wet the brush and keep "painting" over and over the hinge on the back of the stamp. Do not over wet the hinge, be patient. You use saliva over water because you can control the amount of saliva and not the amount of water. Eventually, you will see the hinge start to buckle in some places. Carefully using tongs start pulling up the hinge from the stamp. If the hinge sticks, stop pulling with the tongs at once and apply more brush strokes to the hinge where the tongs stuck. Wait a few more seconds and slowly remove the hinge. Take a piece of clear pliable plastic and place to the side. After the hinge is removed, grasp it with your tongs and hold it in front of your mouth. Breath on the stamp with your hot breath and say the word Hah! the same way you would if you were about to clean your eyeglasses. Take the plastic and cover the spot where the hinge was. Take the back of your tongs near the top and rub it back and forth over the area where the hinge was, but covered by the plastic. Wiggle the plastic back and forth until it comes easily away from the stamp. You will notice the gum now has a lightly hinged appearance instead of an unsightly hinge remnant." (from stingraystamps.com - sadly gone now- aj.)


Q: Hinges: What kind of hinges should be used?
from: Label Display FAQ's/w Bob Kay
Answer:
A#1 - Tissue Hinges: The first choice of a paper conservator would be an acid free Japanese tissue or mulberry paper (often called rice paper) applied with a wheat or rice starch paste. Aiko's in Chicago is a good supplier.

A#1.1 - Stamp Hinges: Stamp hinges are a close second and are much simpler. Stamp hinges are basically glassine paper with a starch adhesive. The starch adhesive (as well as the starch pastes used with 'rice' paper) will leave a faint yellow discoloration in time and become slightly acidic. They last about 20-30 years.


To Hinge Or Not To Hinge?
"I'd suggest that you use mounts for never-hinged stamps with a value of a dollar or more. This protects the stamp and its value as a never-hinged item. They're rather expensive, so consider using them only for your never-hinged stamps. Hinging them instead is still OK, but when it comes time to sell a collection or trade material, values will be lower, especially for more valuable items. Remember, the choice is yours! ..." (from the ISWCS Beginners Handbook)

And be sure to see the APS's Preservation and Care of Philatelic Materials Committee work called, oddly enough: Preservation and Care of Philatelic Materials

The Hall of Shame - 'Regummed" stamps
Now we turn our attention to the underside of the issue -- the gum. Stick with us and learn about the gooey underside of fakery. ... (follow that link ;)

Foreign Marks

Note: The 'marks' considered in this section are generally ones that take away from the value or appearance of a stamp but on older, rarer stamps there are, sometimes, marks called 'experts marks' which are a rather advanced subject but deserves notice now.

The detracting marks are usually catalog numbers, old catalog prices or country names or errant (accidental) marks but 'experts marks' are usually initials, names or ID (identification) marks of philatelists that were consulted to authenticate (or give an opinon about) a stamp or cover.

The 'right' way (from Linn's)

9. Don't write anything on the back of your mint stamps. Use only light pressure and a No. 3 pencil for putting notations on used stamps.
Pencil Marks On The Gum? or on an envelope? - A Tip:
Unfortunately we collectors sometimes find someone has made a notation on the gum side of an unused stamp. (This is also and especially true of First Day and other types of 'covers' and was once an accepted practice - aj.) When you take a conventional pink eraser and attempt to remove the pencil marking, you take some of the gum (or paper) away leaving a small area of disturbed gum on the stamp. There is a way to alleviate this. Buy a vinyl eraser in an art supply store. They are white in color and cost about a dollar. With the vinyl eraser, you can safely remove pencil marks from the stamp without disturbing the gum.

First lay the stamp face down. Take a piece of clear pliable plastic and hold it down with your finger on the plastic over the area you are not working on. This will hold the stamp in place. Gently erase the pencil mark. It is very important that you erase in one direction only. Erase toward the perforations of the stamp and away from you. Eventually, the pencil mark will disappear unless it is a deep, ground-in pencil mark. It is very important you erase lightly in one direction only or you will have two pieces of one stamp! (from the old stingraystamps.com site)

Dirty or stained stamps
These can be soaked carefully in a small amount of undiluted liquid dishwashing detergent (not dishwasher detergent), then rinsed in clean cool water. Very badly stained stamps can be washed gently in a weak solution of water and a bit of enzyme laundry detergent. Careful! This can work too well and remove the printing ink!
 
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