Introduction: How to Soak and Catalog Postal Stamps for Collecting
In this Instructable I will be showing you how to start a stamp collection. The beauty about stamp collecting is that although it can be an expensive and complex thing, it can also be free and very simple. If for nothing else, you should start collecting to brush up on your history. The two go hand and hand. If you know history, stamp collecting is easier. If you collect stamps, history is common sense. I'll explain more on this at the end of this Instructable. This is my first, so forgive the simplicity. I'm more of an old fashioned type person and computers have never been my forte. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I have been collecting stamps for over 13 years and my collection has grown into well over 3000. Feedback is appreciated. We stamp collectors are always willing to help someone on the way to stamp collecting and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask. Have fun!
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Step 1: Getting a Stamp
The first step is to find a stamp on a letter. Then, you rip the paper around it to remove it from the envelope and place it in a bowl with water (warm works best, but trickier because it cant be too warm, so I use mine at room temperature), gently tapping down so that the water covers the stamp, but not completely sinking it to the bottom. Leave it for three to five minutes. Don't worry too much about how long. As you gain the experience, you'll know when it's ready. There is no set time because there are many factors to how sticky it is. Age, how long it's been on the paper, type of adhesive (self, or water activated), etc.
Step 2: Getting the Stamp-Part 2
A few minutes after it is soaked, the stamp should be fairly loose. Gently peel the paper from the stamp, much like you would peel it from the original paper. If it is still partly glued to the paper, place it back in the water and leave for a couple more minutes before trying to remove it again. Repeat until you completely remove it from the paper. You also need to make sure you remove all the glue. After you remove the paper, gently rub your fingers across the back of the stamp. Any residue should start to come off and you should be able to tell the difference between the glue and the stamp. After the stamp is separated from the paper, place it in between two sheets of paper towels to dry and place a heavy book on top so that the stamps don't wrinkle. Leave it for at least fifteen minutes or until completely dry.
Step 3: Mounting
After the stamp is completely dry, you need to mount it. There are two ways to do this: you can use a mount or a hinge. Mounts cost about twenty to thirty times as much as hinges so unless you know that a used stamp is valuable, you should use a hinge. Hinges come pre-folded, so first, moist the short end and place it on the stamp, holding it for about thirty seconds. Then, moist the long end of the hinge and stick it to the album page. Make sure you use non-toxic paper or the stamp will ruin over time. I used some pages that can be purchased from stamp collecting companies and come graphed so that you can neatly organize your stamps in a straight line.
Step 4: Cataloging
Now comes the hard part: cataloging. This is the part where history lessons pay off for collecting and collecting pays off for history. Now we have to find out what the stamp actually is. You need some sort of a catalog for that and you can either buy a book version at a book store or post office, or you can do it the easier way and use the catalog from a major stamp collecting company such as Mystic Stamp Company. I had to use the Black Book you see in the picture but that is, in my opinion, the worst reference available for stamp collecting. However you decide to go, make sure the reference you use says it is fully illustrated or you will have a very difficult time. With the newer stamps, the process is easy because the year is usually printed on the lower right-hand (some times left) corner of the stamp. When there is no year however, you need to skim through the whole catalog to find it and that can get complicated. Step 5 explains more on this. If it does have a year on it, as the one I used, you take the year, find the pages in the catalog with the listings for that year and match the picture with the stamp you have. You then take the Scott number (the number the catalog calls the stamp by. Almost every catalog and book uses this same number system) which should be easy to see, and write it down under the stamp so as to know what stamp it is in the future. Then you write "used" under it so that you know the condition. There are three conditions: mint, used, and unused. Mint stamps are in perfect condition, just as new as when they were printed, whereas unused have not been used, but have some defect in them, or regular "wear and tear," and used stamps are those that have actually been mailed and have a cancellation mark (the hand stamp the post office uses to stamp the date). The difference in the condition does affect the price as follows: mint is the most valuable, followed by unused and then used. If you want, you can write the value of the stamp in your album, but keep in mind, the prices are not universal and tend to change every year, so I never put the price in my album.
Step 5: How to Become a Collector
This step is basically to just get acquainted with the catalog and tools of the trade. The part I you should spend the most on is the catalog, because by getting to know the catalog, you know what stamps there are, as well as how stamps looked like at certain periods so when you are looking for a stamp without a year, you know where it is because you know the general period of it. From this you learn history because the majority of U.S. stamps are commemorative, which mean they were made to commemorate a person or event. So if you see that a stamp says "Declaration of Independence Bicentennial" you know that it was issued in 1976. On the other hand, if it says "1976 Declaration of Independence Bicentennial" and you didn't know the year of the Declaration, you know it was 1776. As for the tools, there are a few you need to know about. You need the album and pages, make sure the pages are toxic-free. The pages I used for this instructable were blank album pages from Mystic. These come with a grid printed on them so that you can mount the stamps in a straght line. This is just one of many options. There are also albums available that come printed with a picture of the stamps that you mount over. These are called "illustrated albums" and are quite convenient, but leaves you with few options on how to organize your collection. The type of album you use is purley a matter of preference. There is no best or worst type of album. You will also need a catalog to find the stamps and you will need hinges and/or mounts. Another tool one has to learn to master is the tongs. Tongs are like tweezers but are made specifically for handling stamps. NEVER use tweezers to handle stamps. If you do not have tongs, just make sure your hands are clean. Another thing you need is a perforation gauge. This is used to identify stamps which are exactly the same, but have a different perforation (a different type of cut) around the edges. The perforation gauge is a type of ruler that measures the edges. The catalog says the perforation of the specific stamps and the price differences (yes, identical stamps with different perforations can have a huge difference in terms of price).
Step 6: In Conclusion
Stamp collecting is just plain fun. It can help you learn your history, and it is a skill and hobby that can be rewarding. Start off gently. Don't expect to become a millionaire. Do some research. You'll be surprised at what is available for stamp collectors, even at your local post office. I hope you liked this Instructable and that it inspired you into entering the world of stamps. It is a fascinating world. A world of adventure, history, and fun. Enjoy!