Stamp collecting is something that can appeal to people of all ages. It is such a varied and beautiful hobby that everyone can get involved and find an aspect of it that they love. When researching stamp collecting you may come across the word “philately” which is simply the study of stamps or the word “philatelist” which is the official name for stamp researchers and collectors. Stamp collecting is a versatile, fulfilling hobby. Stamps often feature bright, colorful artwork and they all have a story to tell. Collecting stamps can give a unique and interesting look into history, geography, politics and so much more. There are a huge variety of stamps in the world and stamp collecting is an easy hobby to pursue.
What You Need to Get Started
One of the best things about stamp collecting is that it is incredibly easy and inexpensive to get started. There are a few different ways you can go about starting this new hobby. There is no right or wrong way to get started, it all depends on what your goals or interests are. For example, you can simply gather as many stamps as you can from your home, family and friends and use this as your starting point or you can begin by collecting specific stamps of a certain time period, theme, topic or country. If you love birds, for instance, you could start a collection of stamps with a bird theme. The options are endless.
If you’re not sure where to get your stamps from, you can get new stamps from USPS or you can order older stamps online. You can also buy unsorted stamps online that are sold according to weight, this is often a great way for a beginner to get started. Don’t forget to check if you have any old letters or postcards in the house. It is also worth asking your family members if they have letters or postcards or even unused stamps that you can add to your collection.
You may not associate any equipment with stamp collecting, but trust us when we say it makes total sense to have these tools on hand. They will make handling, looking at and appreciating your stamps much easier. Each of the tools listed below are low cost and can help keep your stamp collection in excellent condition.
Stamps are small and delicate, particularly older ones. Using tweezers to pick up and sort your stamps is much gentler than trying to use your fingers. This is the one piece of equipment you should be using as handling stamps with your fingers can easily cause deterioration and damage. It may take a bit of practice at first but tweezers will quickly become a useful tool in your stamp collecting toolkit. Tweezers are inexpensive to buy and we’d recommend using flat-headed tweezers at first rather than those with a pointed end.
Don’t miss out on the finer details of stamps. Many stamp collectors enjoy getting a closer look at their collection. These miniature works of art can be seen more clearly if you look at them with a magnifier, anything up to 10x magnification is suitable for stamps. Using a magnifier allows you to see lines, cuts and any peculiarities, many of which may only be seen when magnified.
As you get more serious about the stamps you are collecting you may also find it useful to have the following:
· Perforation guide
This helps you measure the number of perforations within a measured area. Many collectors and dealers measure perforations to within a decimal point and the perforation can be the only difference present between two stamps that are otherwise identical to one another.
· Watermark detector fluid
This is an inexpensive fluid that will help you see watermarks more clearly.
· Color guide
This is a simple but very useful tool that will help you tell the difference in color shades. The colors of stamps can be extremely similar but the difference in the shade can influence the value of the stamp.
Removing Stamps from Paper
If you have found a collection of stamps attached to old envelopes etc. don’t rip the stamps off the envelopes. This can easily cause damage and you will immediately regret removing the stamp in this harsh way. Instead, cut the paper so you have around an inch of paper left around the stamp. Then you can sort them however you’d like them to be arranged and when you’re ready you can soak them.
Soaking stamps simply involves placing each stamp facing upwards into a bowl of clean warm water. You can put as many as will fit into the bowl at one time. Wait for 10 – 15 minutes and then you should be able to gently peel the stamp away from the paper using your fingers. If the stamp is still firmly attached, leave it to soak for another 5 minutes before trying again. Be aware that this process can make ink run from the stamp or the envelope, if you see this occurring remove the stamp from the water immediately.
Once the stamp has been removed from the envelope or paper, lay them flat facing upwards on a dry piece of kitchen paper. Place another dry piece on kitchen paper over the top and blot away any excess water. With the excess water removed, place a normal piece of paper over the stamps and position some books on top so they will flatten as they dry. Leave them like this for an hour and then leave the stamps to air for another 3-4 hours until they are completely dry. Although it may be tempting to try to speed up the process, don’t dry the stamps in the sun or on a radiator as this will damage them.
Organizing Your Stamps
Once you begin to build your stamp collection, you will need a place to store them. Stamps should be stored in a cool, dry place in stock books or albums. Albums can be bought as binders or fast bound, the advantage of a binder is you can add more pages as needed and you can also rearrange the pages if you need to. Either way, it’s best to go for a hingeless album which means the album has sleeves so you don’t have to stick the stamps to the page (sticking the stamp can cause damage to its back and reduce its appearance and value).
Identifying Your Stamps
A stamp catalogue is an important point of reference for stamp collectors. These catalogues provide detailed lists of all the stamps issued by each country in the world. Using catalogues is a good way to build up knowledge relating to stamp colors and names.
There are multiple stamp catalogues suitable for beginners including Stanley Gibbons Simplified Catalogue of Stamps of the World, Commonwealth Simplified and Western Europe Simplified Catalogues and Commonwealth and British Empire Stamp Catalogue 1840-1952 to name just a few. If you are looking for new issues and prices then check out All Stamp and Stamp Collecting World. You can find many physical stamp catalogues at public libraries so this is an ideal place to find more information.
Understanding Stamp Condition
Stamps come in different conditions, these generally include:
A mint stamp is one that is basically straight from USPS. For a stamp to be in mint condition it should be free from tears, folds or damage. Its colors should be original and the stamp hinge (the coating that guards the adhesive) should also be intact. When you think of a mint stamp think of one that is in perfect condition and has never been used.
A used stamp has been used for postal, telegraphic or fiscal use and have been cancelled accordingly. Used stamps tend to be relatively easy to find and are cheaper.
A fine-used stamp has a light postmark but remains clear. The stamp should not have any heavy cancellations that destroy the stamp’s design. Fine-used stamps can be more valuable if they are kept intact, particularly those from before 1920 from railway stations, military camps, ship cancellations etc.
Are Stamps Valuable?
Some stamps are very rare and valuable. If you are looking at getting into collecting rare stamps, make sure you buy them from a reputable dealer or an auctioneer who can certify the authenticity of the stamp. The best place to buy valuable stamps tends to be at auctions but there is a risk of a bidding war which can inflate the stamp prices by a considerable amount. Buying online is risky as it is difficult to sort the fake from the real and it is tough to spot defects. This guide from Stamp Collecting Resource can help you determine a stamps value.
Stamp Collecting Tips for Children
Collecting stamps isn’t only for adults, kids can have so much fun building their very own stamp collection too. They may want to start with their favorite animal or with a certain country, subject or color. That’s the beauty of stamps, there are lots of options so everyone can find something that they find interesting and would like to use as the starting point of their collection.
Good starting points for kids:
A good place to start can be looking at which commemorative stamps from USPS, looking at collecting books at the library or going to a stamp show. Your kids may be interested in collecting:
- Definitive (Regular) stamps – these are stamps that are issued regularly and used for normal post. They are readily available and are a good place to start as kids can collect them from the mail you receive as well as from old envelopes you may have at home.
- Commemorative stamps – these stamps commemorate important events and people.
- Special occasions – for example holiday stamps.
- Topical collections – there are many great topical collection options including animal stamps, Disney stamps, flower stamps, space stamps and dog stamps to name a few. There are so many options here. Whatever their interests are, there will be a selection of stamps that relate to it in some way.
Here are a few resources that may help kids get started:
Stamp Collecting Organizations
If you’re enjoying stamp collecting, you may find it interesting and exciting to meet with other stamp collectors. These meetings and organizations are the perfect place to share tips and knowledge as well as see a wide range of stamps and even sell or swap stamps with other members. An organization also gives you the opportunity to learn more about stamps, stamp collecting and is also a great place for children to experience how interesting stamp collecting can be.
Some organizations include:
It’s likely that as you begin to look more closely at your stamp collection you will become increasingly curious about the background and origin of your stamps. There are people across the world who study stamps and there are countless resources available that look at stamps in a range of ways. Whether you want to know the general history of stamps, how they are made or you are looking for specific information relating to a certain time period or topic you will be able to find lots of information online.
The below list offers some good starting points: