Want to Start Collecting?
Collecting stamp is a fabulous hobby, an activity that provides great satisfaction. If you would like to start your own collection of stamps, here is the list of procedures to get up and running:
- Usually, new collectors acquire any stamps they can find, be it United States or foreign. With declining first class mail volume these days, it’s not easy to find a decent variety of stamps on items that appear in your mail box. Thus, the most likely sources for stamps will be the friends, relatives, stamp dealers, stamp shows or a local group like the Dallas-Park Cities Philatelic Society. With so many stamps printed since the first ones appeared in 1840 in Great Britain, most collectors eventually narrow what they want to collect, like stamps from certain countries or stamps featuring certain topics, such as art, American presidents, Disney, cats, space or even stamps picturing stamps.
- There are a number of tools collectors use in their pursuit of the hobby. If you were gifted or inherited a collection,
you may already have some of the items that follow:
- An album in which to mount your stamps. These are almost always loose leaf, which allows you to add pages for stamps that are not illustrated in the album.
- Tongs designed to handle stamps. Do not use tweezers, which have grooves inside the tip.
- Magnifier to examine stamps more closely.
- Perforation gauge to help identify stamps that look the same at first glance, but many not be.
- For placing stamps in an album, hinges for used stamps or mounts for either used or unused stamps.
- Watermark tray and fluid for determining varieties of stamps, usually older ones.
- Stamp soaking and drying tools (see below). Older stamps can be usually be soaked off envelopes, newer self-adhesive ones require special treatment.
- Stockbook or glassine envelopes to store duplicate stamps or ones that have not yet been mounted in an album.
- There are certain precautions you should take with your stamps:
- Use tongs to keep from damaging stamps.
- Never mount stamps in albums with glue or any sort of sticky tape.
- Leave any stamp hinge or remnant thereof on the back of a stamp until learning how to properly remove it.
- Don’t store your collection in locations with temperature or humidity extremes.
- Avoid excessive exposure to light.
- Keep your collection at least six inches off the floor and store albums upright, never flat.
- Don’t store your collection in cardboard boxes or other material that attract pests.
- Never peel stamps from envelopes unless you soak them in water first (see process below). Be aware that many modern self-adhesive ones, especially from the United States, will be destroyed if you soak them.
- Be sure to let your friends and relatives know you are collecting stamps. Often they will be able to give you stamps they receive off the mail at their home or office. If you don’t have many free sources of stamps like that, it’s easiest and cheapest to first to buy packets of stamps. Packets come in all sorts of varieties such as worldwide, single countries and topics. The larger a packet you can afford, the fewer stamps you will need to acquire one at a time at a much greater expense. Some dealers sell collections that other collectors started, usually at stamp shows or on internet websites such as eBay, Delcampe and Hipstamp.
- If you have many loose worldwide stamps, you will need to classify and sort them before mounting in an album. First, sort the stamps in small piles, by country of issue. The country that issued the stamp is often identifiable by the inscription on the stamps. Images of stamps of various countries in a worldwide stamp album will help determine the issuing country. Lay aside the unidentified stamps. Sooner or later, you will be able to determine their identify, or will find someone to help classify them, such as a member of the Dallas-Park Cities Philatelic Society. Next, take each pile of stamps from a country and sort them by designs. Stamps of the same or similar designs usually belong to the same “set,” and were probably issued about the same time. Only one stamp of each kind should be mounted into an album. Duplicates should be kept separately in stockbooks or envelopes to exchange with other collectors.
- If a used stamp is still on an envelope, or a corner thereof, you will need to prepare it before placing into your album. First, cut around the stamp, being careful not to damage it by clipping any edges. If a stamp is self-adhesive, and all new U.S. stamps are, it’s easiest to just go ahead and place the cutout in your album. If a stamp is older one from the U.S., or one from a foreign country that obviously is not self-adhesive, then place the cutout face down in a bowl of warm water. When it becomes completely wet, you can peel off the stamp and place it face down on blotting paper, newspaper or on a page of a drying book. Once it is dry, it can be mounted in your album. Note that items like postal cards with imprinted stamp images should be collected in their entirety. For envelopes with imprinted stamp images, cut a large square around the imprint. If you acquire old envelopes with stamps on them, sometimes it’s best to seek the advice of more advanced collectors before attempting any removal of stamps; such envelopes may be more valuable with the stamps left on them!
- Once you have your stamps sorted and properly prepared, you are ready to place them in album using stamp hinges or plastic mounts. Note that stamp hinges may hurt the value of unused stamps, so plastic mounts are preferred for stamps that haven't been through the mail system. If you have a worldwide album, the various pages are identified by countries in alphabetical order. Illustrations in the album will serve as a guide to show where to mount the stamps. Beginner worldwide albums illustrate a very limited number of stamps issued by any particular country, so if there is no illustration of a stamp, which will frequently be the case, mount it in a blank space, or if your album is looseleaf, obtain some blank pages (usually sold separately) to place any stamps that have no illustrations.
- While certain stamps may be worth thousands or more dollars each, a beginner is unlikely to encounter many with any resale value, which is why stamp packets can be bought so cheaply. The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue is almost universally used by American collectors and dealers to identify and value stamps. However, it is only a guide to values rather than an absolute standard of value. Foreign stamps, when sold singly, may cost a collector only half (or less) the stated catalogue value. Stamps with the minimum value of 25¢ are most likely to be found in cheap packets and are so common that as singles, they really have no resale value whatsoever.
- Receiving stamps on approval is one way collectors obtain stamps on a regular, systematic basis. With the arrival of the internet, approvals are not as popular as they were in the 20th century, but nonethless are still offered by some dealers, the largest being Mystic Stamp Company. Other large players in that busines include Jamestown Stamp Company and Kenmore Stamp Company. These companies advertise in general interest publications in hopes of attracting new collectors, or their offers may start popping up when you surf on the internet and search for anything related to stamp collecting. If you take advantage of one of their special offers, or even order specific stamps directly from them, it’s possible you will receive approvals related to your purchase even though you don't recall requesting them. These consignments of stamps may arrive in small envelopes, on cards, or even mounted on sheets. They may be organized so as to be bought individually or only as sets. You can select what you need and then send payment, along with any unwanted items, within a specified period of time. Purchases should be made from reputable dealers and it’s an excellent idea to check with an experienced collector friend to see if prices charged are reasonable. Until you have paid for your selections, approvals are not your property and belong to the dealer who mailed them to you.
- As mentioned previously, as you progress in your collecting capabilities, at some time you may decide to narrow the type of stamps you want to collect. Many people prefer to collect older stamps as doing so eliminates keeping up with all the new ones that come out. On the other hand, new unused stamps from the U.S. are easier to find and manage. Once you have decided the type of stamps to keep in your collection, get to know other collectors, such as through the Dallas-Park Cities Philatelic Society. This is a great source for stamps as well as a place to sell or exchange the duplicate stamps you will inevitably end up with.
- There are many resources where you can get information about stamps and stamp collecting. Collectors at the Dallas-Park Cities Philatelic Society are always available to help you out. There are also catalogues you can buy or borrow from a local library that will help you identify stamps that do not appear in your album. Stamp shows and the internet are a great way to search for stamps, compare prices and find ones that are scarce.