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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Phila-Trivia: By Gum! It's Stuck!

In The Philatelist (London) for January 1939, L.N. and M. Williams traced the variety of adhesives used to mount stamps to pages.


By Gum! It’s Stuck

By dint of much experimenting and infinite care the philatelist has reduced the mounting of stamps to a fine art.

The affixing or one part of the mount to the stamp and the other portion to the album page so that subsequent removal will result in neither tearing the mount nor damaging the page, is an operation requiring patience plus skill plus a good mount.

It was not always so. Once upon a time the most barbaric methods were used for mounting stamps. That is why many old stamps bear evidence to having been maltreated in their youth. A substance widely used by early collectors for affixing stamps in their albums was gum arabic. According to “An Amateur,” writing in 1866, this adhesive had many advantages over paste, chief among them being that it was more fluid and would keep fresh for a long time. However, its use on India paper was not recommended because “it soaks through to the upper surface and completely spoils the stamp. The best thing to use for India proofs seems to be a paste made with the flour of rice.”

Gum arabic was not used by everyone, and some collectors preferred to affix their stamps more firmly to the page. One of the substances strongly recommended by another writer was liquid india-rubber. The writer extolled its virtues and praised its cleanliness, adhesiveness, ease of removal, and the fact that it left no stain. The economy of its use also was mentioned, and its advocate stated that a shillingsworth would last for years. It seems doubtful, however, whether a stamp mounted with it more than once would retain its freshness “for years.”

Another adhesive used quite extensively was gelatine. A method of purification before use was suggested, as the gelatine was obtainable in long, thin slips which were to be boiled in water. It was recommended that the resultant liquid be passed through a sieve of linen.

Although the strength of the preparation cannot be doubted, it would seem, from the description given, to have been endued with magic powers. “Whenever it is required for use,” wrote its supporter, “it must always be warmed, and a small quantity of it applied with a brush on the back of the stamp, which fixes itself at once on the book.”

The need for an efficient adhesive attracted the attention of chemists, and a Mr. S. Ray, of Stockport, advertised a glue of his own manufacture. He called the substance “coagaline,” and marketed it at sixpence a bottle. He claimed that, being perfectly colorless, it would disfigure neither the stamps nor the album.

A somewhat similar concoction, of French origin, was sold under the name of “coll en batons.” In writing of it, the editor of Stamp Collectors’ Magazine stated that the gum was very different from the sticky-glue of English bazaars; for which fact present-day philatelists should be truly grateful.

A suggestion for quite an appetizing preparation was put forward early in 1867. It was made by a philatelist who stated that he was a collector also of monograms, and always used the adhesive for mounting them in his album.

The substance consisted chiefly of the white of an egg, carefully kept clear when being separated from the yolk, and put into a small bottle together with half a teaspoonful of the best brandy. The proposer was emphatic concerning the quality of the brandy, and this may have been prompted by some ulterior motive. At any rate, there must have been a strong temptation to apply the gum to the tongue instead of to the stamps it was intended to mount.

Considerably less appetizing was the potato starch recommended consistently by one stamp journal. However, collectors were warned to use the starch sparingly otherwise the stamps on which it was used would adhere only too well to the album page. One of the earliest suggestions for mounting stamps by means of folded strips of gummed paper, after the manner of hinges, was put forward in Stamp Collectors’ Magazine, dated January 1869. Although the use of gummed paper had been advocated earlier, the previous suggestions had been that the paper be folded twice, the part where the two edges met to be fixed to the stamp, the other side to be fixed to the album page. This resulted in the stamp’s becoming an almost permanent fixture.

The new hinge was suggested in the correspondence column, in answer to a reader’s query, and was accompanied by a rough diagram. The use of stamp edging was suggested as the gummed paper. Astonishing at it may seem, this idea did not catch on at once, and as late as March 1 1870, a writer in the same magazine recommended gum arabic as being superior to any other adhesive for mounting stamps.

Not until a year or two later was there a general move towards the mounting of stamps with strips of thin, semi-transparent paper, and the days of the stamp’s martyrdom were over - but were they? When considered carefully the use of even the stamp mount seems rather barbarous.

Perhaps some day a philatelist with a brilliant turn of mind will arise and forever banish even that small remnant of a gummy age. Then, and only then, will a mint specimen be able to retain its pristine glory until the end of time.


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