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Monday, September 14, 2009

Practical Advice: Preserving Your Stamps

Being made of paper, stamps are fragile collectibles, and preserving them in the condition in which you acquired them is essential to preserving the value of your investment.This is easier than it sounds, and does not require a degree in chemistry or physics. It does require an awareness of the main causes of damage to stamps, and a willingness to take steps to avoid them.

The main causes of stamp damage are: negligence in handling and storage,
moisture, acidity, and excessive exposure to light or extreme variations in temperature. Often, damage results from a combination of two or more of these factors.

Negligence is probably the worst of these threats, and it encompasses many different manifestations of ignorance and error. It may be said that most instances of a collector unintentionally damaging stamps are forms of negligence. Some of the following warnings may seem obvious to even most beginning collectors, but I'll go through them anyway:

  • Do not write on the backs of stamps.
  • Do not mount stamps by licking their gum and sticking them into albums.
  • Do not use photograph albums with sticky pages to mount stamps.
  • Do not use hinges to mount never hinged stamps.
  • Do not break up multiples which may be more valuable as multiples, or soak stamps off of covers when they may be more valuable on cover.
  • Do not immerse a stamp in watermark detector if the catalog warns that the ink may bleed if that stamp is immersed in it.

Excessive exposure to moisture can ruin a stamp's gum, or transform it into a meal for mold or insects. The best ways to avoid this threat are not to store stamps in damp environments or rooms in which flooding is a risk, and endeavor to keep stamps out of the rain.

Acidity poses both an internal and external threat. Some stamps are composed of paper which has a high acid content, and will turn yellow and brittle over the years if exposed to excessive moisture or light. In the vast majority of cases, this process can be avoided if the stamp is not over-exposed. Also, in the cases of used stamps and stamps issued without gum, much of the acidity may be removed by soaking the stamp in warm distilled water for several hours.

The external threats of acidity damage involve handling and storage. Always use tongs when handling stamps, because oils secreted from the skin have a high acid content. Stamps should be mounted using acid-free mounts in modern acid-free albums or stockbooks. They should be removed from old albums in which the pages are printed on paper which has a high acid content, so that the acid doesn't migrate to the stamps.

Excessive exposure to light should also be avoided, though fading probably will not occur unless there is extreme exposure to light over a prolonged period of time.

Extreme variation in temperature is another stressor, and should also be avoided. Storing a stamp collection in an attic which freezes in the winter and becomes an oven in the summer is a very bad idea.

All of these suggestions for preserving stamps are simply common sense, and others that are equally valid may occur to you. It's best not to learn the hard way how a stamp may become more rare.