Monthly Archives: September 2016

  1. Is It Regummed?

    In order to determine whether a stamp has been regummed, a knowledge of stamp printing is required. When stamps are printed, they are printed on a sheet of paper that is then gummed and perforated. The order in which this is done is the clue to detecting the type of gum: on genuinely gummed stamps, the perforations are applied after the stamp has been gummed. On regummed stamps, the gum is applied after the perforations have been made. If you take an ordinary fifteen-cent commemorative and break it from the sheet, you will notice the way the perforations slightly fray and how the gum does to extend around the perforation tips. On regummed stamps, the gum tends to glob on the perforation tips, extending slightly beyond them and making the perforation tips brittle to the touch.


    Read more »
  2. Gum

    When Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp, an integral part of his design was a “wash of mucilage applied to the back, which, when moistened would allow the stamp to adhere to paper.” In the very early years of philately, hobbyists primarily collected used stamps. After all, the reasoning went, why spend good money when stamps off envelopes were so plentiful. And to spend money on stamps in the late 1860s seemed the height of folly. After all, what could they ever be worth?


    Led by the Belgian stamp dealer Jean-Baptiste Moens, collectors began buying unused stamps in the 1870s and 1880s. True, they didn’t display the purpose for which stamps were invented (that is, postal use), but the collectors didn’t have disfiguring

    Read more »
  3. Faults

    Stamps are printed on paper, though most collectors wish it were granite. The quality of perfection demanded by collectors far exceeds the bounds of reality. Paper, as it ages, becomes brittle. Any 100-year-old stamp has probably been owned by fifteen people and handled hundreds of times. It may well have faults. Faults refers to flaws in the paper.


    There are three main types of faults. Thins are areas of the paper that have become scraped away. These usually occur on the back of the stamp, but when they occur on the front they are called “face scrapes.” Thins can occur for a variety of reasons, but most predominant is a stamp being stuck down and then torn away, leaving some paper on the surface that the stamp

    Read more »
  4. Grading

    Grading and condition are the most difficult areas of philately for many people since these two factors are so important to stamp values. Every stamp, no matter how cheap or how expensive, can be graded. Grading means assigning the quality of the stamp to a series of words that are part of philatelic jargon. The terms that philatelists use to grade their stamps (in ascending order are Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine, Extremely Fine. In recent years some philatelists (primarily sellers), not content with seven gradations and their combinations (i.e., Fine to Very Fine), have added another term, Superb, naturally at the top of the scale. In grading, as in currencies, there has been inflation. And again as in currencies, the worst inflation has bee in the last decade. When another grading rung is added to the top of the ladder, the stamps

    Read more »
  5. Ways To Buy Stamps

    Approval Sales

    Approval sales are popular primarily either for low-priced merchandise or for highly specialized material that is hard to describe in words and must be seen. Approval dealers send stamps out to people who desire them. The customers look over the material, decide when they want, and return the balance along with payment for what they kept. Some approval companies solicit customers in general circulation magazines and even on matchbooks. They usually offer a large number of stamps, sometimes a topical theme, for 10 cents, or 25 cents, or sometimes more. When you sign up for this “loss-leader” you commit yourself to receiving approvals, and you have the moral as well as legal obligation to treat the material as someone else’s property (which it is) until

    Read more »
  6. Using The Scott Catalogue

    Once you have decided to collect, and have purchased your album, hinges, and a batch of stamps, you are ready to get down to play. You will need to learn how to use a stamp catalogue. Catalogues number and price stamps, and it is in this way that most philatelists collect and trade them. There are several major stamp catalogues in the world. In England, most collectors use the Stanley Gibbons catalogue; in France, it is Yvert & Tellier; Germans use Michel; and Americans and Canadians by and large use the Scott catalogue.


    The Scott catalogue is the major stamp catalogue in the United States, and every collector should learn how to use it. Scott does not illustrate every stamp, but it does illustrate every design type. On many stamps the design

    Read more »
  7. Mounting Stamps

    The subject of mounting stamps has caused considerable disagreement within philatelic circles during the last decade. In the very early years of collecting, collectors just glued or pasted their stamps into their albums, or if the stamp was mint, they just licked it onto the album sheet as if it were a letter. After all, few early collectors believed their stamps would have any resale value, and accordingly they assumed that they would never need to be taken out of the album. Later, collectors began to use gummed tabs to mount their stamps, which did not come off unless the stamp was soaked. Still, the tab could be cut, and trading a stamp from an album did not mean tearing off part of the page, so this was an improvement of sorts.


    Read more »
  8. How To Begin Stamp Collecting

    Believe it or not, no one turns to stamps knowing nothing about them. Nearly everyone who considers forming a collection has had, at one time, a box of stamps that were saved because he or she felt they were interesting. At a certain point, though, the budding collector takes the stamps out of the drawers or boxes they have been kept in and decides that some form of orderly collecting is necessary. When the decision is made to pursue the path of becoming a serious stamp collector or philatelist, the route is well marked. The first step that collectors must take is to become known to the stamp dealers in their area. A long time should be spent window-shopping and talking to the people in the stamp shop. Stamp dealers are afflicted with the same bug as most collectors: they love to talk about what they do. Ask about what to collect, and get a feel for the various dealers’ abilities.

    Read more »
  9. So You Want To Collect Stamps

    For nearly a century now, people have speculated about why anyone should collect stamps. Philosophers used to study the matter; now psychologists do. Surveys show that philatelists tend to be more intelligent than average, but the same can be said for bridge players. Philatelists tend to be curious and inquisitive, but that can be claimed for scuba divers as well. Psychological literature contains references to collecting impulses, but there is little that explains why a person should prefer one collectable to another. Stamp collectors, however, like to describe themselves as orderly, cultured people, who assemble tiny pieces of art for their pleasure and profit. Surely philately is the least imposing hobby in the world. It can be practiced any hour of the day or night, it causes no traffic jams, and it can be as cheap or expensive a hobby as the collector wants.

    Read more »
  10. Specialization

    Specialization is probably the major trend of modern philately. In 1950, a highly representative collection of United States stamps from 1847-1947, the first 100 years, missing only stamps that are known in quantities of less than 1,000 would have cost the collector about $5,000— a decent piece of change, but even in 1950 not beyond the scope of the average serious collector. The same collection in 1980 cost well over 100,000. When a collector can’t afford to collect the stamps of an entire nation, the logical alternative is to restrict the subject even more. Today, we see collections of United States commemoratives, which are stamps issued to commemorate events (the first commemorative issue was the 1893 Columbian); or United States Bank Notes, a collection of United States stamps issued from 1870-1889, called Bank Notes because they were printed by various private bank note-printing

    Read more »
  11. Philately Today

    When most people begin to collect stamps, they are general collectors, that is, they collect the entire world and try to get one of each particular philatelic variety. In the late nineteenth century all collectors were generalists. By the year 1900, there were only a few thousand varieties that could be collected, most of which could be purchased for less than a penny. Beginning about 1893, with the Columbian Exposition stamp issued by the United States, postal authorities discovered that stamp collectors could be a valuable source of revenue.


    The stamps issued for the Columbian Exposition came in denominations of 1 cent, 2 cents, 3 cents, 4 cents, 5 cents, 6 cents, 7 cents, 8 cents, 10 cents, 15 cents, 30 cents, 50 cents, $1, $2, $3, $4, and

    Read more »
  12. The Hobby In Europe

    In Great Britain, Stanley Gibbons had the good fortune to be born the same year that the first postage stamp was issued. He was not born on the first day, May 6, but that seems to have bothered him only a little. He loved his stamps— and other people’s too. He was a collector by fourteen, a dealer by sixteen (so he said), and by 1874 he had moved his shop to London where it still remains today. Legend has it that Gibbons was involved in one of the great stamp “finds” of all time (a “find” being a huge hoard of valuable stamps obtained cheaply). Some sailors wandered into his shop with a large sack. They had been in South Africa near the Cape of Good Hope and had come across, by whatever means the imagination might evoke, a huge sack o the old triangular issues of Cape of Good Hope proper. There were pounds of them, and with about 1,500 Cape triangulars to

    Read more »
  13. The Hobby Takes Hold

    Major car companies in Detroit have long had an adage that their sales are only as good as their dealerships. The theory is that many people choose their car based on the quality of the dealer that they go to— his displays, prices, service, and willingness to accommodate. Philately was well served by its early dealers, especially three: Jean-Baptiste Moens in Belgium; Edward Stanley Gibbons in England, whose firm still operates today as one of the world’s largest stamp companies; and J. Walter Scott in the United States, whose firm, after being sold and resold numerous times, still survives and publishes theScott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue.


    Moens began selling stamps actively from his bookshop in Brussels in 1848.

    Read more »
  14. What's In A Name

    Stamp collecting began almost coincidentally with the issuance of stamps. An advertisement in The Times of London in 1841 spoke of a lady desiring to paper the walls of her dressing room with Penny Blacks. She asked that people send her any stamps they might have received in the mail to enable her to complete the task. It has been suggested by on philatelic wag that she could not have been much of a beauty to want so much black in her dressing room. A second figured she had a morbid disposition. And a third complimented her on her foresight: to paper a 6-foot by 8-foot dressing room would take stamps worth today about $5 million. And she didn’t pay a penny!


    By 1842, stamp collecting was England’s newest fad. But

    Read more »
  15. A Sticky Situation

    A stamp must be affixed to a letter in order to serve its intended purpose. To accomplish this, the vast majority of stamps are gummed. Some stamps, like the ones the Dutch sent to their Asian and West Indian colonies, were sold and sent without gum. In the nineteenth century, a long boat trip to a hot climate in a humid hull meant that gummed stamps would arrive stuck together and had to be soaked in water to separate them, thereby losing their gum anyway. Sometimes the stamps were gummed upon arrival in the colony; though in India, the first issue was never gummed. The Danish West Indies (the American Virgin Islands after they were sold to the United States) issued the same stamp two ways over the years; either gummed in Denmark or gummed locally.


    Read more »
  16. Perforations

    When Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp, he made no provision for the separation of stamps on sheets. All stamps were issued imperforate, without perforations between stamps, with cutting the only means of separation. Hill did not expect that his stamps would prove all that popular; rather, he believed that his letter sheets and preprinted postage-paid envelopes, the Mulreadys, would be the choice of the postal-using public. He was wrong, probably for two reasons. First, the use of stamps, rather than prepaid envelopes— called by philatelists postal stationery— allows the user considerably more freedom in the size and shape of his envelope. Stamps also allow businesses, certainly the largest users of the post in Hill’s day as well as in our own, to have return addressed envelopes (called corner cards by philatelists). Second and more important, the design

    Read more »
  17. Watermarking

    The most philatelically significant aspect of paper is watermarks. Watermarks are the pattern placed on the mat or roll on which the paper is produced. Both laid and wove paper can be watermarked. Watermarks were developed as a form of advertising for the papermaker. When held up to the light, the pattern that was placed on the papermaking mat becomes apparent because the paper is thinner where the pattern is. Stamp producers, in their zeal to foil counterfeiters, placed watermarks on the paper on which stamps were produced in hopes that this additional step would make counterfeiting even more difficult. Great Britain has almost always watermarked its stamps, beginning with a simple crown pattern. The United States did not initially feel the need to order stamps on watermarked

    Read more »
  18. Paper Varieties

    The most carefully engraved design in the world still needs its canvas, and the canvas of a stamp is paper. There are many types of paper for printing; however, they all have one factor in common— a fibrous weave. Paper takes an ink design in printing (and writing) by allowing a measure of the ink to seep into it. The two major types of paper on which stamps are printed are wove paper and laid paper. Wove paper is like the paper of this book (technically a chalky wove paper— “chalky” defining how the paper is “sized” or how the spaces of the weave of the paper or filled). Laid paper is made on a mesh of closely parallel lines, so that when it is held up to the light it appears that the paper was put down in rows, as opposed to wove paper that quite literally looks as if it has been woven. Some form of wove paper is the

    Read more »