Stamp collecting is a universal hobby. People collect stamps not only for what they are worth in themselves but also for their designs, the stories they tell, the events they commemorate, and the sidelights they throw on the production of stamps. In fact, postage stamps are “the windows of a nation through which people overseas may behold its heritage and nature”. They reflect every aspect of a nation’s life including its trade, history, art, crafts and natural history.
Stamp collecting is now far from just a hobby; it is a subject of serious study. The study of stamps leads its enthusiasts to the study of geography, history and the natural life of various countries. An album of stamps can, therefore, be a book of knowledge as well as a book of original research.
WHAT TO COLLECT:- “What to collect” and “How to collect” are problems which face all beginners. A hundred year ago, it was easy for a collector to have a completion with all the stamps of the world. But with the growing popularity of stamp collecting, countries found stamps a good medium for publicizing their culture, industries, landscape, geography and achievements in various other fields.
There is hardly any subject or theme which has not been depicted on stamps. Some of the popular themes are Air Mails, Birds, Arts, Butterflies, Communications, Fishes, Famous Men and Women, Flowers, medicine, Paintings, Postal History, Railways, Religion, Scouts, Space, Sports, Ships, etc.
Collectors have, as a result, started specializing in topics or themes, a particular country or a region. In fact, topical collections have become the norm in last few years. One reason for this may be that a topical collection has a very wide appeal. Almost everyone can find a subject that interests him and become an ardent stamp collector on his subject. Themes may be sub divided into smaller groups. A philatelist collecting stamps on birds, for instance, may divide them into land sea birds, game birds and birds of prey.
It is, therefore, desirable to secede that to collect before you actually start collecting. Whatever subject you pick on the collection should be as complete as possible. Haphazard collections should be avoided. You should begin your collection systematically for nothing kills interest faster than a poor beginning.
HOW TO COLLECT:- Start your collection by accumulating stamps. Plenty of them will be available. Check the coming to your house from friends or from the office. Do not try to remove stamps from their covers by peeling them off. Cut out the portion of the envelope with the stamp leaving a good margin around. From a stamp store you may also buy a small packet of stamps already separated from the envelopes on which they were stuck. You will also find that your school friends are eager to exchange their duplicates.
You are now ready with a packet of stamps of your choice. But where are you going to mount them? A great variety of albums are available albums on different subjects, in different styles and at varying prices, and with illustrations to help you identify your stamps. It is best for the beginner to avoid buying an album in which stamps can be mounted on both sides of the page. In such albums there is a danger of detaching tearing or other wise damaging the stamps every time the album is opened. It is better to use an album with loose leaves. It would be useful to buy a stamp catalogue, for it wills not only guide you in mounting your stamps in the right places but will also give you details concerning the stamps and the varieties issued in each group.
MOUNTING OF STAMPS:- Before starting the actual operation of mounting your stamps, you should get a packet of hinges and a pair of tongs. Never use glue, paste or adhesive tape for mounting stamps. They will damage your stamps forever. What you need is a packet of hinges. Stamp hinges are small rectangles of a special thin but tough paper with a double coating of gum, so that, when dry they can be detached easily from the back of the album page with out damaging the stamp. Hinges are not expensive, so always buy the best quality. Hinges are available as flat strips gummed on one side. When using them they are to be folded with the adhesive side on the outside. The hinge is not to be folded in the centre but towards one end so that one fold is longer than the other. The short end is to stick on the stamp and the long one to stick on the album.
A pair of stamp tongs (tweezers) is recommended. Instead of using your fingers and thumbs which are likely to soil and damage the stamps use tweezers to handle them. The tweezers should be rust proof and should not be sharp. Using tweezers may be difficult in the beginning but with a little practice you will be able to use them quite expertly.
Now that you have your stamps, hinges, album and tweezers, the first thing to do is to remove the used stamps from the paper to which they are stuck and wash away all old gum. Before doing this, sort out your collection. Discard the stamps which are badly damaged those with the design torn, the corners off, and the perforation trimmed or heavily post marked. It will distress you to have to discard so many stamps but do not hesitate to do so because you should aim at building up a collection worth having.
Now place the good stamps in a vessel (a tray) of cold water, push them down and separate them gently from the paper. Do not put in all the stamps together. Put in a handful or two at a time and let them soak long enough for the stamps to detach themselves from the paper. While soaking, the ink on some stamps may run. Pull them out of the water immediately or you will spoil the whole batch. Stamps which are printed with fugitive ink (ink that is not fast) should be soaked separately and carefully. Pick up the detached stamps with the tweezers and spread them out face down on a clean paper to dry flatten them and put them in a book for a few hours to keep them flat.
After soaking, drying and flattening, the stamps are ready to be mounted on your album. Sort out your stamps and lay them out on pages in the order you plan to mount them. Fold a hinge about one third or one fourth the distance from one ends and apply the short end to the top of the back of the stamp just below the perforations. When sticking the hinges, do not moisten them too much. Particularly in the case in the case of mint (unused) stamps too moistening is likely to affect the gum on the back of the stamps. After fixing the hinge properly and place the stamps at the appropriate place on the page.
STAMP LAYOUT:- Once you have started stamp collecting you should aim at having a complete collection. All the stamps issued on the subject you have chosen should appear in your album. The information required to complete your collection will be available in the catalogue. Do the layout of your album pages even if you do not have all the stamps you need. Reserve space in your layout for stamps you do not have so that when you acquire them, they can be put in the right places. A clean well mounted and property laid out collection is always worth more than an untidy one. A small write up against each stamp is necessary. Making write ups for a stamp collection is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hobby.
Album pages usually have a quadrille background. Thos means that the page is divided in to small squares. By counting the squares, the spacing and pattern of the layout can be easily worked out. In preparing the layout you will have to take into account the space required for each write up. The write up should normally give details which are not available on the stamp, such as the date of issue, the reason for the issue, the watermark, the perforation, the names of the artist, designer and printer, the type of paper used and the number of stamps issued. Although the write up should be brief there is no why a collector should not make his stamp album a historical of his stamps. The write up should not, however, overshadow the stamps and take away from their importance or spoil the overall effect. Where the entries are long, attach separate information sheets to the album. In preparing the layouts ensure that the page is neither overcrowded with stamps nor with the write ups; should the two be balanced so that page is attractive and informative.
After the layout is worked out mark the positions of the stamps and the write up lightly with a pencil on the album pages so that the markings can be rubbed out later on. A write up should be completed before sticking the stamps. Black ink and stencils with appropriate stencil pens ought to be used for the write up so that the page has a neat and uniform appearance.