Starting Your Hobby
Obviously the first step is to acquire stamps. Many beginning collectors hardly pay for anything when they’re just starting to build a collection. Talk to your friends and family and colleagues in the office and simply tell them you’d like to have their stamps if they don’t want them. Word of mouth works like magic. Before you know it, you’re receiving stamps from people you haven’t even met.
Join a club of collectors. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, high-brow club if you’re just starting. First, learn the basics and when you decide you’re ready to specialize, then join a larger club -one that’s a regional chapter, instead of just a community-based organization. By joining clubs, you get to enlarge your collection because fellow collectors will give you their duplicates. When you’ve set saved enough money, you can buy stamps like most collectors do.
This involves looking for a dealer; make sure the dealer has a good reputation and is authorized to engage in the trade. They usually put ads in newspapers and magazines, and will join a trade show in your town or city. You can write dealers to ask if they would send you stamps on approval, meaning they’ll send you a set, you keep what you want and return the rest.
Once you’ve started collecting, you will need to decide what theme(s) you will use to build your collection. Or you may wish to specialize in collecting only mint stamps (they have never been cancelled) or on cancelled stamps. Many collectors prefer the latter, as they cost less.
In buying stamps, begin with mixtures. This is an unsorted bunch of stamps that some dealers will sell based on weight. You tend to get duplicates when you buy mixtures. This should not concern you. You simply trade them for stamps you don’t have at your next club meeting.
Want more bang for your buck? Buy packets. Packets do not contain any duplicates, but are more expensive. Or else, collectors will opt for sets of stamps. A set usually has all government issued stamps; sets can be either whole or broken. A broken set means that one or two stamps will be missing. Got all your stamps now? Next step is to sort them. You also need to separate them from their backings. Choose which ones you will work first. Put the rest in glassine envelopes until you’re ready to tackle them. Do not try to rip them, the risk of damaging them is too high.
Try soaking them in lukewarm water in a clean dish and let them soak until they separate from the envelope or paper. Take blotters and blot them dry, or you use a face towel. If your stamps end up wrinkled, put them between sheets of paper and put a paper weight on them overnight.
If you choose to do country collecting, arrange them in piles and do it in alphabetical order by country. When you’ve finished sorting them, you can start mounting them on your album. Before mounting them, however, do a sort one more time – and this time by the condition of the stamps. Put stamps of the best condition in the album.
Do not develop an emotional attachment to all your stamps, the way investors stick to their stocks like glue. Not all stamps – like stocks – are worth keeping. Only rarity and a stamp’s condition will determine its value.
Want to know how dealers and collectors grade stamps? We’ll provide an overview:
This means the stamp is as new with a clean and fresh color. No creases or tears mark the stamp. It is perfectly centered with even margins on all sides. The perforation is perfect and complete.
This is a physically perfect stamp – like a beauty queen of sort. Color might be slightly off and margins are slightly uneven. It does not equal a superb stamp.
This is a stamp that is free from defects or stains or imperfections, but it is not up the very fine or superb standards.
A good stamp does not have tears or wrinkles. Color may be faded, however or may be heavily postmarked. It could also be a little off-center.
Very low quality stamps are poor stamps. They could have a tear or may be creased, even have thin spots. Keep them only if they are irreplaceable.
It’s now time to open your album and mount your stamps. Make sure you have your magnifier, tongs and catalogs ready. Remember that good quality albums will provide plenty of room for you to manipulate your stamps with ease.
Each place for a stamp is also clearly marked. In some albums, images of the stamps are printed so all you need to do is mount the stamp over where the image is.
One of the preliminary steps in stamp collecting is buying your stamps. Follow these tips when you spend to acquire your stamp supply; you should especially be careful when you intend to buy rare or very expensive stamps.
Check out the seller or dealer. Was he recommended by a fellow collector? Has your club included his name on the list of authorized dealers?
It is correct to assume that a dealer who has been selling stamps for a long time is reliable and is therefore safe to deal with. He should also be a member of a philatelic society or the American Stamp Dealers’ Association.
Identify the stamp correctly. When you go to a dealer, make sure his collection is properly identified in terms of color, paper, watermarks, perforations, etc.
These features play a role in determining market value of stamps. Stamp catalogs are good references to have handy when identifying stamps.
Assess the stamp’s condition. Use the parameters we provided earlier. Check for tears, creases, marks, perforations. Stamps in poor condition are not worth spending the money on, no matter how dirt cheap the price is.
Determine whether the stamp is being sold at a fair price. You can do this by referring to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog. Note, however, that catalog prices are mere estimates, as most stamps sell below their catalog values.
Try to develop a keen sense of detecting forgeries or counterfeits. To the average collector, it may be a little tricky to tell a genuine stamp from a repaired one. Unless you believe your stamp collection is very expensive, it may not be worth the money to use the expert services of evaluators that some philatelic organizations charge.
Two more tips for you: Have you got dirty or stained stamps in your collection? Try soaking them carefully in a small amount of undiluted liquid dishwashing detergent (not dishwasher detergent – there is a difference!), then rinse the stamps in clean, cool water.
If your stamps are badly stained, try washing them in a mild solution of water and a bit of enzyme laundry detergent, but be very, very careful. This might prove too efficient and remove the printing ink as well.
A note about self-adhesive stamps. These were produced in the US in the beginning of the 90’s. These are the ones you can soak in water, but you can’t do the same for self-adhesive stamps produced at an earlier period.
Some self-adhesive stamps are made with a special, water-soluble backing, and while you can soak them, they just take a bit longer, like an hour or so.
If you don’t want to soak them, just cut the paper as close as possible, making sure you don’t touch the perforations and then mount them on your album.
Starting Your Hobby