Friday, March 21, 2008

Stamps Collecting Basics - Part 1

Stamps collecting is easy. The difficult part is to devote enough time and resources to the activity. It is often very satisfying to sort out the collection of stamps, with attention paid to the details of each stamp. If you have some knowledge about these stamps (either from magazines or elsewhere), examining these little pieces of papers will be even more fun. People collect stamps based on themes, e.g. country specific, or birds, fishes, events ...etc. It's up to you what theme you prefer. Most people start with country specific theme, and often their own country stamps is a good start, primarily because it is easier to get these stamps.

Let's first start with some basic things for would-be stamp collectors.

Sources of stamp: I've listed down some examples of how you could get these little pieces of papers, often cheaply for the common varieties.

Offices: Most offices received and sent out a lot of letters (yes, even in the modern day with Internet). While many envelopes now come with pre-paid impressions and not stamps. you could still find a decent amount of stamped envelopes. Have a chat with the office cleaner who empty the rubbish bins each day, or the clerks / personal assistants who handles mails. They could be a big source of used stamps.

Friends / Relatives: Friends and relatives also received letters, especially during festive seasons like Christmas. Ask them for the envelopes. During festive seasons, there will more envelopes with 'commemorative stamps' and 'cancellations' especially for that season. This adds variety to your collection, and adds to the joy of sorting out the stamps. Here's a pic of a Xmas special from Finland.

Shops: There are still stamp shops around. Do a simple search on your street directory for these shops. For beginners I will advise you to be more cautious when buying expensive stamps from these shops, since you may not be sure if such investments on these stamps will fit into your collection theme / objectives. Here's a pic of some stamps packages (in theme) that you can buy from shops.

Museum: There are stamps / philatelic museums around. Look for one, and the museum shop will also sell stamps. I got quite a number of stamps and albums from the Singapore Philatelic Museum.

Post Offices: Post offices are a good source of mint stamps, i.e. those unused stamps. You could also buy stamps year book from the Post Office. If you fancy First Day Covers, you could also approach the counter staff for inquiry on subscribing to the service.

Stamp Fairs & Flea markets: There are many stamps fairs and flea markets around with good bargain of stamps. I know (for Singapore) Adelphi basement, and also Chinatown area have a number of stamps fairs / flea markets with stalls selling decently priced stamps.

Equipments needed: While you do not need any equipment (strictly speaking) to collect stamps, it is actually ideal to have at least a pair of stamp tongs, and proper albums for stamps. These are not expensive items for the hobby. You can get them at the Philatelic Museum.

Stamp tongs: Since stamps are fragile little pieces of papers, using our fingers to handle them could be difficult. You may accidentally crease or bend them. Our fingers also have little films of oils or other substance that may cause long term harm to the stamps. After the stamps are soaked (for used stamps), use the stamp tongs to handle them. Here's a pic of two pairs of stamp tongs.

Album: Stamp albums are useful. Do not keep stemps in those photo albums because the paper materials are different. Stamp albums are specially made for you to keep stamps, for years and decades. A good sized album costs less than $20, and could be used to keep many stamps!

Magnifying glass: Any magnifying glass will do, and it is used to look at fine details on stamps. Younger folks may not need it, but trust me, it helps to save your eye sight when looking at really minute details on small stamps.

Perforation gauge: Those jagged ends on the sides of stamps are created when we split pieces of stamps from the stamp sheets. These are half of the perforation holes. The number of perforations are interesting to some collectors, and some stamps fetch high values because their perforations are different from other batches of stamps. Using a gauge, you could measure the number of perforations per 2 cm. Well this is not an essential when you first start out collecting.

Watermark detector: Many stamps have water-marks. Water-marks are interesting, especially for when you discover that similar stamps have different water-marks (sometimes). There are many different water-marks detector out there, some requires a water-mark fluid and trays, while others are simple devices using back-lit light to show the water-marks. Buy one when you are more serious about stamps collecting.

Mounts: Mounts are little pieces of plastic that you could slot stamps into. Very useful for keeping stamps when you are not using a stamp album.

Hinge: Hinges are no longer in fashion (I think). These are little pieces of papers that is used to 'hinge' stamps, a practice in the past. Nowadays you could just slot the stamps into the album without need for mounts. Hinges may damage the gum of the stamps, or leave remnants that are unsightly.

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