Stamps of Approval

Originally written and published on Hobbyist World

Long gone are the days when you'd wait for the postman, just to see what stamps were on the letters you've gotten, trading ones you already have, for the ones you don't, with your friends who also collect stamps. Why not revel in the nostalgia of the days gone, and take up philately again? Here's a guild to get you started:

What to Collect

As is with collecting anything at all, it is highly important to consider the condition of the collectable item. Badly torn or mishandled stamps are neither very pleasing to look at, nor are they worth as much as their undamaged counterparts. Acquiring the finest possible specimens is encouraged, as stamps are rated in condition from poor to superb.

Consider collecting stamps that have perfect centring, brilliant colour and perfect gum. Used stamps can also be collected if they are perfectly centred, fresh-looking, lightly cancelled but fairly undamaged.

Tools of the Trade

Philately doesn't require any tools, per se, however, some tools may help you catalogue, categorise, and protect your collection. The most basic of tools include:

Magnifying Glass

Some stamps appear to be alike, but with close inspection, you will see small differences that can help to identify a rare stamp. Considering the size of a stamp, a magnifying glass is a great tool to help see the details of our stamps and to find differences. When selecting a magnifying glass, choose one that magnifies clearly, without distortion.

Stamp Albums

It is a good idea to store your stamps in albums to help protect them. You can buy stamp albums from local stamp dealers, make your own, or even use a photo album with acid-free paper. A stock book is another type of album with plastic or paper pockets on each page.

Stamp Catalogue

Stamp catalogues are very helpful and can be a great reference book filled with illustrations that can help us identify and learn about our stamps. They provide information such as the date when the stamp was issued, a description of the stamp, why it was issued, how it was printed and gives the value of the stamps in used and unused condition.

Perforation Gauge

Some stamps have the same design but different numbers of holes between stamps that make it easy to separate them. Of course, you could count the perforations yourself by counting how many appear along a row 20 millimetres long on each edge of the stamp -- sounds confusing, don't you think? That's why perforation gauges are a good idea. They are usually made of cardboard, plastic, or metal and make the measurement of perforations simple. The gauge has different scales showing the various sizes of perforations so that you can simply place your stamp against each scale until its perforations match exactly those on the gauge.

Watermark Detector

Watermarks are another way to recognise differences in similar stamps. A watermark is a design that is pressed into the paper that a stamp is printed on during manufacturing. Watermarks are used to make it harder to counterfeit stamps. Sometimes watermarks are visible, or can easily be seen by looking at the back of a stamp as you hold it up to the light, or by placing the stamp face down on a black background. If these methods don't work, a watermark detector can be used. A watermark detector is a shallow, glass black cup or dish. Simply place your stamp face down in the detector, and pour watermark fluid over it; if there is a watermark, it should become visible.

Hinges and Mounts

Put stamps in your albums with a hinge or a mount. Don't use tape or glue as you will decrease the stamp's value and possibly damage the stamps when you try to remove them from your album. Hinges are small, thin, folded pieces of translucent paper or plastic with special gum on one side. Mounts are clear plastic sleeves.

Branching Out

If you wish to develop your stamp collection on more specific lines than simply accumulating stamps, there are various ways in which you can pursue a serious philatelic study. The specialist is a mature student of stamps, their design and printing, their history and postal significance, devoting his attention to one particular country, or even to one period of a country’s issues, its postal history and postmarks. The Indian Postal Service also offers a Philatelic Deposit Account for those looking to get their hands on commemorative/special issue stamps, first-day covers, information sheets and new postal stationery soon after their issue. You can find out more about Philatelic Deposit Accounts here.

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