Debra Walters



Posted by Debra Walters on

Commemorative stamps are issued for limited durations to celebrate or remember a particular activity or event, like the Olympics or the bicentennial. While they can be used for regular postage service, their limited variation of denominations and relative rarity mark

New South Wales Centeniall Stamp, 1888

them as primarily aimed at the collecting market. There is a great deal of controversy among collectors regarding the first explicitly commemorative stamp. Some of the earliest examples were intended as special issues of regular stamps, not specifically aimed at collecting.  New Brunswick issued a stamp to celebrate the expected visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860, while the United States released a black stamp after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1866. Another early contender for the first commemorative stamp was the Centennial Exposition’s stamped envelopes in 1876, though technically this isn’t a postage stamp, it’s postal stationary. The most widely accepted first commemorative stamp is the Centennial Stamp issued by New South Wales in 1888,  which receives this honor due more to its status as a collector’s stamp than being a chronological first. Other early unarguably commemorative,  stamps included Hong Kong

Columbus commemorative stamp

and Romanian stamps and then a whole varied set from various American countries celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas. The rush of commemorative stamps that emerged around this time sparked a pronounced backlash from a large portion of the collecting community as prices soared. In fact, 1894 saw the birth of the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps (SSSS), an organization that had little to no effect on the proliferation of commemorative stamps. The most popular collectible stamp ever released in the United States was, perhaps fittingly, the Elvis Presley stamp issued in 1993, with over a hundred million stamps secured in collections around the country. While other stamps can’t quite compete with the Elvis in volume, there are far more individually valuable commemorative stamps available.

One of the most expensive new stamps available is also the most technologically advanced: the Austrian Andi Herzog lenticular stamp actually has a moving image of the goal allowing Austria into the 98 World Cup. As a new stamp, this is only around ten dollars American. For truly expensive commemorative stamps, one has to look a little further back in history. The Columbus commemorative stamps issued in 1892 are some of the most expensive in the US, with a price around $1400 for a mint example.  Similar stamps, like the Trans-Mississippi collection sell for anywhere from $400 to $4000 depending on the version.

Where to buy Commemorative StampsCollectors looking for price and sales information on-line often check first, as it has evolved a dedicated stamp collecting section. Price information, updated twice yearly, can be found at, as well as on numerous blogs. also provides a meta-auction service that connects stamp collectors and allows them to engage in trading or selling.

For general information on where to buy stamps online please visit my stamp collecting home page.


How to soak stamps off an envelope

Posted by Debra Walters on
How to soak stamps off an envelope

Before soaking stamps off an envelope, first set aside for later any stamps that may cause problems. This includes those on colored paper, with colored backing, and those on poor quality paper or with inks that might dissolve and stain other stamps being soaked, these will require special attention one at a time.

Next, cut the envelope paper around the stamp, taking care not to damage the stamp.

Fill a bowl with a few inches of lukewarm (not hot!) water and float a few stamps picture side up. (Make sure the stamps do not stick to one another).

Once the glue has dissolved sufficiently (the stamps should slide easily off the paper),  remove from the bowl (preferably using stamp tongs) and gently rinse the back of the stamps with fresh water and place on a paper towel to dry.

Leave the stamps to dry completely on their own.

Stamps may look curled or wrinkled after drying. These can be flattened inside a book (Special stamp drying books can be purchased though a phone book or dictionary should suffice), after a few days inside the book they should be completely flat and can be transferred to your collection.

For colored stamps, soak one at a time in cool (not luke-warm) water. If the water becomes stained, empty the bowl and refill to prevent from staining the stamp. Dry as above.

Dirty or stained stamps should be soaked in undiluted dishwasher detergent  then rinsed in cool clean water. Very badly stained stamps may need to be soaked in a weak solution of water and enzyme laundry detergent (use caution as this can remove the printing ink from the stamp!). Dry as above.

Most self adhesive stamps can be soaked off envelopes but may take an hour or longer before they separate from the envelope paper. As a general rule self adhesive stamps issued before 1990 cannot be removed by soaking with water, therefore you may just want to trim the paper closely around the stamp and then transfer to your collection.

How to Handle Stamps

Stamps can be easily damaged when picked up. Dirt and sweat from your fingers can damage the sensitive paper ruining the stamp and lowering its value. Stamps should ideally be handled using a pair of stamp tongs. Tongs are a pair of tweezers that normally have flattened blades at the ends.  There is a wide range of tongs on the market ranging from basic models costing a few dollars to fancier and more expensive imported models. To use tongs simply grab the stamp with the tong towards the centre or the stamp. Only apply sufficient pressure to securely hold and move the stamp. Excessive pressure may leave marks and damage the stamp.  Tongs should be periodically cleaned with a little dishwasher soap. Ensure they are completely dry before using your tongs again.

Storing and Displaying Your Stamps

There are several  methods for storing and displaying your stamps. These include stockbooks, stockpages in a binder (or album), pages in boxes, and approval cards.

Stockbooks have a fixed number of hard cardboard pages with 8-10 strips on each page to hold stamps in place. Most stockbooks have an interleaf between each page to stop stamps snagging when pages are turned. Stockbooks range from a simple 8 page stockbook with a rigid leatherette cover , white pages with glassine strips, single glassine interleaving and rigid hinges,  all the way up to a 32 page stockbook with a padded leather cover, black pages with clear strips, double clear interleaving, and double linen page hinging. There is a wide range of stockbooks available so be sure to shop around.

Stock pages are loose leaf pages with clear plastic strips to hold stamps. Stock pages are usually stored together in a binder.  Again there are a wide variety of stock pages available to the stamp collector.

Stock sheets are better than an album when you wish to see more than just the front of the piece. The main disadvantages of stock pages and stock books is the risk of damaging or jumbling your collection if you drop the pages or books and it is difficult to write comments about your stamp collections.

Useful websites:

Stamp albums come with pre-printed pages or blank album pages. Pre-printed pages have a space marked out for each stamp. Stamps are mounted in your album using the hinge or (for mint stamps) you can use a mount to preserve the gum on the back of the stamp. Albums are cheaper than stock books and stock pages and provide room for you to write about your stamps. However as your collection grows album pages can get expensive over time and it can be frustrating when you don’t have a defined space for a particular stamp within a collection. In these cases the extra stamps must be mounted in the margins, or on a separate blank page.



Posted by Debra Walters on

Stamp collecting is a rewarding hobby. A beginner can be perfectly happy with an album of pretty pictures whereas an advanced collector might be more interested in a detailed study of a single stamp. The right way to collect is the way that makes you happy.

Stamp Collecting – What to Collect

When you first start stamp collecting, start simple. Affordable packets of used stamps can be found at stamp dealers and hobby stores which are an excellent start. Make sure the pack contains all different stamps as variety and quantity are important at this early stage. Then start sorting through your collection.

There is no right way to sort your collection, though sorting by country is one of the most common methods. Another method is topical collecting where you sort your collection by the subject represented on the stamp. Once you have arranged your collection you should have formed an idea of what direction it should take. At this stage it can be useful to borrow a book from the library in order to decide what you wish to collect. Joining a stamp collectors club or online discussion group will help to gain more knowledge about your collection and the types of stamps you are collecting.

At this stage you will also have identified stamps in your stamp collection that don’t interest you. Finding other stamp collecting enthusiasts to swap stamps with can be mutually beneficial and fun.

As your collection grows you may begin to gain a good idea of the values of your stamps and how rare they are and will find it easier to know the direction of your collecting interests. Stamp catalogues and price guides can give you a current market value for a given stamp issue. The most widely recognized catalogues include: the Scott Postage Stamp Catalog, Stanley Gibbons for Great Britain issues, Yvert & Tellier for French issues, Unitrade for Canadian issues, and Minkus and Harris US/BNA for United States issues

Stamp Collecting – Where to Buy Stamps

In times gone past you had to go to specialist hobbyist shops or swap and purchase stamps through other collectors to obtain specific stamps, or you could try your local post office. Nowadays there are many places where you can buy stamps. There are a multitude of websites where you can purchase anything from bags of stamps for novice collectors to rare and specialty stamps for seasoned collectors. The advantage of using the internet is the ability to research and quickly purchase a missing item from a collection. The disadvantage, however, is that the actual condition and quality of the stamp may be difficult to determine. Most of the reliable websites include a clear photo but for those collectors who insist on perfect quality, finding a dealer where the stamps may be viewed in person is a preferred option. Specialty stores that sell coins, stamps and small collectibles are often found in the larger metropolitan areas. Antique stores are another valid source for locating rare and valuable stamps. A collector who uses the Internet for general pricing knowledge and purchases through a store or dealer often ends up finding the best pricing and locating the preferred quality samples.

Useful Websites:

For more information on philately stamp collecting such as specific info on commonwealth , u.s , and commemorative stamps , old and rare stamps and more, please visit the specific pages listed. For each of the countries listed i’ve tried to include all of the most interesting and relevant information that a collector would need , including some great links to online stores and links to sites that can more accurately value your stamp collection. I’ll be constantly adding to and updating the site, and appreciate hearing from my visitors so please contact us with any questions or comments.