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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.