In this second article of the stamp collecting tips for beginners series, we look at how to house and store your collection, as well as where to get helpful information and advice to support you as you add to your collection.
Housing and storing your collection
It is your decision as to how your collection will be mounted and stored. Archival quality storage and mounting materials are a wise investment and will make a significant impact on the condition of the collection, as well as enhance its value. You will need to adopt some method of organising and housing your stamp collection, otherwise your stamps will accumulate haphazardly and it will not be easy to view them. Arranging your stamps in a methodical fashion is the key to putting together a collection that allows for easy reference as well as reflects your creativity.
The collector has several options for housing a stamp collection that generally fall into two types:
- Stockbooks, which are bound albums of thick card pages that feature clear strips for inserting stamps
- Traditional stamp albums containing blank pages, usually in loose-leaf format
For the beginner the first type of album is probably more useful. The thick card-page albums are called “stockbooks” because stamp traders use them to hold their stock. A typical stockbook has 32 or 64 card pages with each page containing about eight to 10 horizontal clear strips. The strips are affixed to the page and just loose enough at the top to insert stamps. It is possible to accommodate hundreds of stamps neatly arranged in an average-size stockbook.
An alternative to the stockbook is the album stock sheet, which also contains horizontal clear strips for inserting stamps. Stock sheets are usually produced on black card and are manufactured as individual sheets for the collector to assemble in a folder. They can subsequently be re-arranged as required. Also, stock sheets feature different configurations of clear strips to accommodate larger items, such as miniature sheets or first day covers, as well as stamps. Album stock sheets are sold in sets by Australia Post and are available in one, two, five, six or seven-strip sheets.
With a stockbook or stock-sheet folder, putting together your stamp collection is an easy task. You decide how to arrange the stamps and products on the pages. A useful tip is to insert labels with descriptive details alongside each stamp issue. You can extract this information from stamp catalogues and other sources.
If you wish to use a traditional stamp album you will need to affix the stamps to the pages, using stamp hinges or clear mounts. Your local stamp dealer should carry a range of albums. Some traditional stamp albums allow the collector to exercise plenty of creativity in the arrangement of stamps and the placement of annotation. Other types feature pages with printed illustrations for the stamps of particular countries to be inserted.
An important point to keep in mind is that mint (unused) stamps are always more valuable if their gum does not bear the residual remains of a stamp hinge. Mint stamps should be kept ‘mint unhinged’ by being affixed to album pages with clear mounts. Use stamp hinges to affix used stamps to album pages. (Note: the hinge remains can be removed from a used stamp by soaking in water, but if this is done to a mint stamp the gum will be destroyed).
Remember, whichever route you take, protective enclosures should be composed of archival quality, acid-free materials in order to prevent the transfer of acids and other chemicals to your stamps. Plastics containing plasticisers (PVC) should be avoided, as they can cause serious damage to paper-based materials. Polypropylene, polyethylene and polyester have different properties, but they are all chemically stable and can be used for storage purposes. Always read the label or check with your supplier to ensure that the product you are buying will not introduce harmful acids and chemicals into your collection. The collection should be kept clean and regular inspection is important.
Albums should be stored upright in a cupboard and away from light. Duplicate or loose stamps and stationery should be stored in an archival-quality container, or a container lined with archival-quality paper. If the container is plastic, regular airing is essential. Storing in plastic mounts is not recommended if humidity levels are excessive, in which case storage in paper is safer.
Metal containers should never be used for storage. Any collection should be protected from extremes of temperature. Tropical climates can cause problems, so regular inspection and airing are especially important in these conditions.
Stamps may also be protected from fluctuations in temperature and humidity by wrapping them in archival paper or board and placing them in a box, which is then stored in a cupboard. Any item which is deteriorating or seems to be affected by acids or moulds should be isolated and wrapped in archival quality or alkaline-buffered paper. If the item is unique or valuable, a professional conservator should be consulted.
Where to find helpful information and advice
Access to useful information is the key to collecting stamps in an effective way, and without it the beginner will not know how to proceed. Information provides the how, what, where and why of the hobby. It is essential for the beginner to acquire a basic working knowledge of the hobby before embarking on building a stamp collection.
Stamp catalogues contain the most important sources of information about stamps. They are indispensable guides needed by all collectors, whether beginners or advanced. The purpose of a stamp catalogue is to list stamps and price them. The catalogue allows collectors to identify the sequence in which stamps were issued and approximately how much each stamp is worth. When a stamp collector puts together a collection, it is essential to know what stamps need to be acquired and which ones will be costly or inexpensive to purchase.
Stamp catalogues cover stamps of one country or a wider group of countries, and even the whole world. There are several catalogues devoted to Australian stamps produced by various publishers. The formats of the catalogues vary, but each provides illustrations (usually in full colour) and a chronological listing of Australian Commonwealth stamps issued since 1913. Some catalogues also list Australian colonial stamps issued for the six states, commencing in 1850.
Not all stamp catalogues are similar in their contents, because their publishers aim to tailor information according to the different needs of collectors. Beginners require basic information about stamps and advanced collectors need more detailed information.
Australian stamp catalogues can be purchased from stamp traders, major newsagencies and direct from the publisher. Two Australian stamp catalogues produced by different publishers are useful for the beginner:
- Renniks Stamps of Australia, 14th edition
- Seven Seas Stamps, The Australasian Stamp Catalogue Volume 1: Australia & Territories, 31st edition
The two principal stamp magazines published in Australia are Stamp News Australasia and Australian Stamps Professional. It is important for the beginner to read magazines like these regularly to gain an understanding of the Australian stamp scene.
The most widely read magazine about stamps in Australia is the Stamp Bulletin, published by Australia Post since 1953 to announce forthcoming stamp issues.
Philatelic clubs and societies
Philatelic societies are potential sources of information for beginners to stamp collecting. Not only will you be able to talk to other collectors, but the society may also maintain a library for use by its members. Information about joining a philatelic society, as well as a whole host of other collecting information is contained on the Australian Philatelic Federation website
Stamp websites, forums and bloggers
There are now a wide range of websites run by societies, groups or individuals which offer expert advice and opinions on all areas of philately.
They are a useful source of information, and offer an easy, free and convenient way for those new to collecting to become more informed. Information found on websites or forums such as Stampboards offer the opportunity for beginners to engage with other philatelists, to discuss and contribute to conversations on a whole range of topics.
Many philatelists also write their own blogs covering their collections and collecting experiences and are another useful and informative source of information for the beginner.
Stamps and money
It seems everybody regards stamp collecting as a hobby that should be financially rewarding. This is sometimes the case, but it is generally not so for the majority of collectors.
Many hobbies do not involve making money, but they are still very rewarding. So is stamp collecting. The rewards come in the form of knowledge, relaxation and friendships gained from pursuing your hobby.
If you do have an expectation that collecting stamps ought to reward you financially, you must not expect to achieve this aim in the short term. Beginner’s prospects for collecting stamps that will grow in value are not necessarily good, because beginners lack sufficient knowledge. Without investing in years of effort building this knowledge, it is not easy to recognise opportunities for acquiring worthwhile stamps. Naturally, there are no certainties in the process and even experts cannot be sure that their stamp purchases will prove lucrative.
Approach stamp collecting just as you would any other leisure activity. People interested in computers, photography and sport, for example, all expect to spend money acquiring equipment with no expectation of financial return. Indeed, they know that their expenditure might never be recovered. They are happy to spend money on their hobbies because it represents an essential investment.
Likewise, the beginner should be prepared to buy stamps and accessories without an expectation that they will rise in value. It is more important to enjoy your stamp collecting.
The overwhelming majority of stamps you can collect are not valuable and can be purchased for relatively little, because they are produced in large quantities serving a postal requirement, as well as meeting demand from collectors. The production quantities of most stamps are invariably so great that they rarely appreciate in value after their withdrawal at post offices. It is rather pointless buying current stamps with a financial motive in mind. You should buy new stamps for their appeal and the enjoyment you will get adding them to your collection.
If a stamp is old is it always valuable? The answer is often no. Many century-old Australian stamps are extremely common and can be purchased cheaply. A century ago, there were many collectors who were actively removing these from mail and today the stamps exist in plentiful quantities. Some nineteenth-century stamps are scarce or rare, normally because they were not commonly used on mail or they were used earlier in the nineteenth century when stamp collecting was less widely practised.
Why are particular stamps valuable while others are cheap? The reason applies to the value of almost anything. If something is scarce and it is in high demand, its price is high, but if it is plentiful and demand is low, its price is slight. Supply and demand governs the price of most marketable items. Australian stamps that exist in very limited numbers enjoy high prices on the market, but those that exist in large quantities are cheap to buy.
When buying from the stamp trade, you should bear in mind that the trader sells at a retail price that covers the expenses of running a business. If you sell stamps to the trader, it is unlikely that you will be able to do so at a similar price. The trader’s selling price includes the profit margin, which is excluded from the trader’s buying price.
The secret to making money out of stamp collecting is to buy scarce stamps and other philatelic items (such as postal history) at affordable prices and retain them in the hope that interest in these collecting fields becomes more widespread. In this event, prices will probably rise and your collection is more likely to be of greater value than what it cost you to put together. Of course, it is impossible to know precisely which “underrated” areas of stamp collecting will become popular areas in the future. Experienced collectors know that the joy of the hobby lies in building collections around themes that interest them – the prospect of financial gain is secondary.
This article was produced at the time of publication and will not be updated.