Stamp Collecting Supplies

Only a few stamp collecting supplies are needed to get started in this interesting hobby. The most important tool, however, is a basic knowledge of these small collectibles. Once acquainted with the factors that determine worth and value, collectors can decide the focus of their personal collections. After that, it will be time to gather the necessary tools that collectors use to determine a collectible's value. Careful handling and storage techniques, including appropriate stamp collecting albums, protect the collection's worth.

Like practically any collectible, whether coins, baseball cards, or presidential campaign buttons, the value of any particular stamp depends on its condition, scarcity, and demand. In determining condition, the philatelist (a fancy word for stamp collector) evaluates the color, the centering of the design, perforation, the back, and general appearance. Even a novice can practice evaluating techniques by looking at two identical stamps. A close look shows that they aren't so identical after all. Which of the two has brighter colors? Is the design more evenly centered on one than on the other? Are the teeth on the perforation even or torn? Is the adhesive on the back torn or gummy? What about the general appearance? Are there creases, stains, or tears? By carefully considering each of these questions, the collector most likely will choose one over the other for the collection. But this is only a start. The appropriate stamp collecting supplies will help the collector make better evaluating decisions. "When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee" (Proverbs 2:10-11). In all things, even in philately, knowledge leads to wise decision-making. This is important whether buying, selling, or trading with others.

The other factors when determining worth, scarcity and demand, pretty much go together. To our knowledge, there are only two of the Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill Stamps, issued in 1868, in existence. A private owner has one and the other is owned by the New York Public Library. The private owner traded a block of four Inverted Jennies, previously bought for approximately three million dollars, for his Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill. Only one hundred Inverted Jennies exist. These came about when a sheet for the twenty-four-cent airmail stamp was placed backwards into the printing machine. The extreme scarcity of these two items greatly increases their value to collectors. Notice that age is not a factor used to determine worth. The very first tiny treasure, the British Penny Black, was issued in 1840. In the year 2000, it was valued at approximately $200 (used) and approximately $2000 (unused), a fraction of the value of the Benjamin Franklin Z-Gill and the Inverted Jenny.

With this brief overview of the factors that philatelists use to determine worth, it's time to gather the stamp collecting supplies needed to aid in the evaluation process. Two basic items are a magnifying glass that provides at least five to ten times magnification and a special set of tongs. The magnifying glass helps the philatelist see tiny defects that affect the value. They can be found in a large variety of styles and prices depending on a collector's expertise and requirements. Tongs should be used when handling the tiny collectibles because even the cleanest hands have oil on them. Though tongs look like tweezers, their tips are rounded. The sharp tips of tweezers can crease or even tear the item. Tongs are inexpensive and come in different lengths, tip styles, and finishes. The more expensive tongs, of course, are of a higher quality, but even the cheaper ones should last a long time if they are taken care of properly.

Other important tools are a perforation gauge and a watermark detector. Though a good magnifying glass can help the collector check the perforation around a stamp's edges, a perforation gauge measures the number of perforation teeth in a length of two centimeters. For a tiny collectible like a postage stamp, even this detail can greatly affect the value depending on the demands of the collectors. Watermarks are incorporated into the design of the printing paper to foil counterfeiters. Sometimes the watermark can be seen by looking at the back of the stamp. Special watermark fluid helps the collector to quickly see the watermark and small defects without harming the item.

When purchasing stamp collecting supplies, the collector will also want to select stamp collecting albums to store and preserve his collection. Early albums were little more than hardcover books with printed pages. Each page had a heading and small squares where the appropriate stamp could be affixed. A drawback of the early albums was that new pages could not be added. Today's collectors have many more options. Album pages are often in binders so that additional pages can be added. The paper will be of varying degrees of weight, but almost certainly of archival quality. Current stamp collecting albums come in a variety of sizes and styles. Some companies offer separate components so that the collector can choose the binder and specialized sections separately. The specialized sections are pages for a particular country's issue or for a theme. Each page may have designated spaces for specific stamps. The designs of the stamps may be part of the design or perhaps the space will show the catalog number for that specific item. There may even be an option to purchase a cover for the binder. Mounting the stamps requires the use of either hinges or mounts. Hinges are small bits of glassine paper that can be moistened on both sides. One side is attached to the stamp and the other to the page. Though hinges are fine for used stamps, those in mint condition should be mounted. A mount is a small transparent sleeve that holds the item and then is affixed to the page.

The fun of philately can begin by removing interesting stamps that come in the mailbox. From that starting point, even a novice collector can have fun choosing among the stamp collecting albums to find the perfect storage for her growing collection. With the right tools, the collection can be appropriately evaluated, handled, and preserved.

Stamp Collector Clubs

Locating nearby stamp collector clubs is one of the best ways to learn how to become a stamp collector. Helpful resources may be as close as the local post office or the public library. Listings of clubs based on their geographical locations can be found on the internet. There are also virtual clubs where members can find up-to-date information about new releases, trade their tiny treasures, and learn more about the hobby. Joining other people who share an interest in this interesting hobby is a great way to meet new people and find out more about the history of the postal system, the best ways to begin one's own collection, information on the tools used by collectors, and the factors determining a stamp's value.

The study of stamps is called philately and a collector is known as a philatelist. These words are based on two Greek words. The first, "phileo," means "I love." This is the same root found in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. It can also be found, translated as "love," in the conversation Jesus had with Peter after the Resurrection. They were walking along the Sea of Galilee. "He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep" (John 21:17). The second word is "ateleia" which means "free of charges." Before the invention of postage stamps, the person receiving a letter had to pay. The "free of charges" phrase recognizes that the recipient now gets his letter without having to pay for it. The sender of the letter buys the postage. This change in who pays occurred in 1837. Before then, the cost of receiving mail was expensive and recipients often refused the delivery. Some creative people worked out codes that they wrote on the outside of the folded letter so the recipient could get the message without paying for the delivery.

Hobbyists who join stamp collector clubs will probably learn all about Sir Rowland Hill, the British postmaster who reformed the post office and designed the first stamp. He was the one who changed the system so that the sender of the letter paid for the postage. The rate was set at a penny for a letter weighing no more than half an ounce that could be delivered anywhere in the British Isles. To prove the postage was paid, a small piece of colored paper was affixed to the letter. The first stamp, known as the Penny Black, was a profile of Queen Victoria printed in black and first appeared on May 6, 1840. The United States issued its first stamps in 1847. These were a ten-cent stamp that had a picture of George Washington on it and a five-cent one with a picture of Benjamin Franklin.

An aspiring philatelist can quickly learn how to become a stamp collector by understanding the basics about the three different types of stamps: definitive, commemorative, and special. The most common are the definitive ones which are mass produced in the billions. Commemorative stamps honor specific persons or events. They may be larger than the common definitive ones and usually only about 100 to 200 million will be printed. Once that printing is sold out by the postal office, it can only be bought on the secondary market, perhaps from a dealer or another philatelist. Special stamps, such as the "Love" stamps and those sold during the Christmas holidays, may be reprinted if the demand is high. An advantage of belonging to stamp collector clubs is that members can stay informed about when new stamps will be issued and they can buy, sell, and trade older stamps with each other.

Learning how to become a stamp collector requires making a decision on what kinds of stamps the philatelist wants to collect. Many beginners start collecting anything they can get their hands on. This is a great way to get experience comparing stamps that may look identical to determine which one is the best one to keep. As time goes on, however, and the collection grows, the hobbyist may decide to specialize. There are all kinds of collections. Many people start out by collecting the stamps from a specific country because this broad category gives the hobbyist a great many choices at affordable prices. Collections may be based on a certain look, such as a shape or color, or collectors may try to get all the stamps that were issued on a specific date, such as one's birthday. Often, a person will become intrigued with a specific topic and that will become the focus of her collection. The topic might be whimsical, such as certain cartoon characters, or have a historical focus, such as collecting stamps depicting royalty.

Whatever direction the philatelist chooses for her collection, she'll need certain tools to take care of her tiny treasures. To keep their value, postage stamps should be kept in special albums and affixed with either hinges or mounts. These are two different types of holders that can be placed in albums. A magnifying glass of at least five to ten times magnification will help the hobbyist get a good close look at her small collectible so she can note any tiny tears or creases. Small tongs with a smooth gripping surface are used to handle the stamp. Even just-washed hands will have oil on them and that oil is not good for stamps. Handling needs to be kept to a minimum to avoid damaging the collectible. By joining stamp collector clubs, the hobbyist can find out the best places to get the necessary equipment.

Like most other collectibles, the stamp's worth is determined by its condition, scarcity, and the demand. A brightly colored stamp with a perfectly centered design is more valuable than a faded, creased one. Because commemorative stamps have such a small print run compared to definitive stamps, they will usually have more value. The third factor, demand, is the most difficult one to foresee. For the most part, popular topics that are collected by a large number of philatelists will be harder to find than less popular topics. That will increase the value of the collectibles for that topic. Here again, by learning how to become a stamp collector, the hobbyist can become educated on trends in the philatelist world.

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