Stamps, Covers and Postal History

Information For Young Or Beginning Collectors

What to Collect

There is no right or wrong way to collect stamps. No matter your age or interests, the goal is to have fun.

Topical Collecting

An increasingly popular method of collecting is by topic. Topicals give you an opportunity to explore all types of stamps from all over the world. Most are relatively inexpensive and allow you to customize and organize your collection however you want. Think of any topic and someone probably collects it. Animals, birds, flowers, ships, space, scouts, Disney, and sports are some of the most popular topics. However, exhibits have been put together on far less common topics such as rainbows and even outhouses on stamps. Topicals are also great because you can choose what types of material to include. Most topical collectors look for special postmarks that relate to their topic. First day covers and postal stationery also offer great opportunities for topical collections.

Worldwide Collecting

Many people begin by collecting everything worldwide. The countries of the world issue a total of about 10,000 postage stamps each year! Unless you have a lot of money, space, and time, at some point trying to collect every stamp ever issued is probably unrealistic.

Country Collecting

Traditionally, collectors specialize by choosing a single country to collect, most often their home country, the country where they spent a memorable vacation, or a country whose stamps just look interesting. For a few countries obtaining every stamp issued is possible without having to spend a fortune. However for most countries, there will probably be at least a few stamps that most of us cannot afford. Thus some collectors will narrow their specialty even further, perhaps limiting themselves to stamps issued since they were born.

Mint or Used

Most people come to prefer either mint stamps or used stamps. Mint stamps have never been used and look the way they did when they were sold at the post office. Used stamps have served their intended purpose of carrying the mail. There are several advantages to collecting used rather than mint stamps. Most stamps cost less used than mint, although there are exceptions. You do not have to worry about preserving the gum on use stamps and can use inexpensive stamp hinges to mount your stamps on album pages. Sometimes the cancellations on used stamps are of interest. The choice to collect mint, used, or even a mixture of the two is your decision alone.

Collecting by Type

Some individuals collect stamps based on the type of stamp, such as airmail stamps or coil stamps. This category may appeal to you if you are interested in stamps used to pay special services such as special delivery or postage due. However the majority of philatelists collect stamps of all types.

Other Traits

Some collectors prefer to collect stamps of a certain shape or color. Be creative! If you see colorful stamps coming in the mail that interest you, collect them! One individual may choose to collect only yellow stamps, another stamps issued on their birthday, and aa third may be building a collection with cancels numbered one to one million. The important thing about stamp collecting is not the value of your collection or how many other people collect the same thing, but rather personal enjoyment.

Courtesy American Philatelic Society


Where to Get Stamps

Stamps can be obtained easily and inexpensively. The following may give you some ideas.

Your Mailbox

Save stamps from envelopes, packages, and postcards that come to your house.

Local Post Office

You can purchase new (mint) stamps from your local post office.

Friends, Relatives and Local Businesses

Ask friends, relatives, and local businesses to save their stamps for you.

Pen Pals

Find a pen pal, perhaps a friend or relative, so you can send each other letters with cool stamps.

Stamp Dealers

Stamp dealers are a great source of older stamps and often offer inexpensive packages containing many different stamps from all over the world. To find a stamp dealer in your area visit the online APS Dealer Directory.

Local Stamp Clubs

Join a local stamp club or society such as the Milwaukee Philatelic Society where you can trade with members or ask for help getting started. You may also find a stamp club at your school. To find a club in your area visit the online APS Stamp Club Directory.

Stamp Shows

Find stamps and meet other collectors at stamp shows. To find a show near you visit the Milwaukee Philatelic Society Events page or the online APS Show Calendar.

Courtesy American Philatelic Society


Soaking and Sorting Stamps


Now that you have gathered some stamps from envelopes that came through the mail how are you going to get the stamps off the envelopes? First you should decide if you really want to remove the stamp. Perhaps there is a special cancel or image on the envelope that appeals to you -- in this case put the entire envelope in your album. But if you want to remove the stamps from envelopes, the best way is to soak them. Soaking most stamps is fast and easy. NOTE that many U.S. self-adhesives issued in 2004 or later will not soak easily, if at all. Read this helpful article for removing self-adhesive stamps.

  • You first should go through and pull out any brightly covered envelopes (such as red or green) and lay these aside to soak separately as the color may bleed.
  • Cut off the upper right-hand corner of the envelopes; be careful not to cut the stamps.
  • Place them, stamp side up, in a few inches of lukewarm water in a shallow bowl (make sure the water is not HOT as it may damage the stamps). Don't soak too many at one time, they should have room to float. And, if you are soaking a lot of stamps be sure to change your water after two or three batches.
  • After a few minutes, you will notice the stamps begin to float free form the paper. Remove each stamp from the water. If you use tongs, be careful as a wet stamp is more easily damaged than a dry one. Be patient and do not try to pull the stamp free from the paper before it is ready as you may end up tearing it.
  • Rinse the back of the stamp gently in fresh water to make sure all the gum is off. You may wish to place the stamps between two paper towels and put a book on top of them to prevent curling. Leave the stamps to dry overnight.

Sorting Stamps

Your stamps are soaked and dried, what is your next move? Before you mount them in your album you need to put them in some kind of order.

  • Depending on the type of collection you are putting together you may want to first sort your stamps by country or by topic. Or, you may decide to sort them by the service which the stamp was meant to provide such as airmail stamps, special delivery stamps, postage due, parcel post or revenue stamps.
  • During your sorting process remove any badly damaged stamps, unless of course it is valuable and may be hard to replace.
  • If you have more than one copy of a particular stamp, select the best one (well centered and lightly canceled). The duplicates can be saved for trading.
  • Sorting is a never-ending job as you will always be adding to your collection. And remember, there is no right or wrong way to collect.
  • Store your stamps in glassine envelopes until you are ready to put them in a an album or stockbook.

 Courtesy American Philatelic Society 


How to Display Your Stamps

 There are a number of ways collectors use to display their stamps. The most popular ones are stockbooks, binders with stockpages, and binders or albums with pages. 



Stockbooks are, like the name implies, books meant to hold your stamp collection. They have a certain number of pages made of hard cardboard, and each page has 8-10 strips meant to hold stamps to the page. Most of them have double-sided storage pages with an interleaf between them to keep stamps from snagging on one another. You can get stockbooks in all different sizes, colors, and shapes.

The main benefit of stockbooks is they make it very easy to rearrange your stamp collection as you add to it. Moving stamps around is relatively easy, compared with some of the other methods. Stockbooks are comparatively cheap, too, with the basic ones costing about what you might expect to pay for a hardback book.

Unfortunately, stockbooks have some disadvantages too. With a stockbook, there isn't much room for writing up information on your stamps, and many collectors end up tucking notes behind their stamps. Even worse, the system of strips doesn't hold the stamps very firmly in place: the stamps may fall out if you accidentally drop the book.


Stockpages for binders are much like stockbooks, except they aren't bound in a book: each page has clear strips to hold the stamps in place, and holes so it can be inserted in a common three ring binder.

Unlike a stockbook, you can easily take a stockpage out of the binder, put it in a different place, or add pages to your binder as your collection grows. Quality stockpages have several sets of holes so you can even move them from binder to binder.

Like a stockbook, stockpages risk jumbling your collection if you drop the binder and lack space for in-depth writing.

Albums and album pages

Albums and album pages are designed to mount stamps permanently or semi-permanently. They're either pre-printed with spaces for each stamp, or totally blank.

Most people mount their stamps to album pages using hinges, which are semi-permanent squares of paper. While hinges are relatively safe, they make marks in the gum of mint stamps that can cut the stamps' value in half, so hinges are definitely not recommended for your mint or your better used stamps.

As a rule, albums and album pages are less expensive than stockbooks and stockpages, and they give you plenty of space for writing details about your stamps. You can even design your own pages to fit your collection!

Unfortunately, album pages don't expand very well with your collection, since it's not possible to move stamps around on the page or page to page -- at least, not very easily.

John Lennon album photo courtesy of Smithsonian National Postal Museum


Tools You Should Consider


The hobby of stamp collecting is more rewarding and fun when you have the correct supplies and stamp accessories to help you. There are no specific stamp collecting tools. However, a great majority of collectors use some helpful philatelic tools that are essential for making your stamp collecting hobby hassle-free as it also minimizes damage to your philatelic collections.

The most basic postage stamp supplies are not only easy to use but are also inexpensive. You can start an exciting stamp collection without sacrificing your lunch money! Accessories may be purchased online, or at many stamp shows. You can also find a more advanced collector that may be able to spare some extras he or she has accumulated.

Here are some commonly used accessories.

1) Stamp tongs with rounded tips - to keep your postage stamps in tip top condition when you are handling them, you should use a stamp tweezers or tongs. Oil and sweat from your bare hands will damage and devalue your stamps. A pair of stamp tongs is perhaps one the must-have philately tools.

2) Stamp magnifying glass - stamp magnifiers or a stamp loupe with at least 5 to 10 x magnifications can help you distinguish minute stamp details that are invisible to the naked eye. A trained philatelist can distinguish a stamp watermark by just using a stamp magnifying lens.

3) Stamp albums and stamp stock books - protect your postage stamps from humidity and direct sunlight by storing them in protective stamp album pages. Ideally, use a stamp album with an acid-free paper. Another alternative is to use stamp stock books. These are special albums with glassine paper or clear plastic pockets where you can insert the stamps inside.

4) Stamp mounts and stamp hinges - when you attach your stamps on your stamp album, your will not just use ordinary tape or glue as this can damage them. You can use as stamp mount, a clear plastic sleeve where you can slip the stamps inside. Stamp hinges are small and adhesive strips of paper or plastic that is folded over to fix the stamps onto the philatelic album.

5) Stamp catalog - stamp reference books, or stamp catalogs, are quite handy for a newbie stamp collector. However, you do not have to buy these expensive stamp catalogs. You can borrow one from the local library and from other philatelists. Better yet, you can download an online stamp catalog from the internet.

6) Stamp perforation gauge - a perforation is a stamp part that is serrated to facilitate the stamp’s easy removal on a stamp sheet. Stamps have different perforation measurements and they are distinguished through the stamp perforation gauge or the odontometer (who knew it was called this). This may be a little advanced and not required right away for a beginner stamp collector. 

7) Stamp watermark detector - sometimes, the magnifying lens cannot distinguish the watermark when the stamp is already old. A stamp watermark tray and a watermark fluid are used to make the stamp’s watermark visible. Other stamp watermark detector tools such as an ultra-violet light can also be used. These philatelic accessories may be a bit advanced but can be very useful in identifying counterfeit stamps.


Learn More About Stamps

Scott Catalog

 The Scott Catalogue of postage stamps, published by Scott Publishing Co, is updated annually with hundreds of thousands of changes and lists all the stamps of the entire world . From its humble beginning as a 24-page bound pamphlet, the multi-volume set now list more than 700,000 stamps from 600 different postal entities.  To start you can go to your local library and check out the volumes you are interested in.

Stamp Shows

Although they can be intimidating for the beginner collector, stamp shows can hold a wealth of information. Larger shows like Milcopex have a youth section and society and club tables where questions can be answered. Both small and large shows have dealer booths where stamps and supplies can be purchased and information obtained.

Stamp Clubs

Many communities have a variety of stamp clubs. They can be an extra curricular activity at school or through groups such as the Boy Scouts.

Public Library

Sometimes a forgotten resource, the public library will have stamp catalogs, many books and perhaps even some stamp collecting periodicals. 

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