The top concern to any stamp collector is to keep those small, fragile pieces of paper in good condition. This is because the value of even very rare stamps suffers if they are damaged or blemished. Even more importantly, a stamp collector is a curator of an entire museum of miniature works of art and as such has a responsibility to take care of his or her exhibits.
Here is a list of some of the major pitfalls and blunders beginner collectors should be aware of:
- Don’t remove stamps off old letters or cards. These are often more valuable left intact.
- When you do want to get a stamp off the envelope, first cut the envelope around the stamp, leaving a decent margin. Snipping even a miniscule portion of the perforation renders the stamp worthless.
- Don’t try to force the stamp off prematurely. Soak the whole thing in a bowl of warm water until the stamp slides off easily.
- Never place a damp stamp in an album. Leave it to dry thoroughly between two paper towels on which you placed a heavy book, to prevent curling. Note: some collectors prefer to flatten stamps after they have dried.
- Avoid touching stamps with your fingers, because the natural oils and sweat can damage or mark it. Use tongs or tweezers instead.
- Never drink or eat while handling stamps; don’t even place beverages or food on the same surface.
- Don’t smoke either. Stamps are fibrous and will absorb the bad stuff from cigarette smoke (much as your lungs do). We won’t even mention what hot ashes falling from a cigarette can do to your stamps.
- Don’t skimp on the albums and other stamp storage equipment. Go for the best, archival quality. Inferior quality products will become yellow and sticky with age, ruining the exhibits held within.
- Never glue or tape your stamps into the album. Carefully consider the pros and cons of hinging, and even if you decide to go with this method, remember never to hinge mint stamps. Instead, use plastic mounts.
- Don’t lay your albums flat and never stack them on top of one another. Shelve them in the upright position.
- Don’t allow sunlight, damp, dust, or paper-eating insects anywhere near your stamps. Exposure to sun will fade them; high humidity will cause brown stains; dust will soil them; and as for bugs… well, they will leave holes in your collection.
And, finally, try not to get too paranoid. After all, people have been collecting stamps ever since they first appeared in 1840. With some care, your stamp collection too will survive for posterity.