Hints & Tips

1. Soaking stamps off Paper

Imagine the scene. It is the day after one of the CSPS auctions and you have taken home some packets of stamps on paper. What do you do next? The following section covers some handy hints on soaking off stamps gleaned from philatelic writings but especially Stamp Soaking Tips – A stamp soakers bible by Will Moss published in 1982. Please test on cheap stamps first. None of the methods is tried and tested by your Editor who just soaks in tubs of cold or luke warm water and dries the stamps in a drying book.

2. General Tips

The best method of soaking off seems to be fresh water and agitation of the stamps. There are variations on this method. You can go to the trouble of using a wetting solution and it has even been suggested by an American writer that, in hard water areas, Calgon in the water might help. Yes, the same as you put in the washing machine.  Other writers have suggested that you keep rain water to use, as that will be softer.

If just one thickness of envelope is soaked, this will be quicker, so trim envelopes.  Stamps should be left for 15 minutes.

Four thicknesses of kitchen paper works well for drying, and this can be re-used when dry.  Alternatively, use a towel. Stamps should be placed face down.

Soak only small batches at one time and soak separately any on coloured paper. Red paper is especially prone to running, which will stain stamps. If hot water is used for coloured papers, this will reduce the time taken and minimize the risk.  It might be wise to treat parcel wrapping, ie brown paper the same way.

If you are soaking off older stamps, check in a catalogue beforehand to see if fugitive inks were used as these stamps will be damaged by soaking. This applies to some stamps of the Dutch East Indies and other colonies, as the surface of some printings disintegrates in water. Refer to Stanley Gibbons Catalogue Part 4.

3. Boiling water and steam

This method involves laying the stamps on blotting paper singly and building up layers to place over a pan or kettle of boiling water. The stamps are then removed with tongs and placed on clean, dry blotting paper. A word of caution, do not leave them for too long over the steam.

4. Bulk  soaking

This method suggests using a bath tub and placing the stamps in a flat, deep perforated tray and then partly filling the bath. Leave the stamps for 2 hours, agitating them 2 or 3 times, then take off the paper and then drain the stamps. They are then spread out on blotting paper to dry. Don’t forget to outsort first any stamps on coloured paper, plus any with rice paste or non-soluble adhesive (see below). Probably also best to check no one needs the bath!

To dry the stamps,  use loose sheets of paper and large paper towels. Place the soaked stamps on the towel, a loose leaf on top then a towel and so on. Place the pile of towels and stamps on a flat surface and weigh down for 2 to 3 days in a warm room. The paper can be re-used. You just need to shake the stamps off when dried.

5. Steam vapour

This method is of particular use for stamps on card or heavy paper. A pressure cooker is required and 2 to 3 inches of water over heat. The stamps to be soaked are placed on a wire rack over the water and it is reported that they will come away easily in 3 to 5 minutes. They must be wetted thoroughly first and any coloured paper removed, as usual, but those with heavy cancels should also be put aside as the ink can run and stamps could be stained. After the stamps have been removed they will need washing to remove the residue of gum.

6. Types of adhesive and how to handle them

PVA and dextrin gum

For dextrin gum the stamps should be left in clean water to soak after lifting as the gum residue makes the stamps curl, as it is applied when the paper is dry, and reduces their life. PVA gum is applied when the paper is wet so it impregnates the paper and this leaves a floppy stamp. It will release ‘smoke’ in the water. If you have a mint stamp PVA gum is dull and looks like no gum and dextrin is shiny, which is not really relevant as we are assuming the stamps are used if they require soaking off. A catalogue is of use to determine gum type.

Rice paste

Old stamps from Japan and Asia have rice paste as the adhesive and this is not soluble in water and just softens and swells. Any residue is prone to fungus and mildew as well. Use some dishwashing detergent well diluted in water and then wash them thoroughly afterwards in water. Even so the residue will have to be rubbed off. Mentholated spirits could be used with caution.

7. Self adhesive issues

For self-adhesive stamps the best advice here is to leave them alone. Stanley Gibbons recommend collecting as cut-outs. If you soak them either the facing comes adrift from the backing or they simply remain stuck fast. Peeling is not normally possible.

Lighter fuel can be tried, as this dissolves the gum, after first carefully lifting a corner of the stamp. If you soak Spanish self-adhesives, the design will rub off. To this list must be added the new GB definitives and self adhesive issues.

The latest advice on removing GB self-adhesive stamps is as follows:

Place the stamps in a little white spirit for about an hour. The stamps become hard like thin plastic & can easily, but carefully with the slits, be removed from the backing. Then was the stamps with a little unscented soap to remove the smell of the spirit. Dry on kitchen towel, face down. Note the back remains slightly tacky.

 8. Collecting cut-outs

Prior to 1914 cutting stamp imprints from postal stationery was a common practice so they could be placed in the pre-marked spaces in stamp albums. One overseas dealer even had them listed in catalogues. In the USA they are still popular and collectable when cut out with large margins.

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