Collecting Stamps for Beginners

  • What can I collect?

Stamps can be purchase mint, used or on cover.

Generally, mint stamps are more expensive and more difficult to store because care must be taken to keep the gum (on the back) undisturbed. Used stamps are generally less expensive. Covers are bulky.

As for topics and themes, there are hundreds of different avenues for stamp collectors. This allows collectors to specialize in something that is interesting to them. Examples include flowers, birds, animals, reptiles, dinosaurs, royalty, ships, aircraft and many more!

  • Where do I find stamps for my collection?

A dealer is a good place to begin. Ask a dealer if he or she has items that meet your interest—and pocketbook. If not, dealers will often tell you who else can help you find what you need for your collection. Many stamps are sold by dealers out of five-cent boxes. Mixtures and auction lots are other good places to acquire a bunch of stamps for a cheap price. You can also ask your local stamp club and attend stamp shows to fill holes in your collection.

Canadian Stamp News, published biweekly by Trajan Media, includes advertisements from dealers who are ready to sell to meet all needs, from individual stamps to mixtures, accessories and reference books.

Canada Post issues Details magazine each month or bimonthly, and it lists all the upcoming Canadian issues, which can be ordered from your local post office or the National Philatelic Centre in Antigonish, N.S. Every stamp-issuing country has a similar philatelic service.

  • What should I know about acquiring stamps?

Most libraries have books on collecting stamps. They also have catalogues that will allow collectors to identify a stamp’s country, date of issue and suggested retail value. This is the price you may have to pay a dealer to obtain the stamp—not how much you can expect to sell the stamp for.

  • Why should I join a stamp club?

Stamp clubs are a great way to meet other collectors and get advice about your collecting interests. Each club offers something different, but most have an exchange circuit. The club circuit is a way for club members to sell off duplicate stamps. Prices are often 30-40% of catalogue value and a good way of getting started on an area of interest. Many clubs also host regular auctions, where small lots can be bought cheaply.

  • What supplies do I need?

All stamp collectors should have pages for storing stamps, tongs for handling stamps, magnifying glass for identifying stamps, a storage binder and stamp hinges.

Optional supplies include an ultraviolet light to identify phosphor bands and therefore varieties; a watermark detector; a stamp identifier to identify a stamp’s country of origin; a colour chart; a perforation gauge for variety identification; a catalogue for sorting by catalogue number; a checklist for listing your wanted items; and a stamp-drying book.

  • How do I safely store stamps?

Mint and used stamps can be put in special mounts, where they will be protected from damage. These are relatively expensive but are the best way to store mint stamps; however, manila sheets can also be used.

Used stamps can be mounted on any type of page using a stamp hinge. The medium to heavy stock quadrille lined pages, which are regularly available from dealers, are recommended. These are relatively inexpensive and sturdy. Albums can also be purchased but tend to be organized by country (and the annual supplements are expensive compared to quadrille pages).

  • How do I safely soak used stamps?

Care must be taken when soaking and drying stamps off of envelopes.

Anything on any type of coloured paper should be separated from white paper. Generally, stamps on white paper can be soaked in tepid (quite cool) water. Be patient—it takes time to soak through the paper and dissolve the gum. Generally, you should leave the stamps alone until some are floating free. Never try to pull off a stamp (or risk damaging the stamp). Dry the soaked stamps face down in a drying book, on blotting paper or on newspaper, and be careful not to allow the stamps to stick. If they do stick, re-soak them and try again—there was probably a little gum on the stamp.

  • Coloured paper?

Choose a common stamp like the 45-cent flag issue. Put some water (2 inches or so) in the kitchen sink. Add a capful of Javex and mix in. Put in the stamp. Be patient. Once the stamp is off, examine for discolouration on the back. If none you got the mix right. If some you are a little light with the Javex. If the stamp itself looks faded, you have too much Javex and need to cut it back. Experiment until you get it right before attempting the commemorative stamps. After soaking it is necessary to rinse the stamps thoroughly to remove all traces of the Javex. If you don’t do this, over time the stamp will fade away. Red envelopes bleed colour the worst of all. Many airmail envelopes with the red and blue or red and green trim also bleed colour very easily.

  • How do I safely use stamp hinges?

Used stamps often have a hinge remained on them. Today’s hinges need to be soaked off. This will prevent damage to your stamp. To apply a hinge put moisture on the long piece of the hinge, place the hinge on the page where you want the stamp to be, moisten the short piece and then place the stamp on this piece with the hinge positioned high and in the centre of the back of the stamp. Always remove the hinge by soaking it off.

  • What should I know about stamp condition?

Generally, stamps should be in the best condition possible. No thins, missing perforations (or if issued imperforate, good margins) and no tears or folds, colour from the envelope, etc. However, some stamps are expensive and it is better to have one that is not perfect rather than none at all and replace the not so perfect one when affordable. If a stamp is catalogued at $10 or more, you should use this rule.

  • What are some useful philatelic websites?

Each day, Canadian Stamp News publishes stories on its website for free. In addition to a paid biweekly print edition, it also offers a paid digital edition. There’s also a comprehensive listing of events in Canada, the United States and abroad.

Canada Post also teaches collectors about new issues; ordering stamps; collecting for children; and more. Postal administrations for other countries will have similar websites.

There’s also Library and Archives Canada, which offers an online archive search.

You should also use the Internet to browse auctions and dealer inventories. Try and isolate your searches to Canadian sources, which are less expensive and easier to deal with. The Internet is also home to many social media sites and forums with a massive philatelic presence.