Catalogs. Catalogs are very necessary
to have for all stamp collectors. However, if you collect many countries
or just one topic, it can be very expensive to buy them. For example, Scott
expects you to pay around $250 for the complete set of 7 catalogs (excluding
the classic catalog) every year. For those with a limited budget, you should
a) Your local library. Most libraries in the USA have a complete set of Scott catalogs in their reference section.
b) Your local stamp store. Most stamp stores will let you use their catalogs while in the store.
c) Your local stamp club. They might let a member borrow a catalog until the next meeting. Ask them.
d) A stamp collector friend.
e) Last year's catalog can be found cheaply on stamp bid boards or at a stamp club auction. Be careful of old catalog values though. Scott catalogs 1988 and earlier were notoriously overpriced.
Creased stamps. Creases in stamps don't look nice. If the crease has damaged the surface design and the stamp is if low catalog value, it's probably best to just throw it away. However if the design is not damaged, it may be saved. As a rule, mint stamps are very difficult to get creases out of. Used stamps are a lot easier. There used to be gadget on the market where you placed the stamp inside and tightened the screws on each corner of the press. However, I haven't seen one advertised lately. Personally, I have found my Safe Signoscope electric watermark detector to be a very good device to use as a press. First you will need to soak the used stamp thoroughly, then grip the stamp across the crease with your thumb and forefinger and squeeze lightly. Very often this will be all that is needed to eliminate or reduce the crease. If not, before it is quite dry, place the stamp in whatever clamp or press you choose to use and leave overnight. It's very important to make sure that both surfaces of your press are very clean, otherwise the stamp may adhere to the surface and it will be difficult to remove after pressing. This method is not recommended on high catalog classic stamps as it will reduce the thickness of the stamp and may even expand the overall size of the stamp slightly. Experiment with low catalog value stamps first until you get the hang of it. For mint stamps, do not soak, instead place directly in your press and leave for a whole week. With a bit of luck this may do it, but be prepared for not much change on a badly creased mint stamp. If you don't have a press or clamp, try placing the creased mint stamp between 2 small sheets of glassine paper (if using a glassine envelope, be careful that there are no folds or double layers in the glassine where the stamp lays), place in the middle of a large book , lay it on it's back on a flat surface and then place 6 or more heavy books on top of it and wait a week. Again, this does not always work on mint stamps. Be careful using this method for used stamps because the water from the soaked stamp may seep into the book and leave a stain.
Hinging. Hinging was the normal practice with stamp collectors up until about 1960. Never hinged stamps prior to that are from collectors who put stamps in glassines but never got around to hinging them in their albums, or from unsold dealers stock in glassines or stockbooks. Never hinged stamps prior to 1960 are nice to have, but don't go overboard and insist on 19th century stamps being MNH. Be reasonable and collect stamps, not the gum, 1950's and earlier. After all, how many times do you look at the back of the stamps in your album? Not often I'll bet. Better to be a "Stamp Collector" than a "Gum Collector".
Identifying Foreign Stamps. This can be difficult especially when an alphabet is used that you are unfamiliar with. Try SCV Stamp Identifier or go to "... identify your Weird Stamps." or look in the back of Scott Stamp Catalogs.
New Issues. Do you collect new issues? Don't be overcharged. There is no justifiable reason for you to pay more than face value for stamps from Foreign Post Offices or their agents at your local Stamp Show. This Currency Exchange rate chart lists 26 stamp-issuing countries with fixed exchange rates or who use the US$. Download the list and take it to a stamp show.
Separating stamps in blocks. First fold along the perforation you wish to separate. Run your finger along the folded perforation. Then fold the other way, then separate carefully. This way you will not have any pulled perforations. Do not try to do several similar blocks at once, as this is very risky and could lead to tearing a stamp in half (yikes!) if the selvage is not matched exactly on each block.
Stamp Shows - getting the most out of them. The best way to get the most out of a stamp show is to be prepared. Prepare a "Want list" in advance of stamps that you need to fill holes in your collection. Whether you collect topics or entire counries, the "Want list" should contain the name of the country and under it the catalog numbers of the stamps you need. In the U.S.A., the most commonly used catalog is Scott, so if you live in the U.S.A. prepare your "Want list" using Scott numbers. Your "Want list" should be in alphabetical and numerical order. This way you will be able to buy the items you need and not end up "buying twice" as many collectors do who are not prepared. Just show your "Want list" to any stamp dealer and he will be happy to assist you finding the stamps you want. Because you are prepared, the dealer will know exactly where to look in his stock for what you need.
Watermarks. Very often it is difficult to read a watermark on
a stamp especially on thickly papered modern issues (For example - Crown
Agents' modern issues are notorious for unreadable watermarks). Here are
a few tips. On used stamps, it's best to wash them first so as to remove
all remnants of hinges etc. Hinge and paper remnants on the back of used
stamps can seriously hinder your ability to read the watermark. As a rule,
used stamps with clean backs are much easier to read than mint stamps with
full original gum.
Open your catalog where it shows a picture of the watermark and always have it close by - you will refer to it often if the watermark is tricky to read. If the stamp has selvage (margins) still attached, this is the best place to start trying to read the watermark. If you discover a watermark variety such as an inverted watermark*, do not detach the selvage. If there is no selvage or you are still unable to read the watermark, then turn the stamp over so the back is facing you and place it on a large piece of very black paper or card stock. Very often you need go no further and will be able to read the watermark. If not, try holding the stamp up to a light source and try to read thru the paper. This works best when there is a lot of white background in the stamp design or on older stamps with thin paper. If you are still unable to read the watermark, get a watermark tray and some watermark fluid and dip the stamp in the fluid face down. Don't worry about the gum as the fluid is not water soluble and will not harm or disturb the gum. If you are still unable to read the watermark, dip the stamp in the fluid again and then take it out quickly and hold it up to a light source (be careful not to splash the fluid in your eyes) and watch as the fluid dries. Another more expensive method is to buy an electric watermark detector (the Safe Signoscope for example) from a stamp supply dealer. This can save a lot of time and there are no nauseating watermark fluid fumes. For those on a budget, buy cigarette lighter fluid instead of the more expensive watermark fluid - they work just the same. Just be safe and don't smoke when you are using it.
* Scott catalogs do not list inverted watermarks, refer to Gibbons for listings of British Commonwealth issues with inverted watermarks or other catalogs.
MORE TIPS TO FOLLOW.
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