Stamp collectors tools can be acquired with only a small amount of money. The start-up cost for new stamp collectors is very minimal as compared to the expenses for other hobbies. Acquiring the correct stamp collectors tools will assure a beginner that they are making the right start on their latest hobby.
Most stamp collectors tools can be acquired via stamp supply dealers, but you can also find them at the local stores that sell office supplies. There are also warehouse-type stores where you can find stamp collectors tools similar to the ones sold at stamp supply stores.
Actually, there are no tools needed in order to become a stamp collector. However, to continue being a good stamp collector, one must have a few stamp collectors tools which can prove to be very useful in identifying, organizing, handling and protecting the stamps properly.
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Unlike tennis players who would really need expensive tennis rackets, balls, bags, shoes, attire, and other mandatory equipment to enjoy the sport, stamp collectors, on the other hand, can enjoy their stamp collecting hobby with only a handful of items that are also known as stamp collectors tools. The stamp collectors tools are divided into 2 main groups: those tools which are absolutely important for every stamp collector, and those which are actually great to have when one's budget can afford them.
Stamp Collectors Tools -- The Essentials or Must-Haves
Album -- Of course, you can store your stamps in something very simple like a shoebox, but putting your stamps in an album lets you display your collection in a neat way. There are basic albums that have spaces with illustrations for worldwide stamps, US stamps, country-specific stamps, topical (ships, animals, flowers, etc.) and stamp types such as plate blocks and coils. You can buy an album or you can even make one on your own.
Stamp Hinges or Stamp Mounts -- In philately, stamp hinges or mounts are common stamp collectors tools used to mount or affix the postage stamps into the pages of the stamp albums. These are small, transparent, folded, rectangular-shaped paper pieces which are coated with a mild gum. The hinge allows you to mount the stamps into your album pages with minimal handling to the stamp, and still allows you to lift the stamp of the page if you want to look at the back part of the stamp for pencil markings, watermarks, glue condition, etc. It is up to you whether or not you want to add stamp hinges as part of your stamp collectors tools.
Glassine envelopes -- One of the most common stamp collectors tools that is used to store stamps. Glassine is a smooth and very thin paper that is resistant to water and air. Normally, glassine is translucent unless dyes make it look opaque or colored. Sometimes, stamp hinges are made of glassine.
Stamp Tongs -- Stamp tongs are considered to be the most essential or most important tool a stamp collector can have. Stamp tongs are just like tweezers; however, they have a smooth grasping surface that is designed to handle stamps properly. Stamps are normally fragile, and handling them carelessly will surely damage them, so the best way to avoid damaging them is by picking them up and putting them on pages or in mounts with the use of stamp tongs. By using stamp tongs instead of your hands or fingers, you are lowering the risk of damaging the stamp perforations, destroying the gum on mint stamps, creasing the stamps, or transferring the oil and dirt from your hands/fingers to the stamps.
If you want to keep your stamps in tip-top condition, make sure that you handle them as little as possible by using essential stamp collectors tools. When handling dry stamps, always use stamp tongs, because no matter how much you have washed your hands, the natural oils from your skin will potentially damage your stamps.
Stamp tongs come in 4 types based on their tips: pointed, paddle or spoon tip, spade-shaped, and angled or cranked. See the photo above to view the different types of tips of stamp tongs -- from left to right: pointed, spoon, spade, and angled tip.
Magnifier or Magnifying Glass -- A good magnifying glass allows stamp collectors to take a closer look not only the features of the stamp, but also the stamp's condition. A magnifier also lets one to appreciate the fine details found in stamp designs.
Magnifying glasses can come in a wide variety of sizes, magnifying powers and prices. Stamp collectors may own 2 or more magnifying glasses for different purposes. One common magnifier would be intended mainly for everyday use while another one with a higher magnifying power would be intended for viewing finer details on stamps. Do try the magnifiers out first before buying them.
Perforation Gauge -- Perforations are actually the holes punched in between stamps to make them easier to separate from each other. The standard for measuring perforation is to count how many holes (also called the "teeth" or "perfs") are present in a 2-centimeter or 20-millimeter span. Perforations on modern stamps vary from 11 to 14 per 2 centimeters.
Perforations found between stamps on a sheet not only help in separating them, but they can also come in different sizes and types. Finding more detail about the perforations helps stamp collectors in identifying differences of stamps. Just like twin humans that have different personalities, two stamps may look exactly alike, but each of them may have different sizes and/or types of perforations. Perforations may spectacularly influence the value of a stamp.
A perforation gauge (perf gauge) is somewhat like a scale that is used for measuring perforations (or holes or ridges) along the outer edges of stamps. A perforation gauge is one of the basic stamp collectors tools that one must have because it makes checking perforation measurements a rather simple thing to do. It can be made up of metal, cardboard, or plastic. To use a perforation gauge, start by using your stamp tongs to slide a stamp along the scales (or guide lines) until the peaks or teeth points perfectly match those on the gauge. The number of the measurement is printed on the scale. A lot of stamps have various perf measurements for the sides, bottoms and tops. When this is the case, measurements are taken first on the top portion and then on the side portion.
Watermark Tray and Fluid -- In stamp collecting, watermarks are deemed as a security measure in deterring counterfeit stamps. Also, the watermark can help stamp collectors to differentiate between a common and a rare stamp. If you happen to chance upon 2 identical stamps with different watermarks, then each stamp is considered to be a separate identifiable issue. The "classic" watermark on stamps is a tiny crown or a national symbol, and it can either be seen as only one or as a continuous pattern on each stamp. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, watermarks were present in almost all stamps, but they were gradually discontinued and are now not widely used on modern US stamp issues; however, some countries still continue to apply them.
Watermarks, for most people, are simply just a slight thinning of the stamp paper in a design or pattern which can be seen when the paper is put into fluid or held to a light source.
Most watermarks on stamps can be easily seen from the back portion of the stamp. However, there are some watermarks that are not quickly seen and require an aid to view them. Several devices have been created for this purpose, but the easiest, cheapest, and truly the most effective is a little, black, plastic watermark tray. In the tray, put the stamp face down. Most of the times, you will then see the watermark showing, but in other cases, you may have to apply a few drops of watermark fluid to bring out the watermark.
Catalogues/Catalogs --A catalog of countries or territories you collect will help you find, organize, appreciate and monitor your collection. You may use general worldwide catalogues, specialized catalogues, or those that lists stamps by theme/topic. Most stamp collectors today prefer to use free online stamp catalogues such as that of StampWorld.com. Click here to view the catalogue.
Stamp Collectors Tools -- The Specials or Great to Have
Stock Pages or Stock Books -- Putting your duplicate stamps in a shoebox is actually a very bad idea. The stamps in there might curl, stick together, become bent or damaged in many other ways. Putting your duplicate stamps in glassine envelopes can minimize damage; however, glassines are not ideal for long-term storage of stamps. The best thing to do is to put duplicate stamps on stock books or stock pages which are great for long-term storage. Stock books are similar to albums, except that the pages have clear vinyl pockets on them for easy sorting and viewing of stamps. There is no need to use any stamp hinges or mounting device when you use stock books.
Color Key -- Color keys usually look like paint charts or paint chips, with blocks of different colors with color names on them. Place a stamp next to the color key and compare until you find a matching color. A simple color key may help differentiate between a scarce color variety of a stamp from a common stamp; however, the best color guides are actually the stamps themselves.
Ultraviolet (UV) Lamp -- Many countries apply fluorescent tagging or phosphor to stamps. Tagging initiates automatic sorting and facing machines set to detect the tagging. Before, tagging is via applying a coating to the stamp surface, after the design of the stamp was printed. These days, most of the stamps are printed on prephosphored paper material.
Phosphorescence is only visible with the use of an ultraviolet (UV) lamp. UV lamps can be shortwave and longwave, and can appear in different styles and have different prices depending on the style. UV lamps may be supplied by a battery or with electricity from a wall outlet.
Longwave UV is typically harmless and can help detect tagging on a few foreign stamps. In order to detect tagging on most US stamps, you will have to use a shortwave UV lamp. Just be careful when using a shortwave UV lamp because prolonged indirect exposure to it or looking directly into its light can burn the eye's cornea and cause cataracts. Use protective goggles or prescription glasses to protect your eyes. Also, wear hand gloves and long sleeves because shortwave UV can also damage your skin.
There are actually many other stamp collectors tools that you can use aside from the ones mentioned above. In some stamp supply stores, you may find the following:
1. Rotary and guillotine paper cutters that are extremely helpful in cutting stamp mounts evenly and quickly
2. Glue sticks
3. Acid-free paper if you want to make your own album pages
4. Paper testers that help in checking if the paper you are using is acid free
5. Padded binders that have matching slip cases which make superb stamp albums
6. High-quality page protectors
7. Light boxes useful for tracing postal markings or illuminating stamps from the back to check for possible damages
Tips for Beginner Stamp Collectors
Basically, you will need stamp albums, storage boxes, stamp tongs, a magnifying glass, and maybe a few stamp hinges or mounts. Get a set of stamp tongs that fits in your hand well enough that you can use it comfortably. You may have to try out some of them before you find the one you like.
You will need some storage boxes to put in your most recently purchased stamps. Then, you will relocate your stamps from the storage box to either a stamp album or a stock book. Stamps that pass inspection will then be put inside your stamp album, while duplicate and/or rejected stamps will be put inside a stock book. Stock books with duplicate or rejected stamps can be given away or sold at a later time. Organize your stock books by country, by year, or by topic, whichever you prefer.
Get maybe at least 2 magnifying glasses -- one for normal viewing, and a second one having a higher powered lens for closer inspections.
Depending on your preference, you can get either stamp hinges or stamp mounts. It is recommended for most beginners though that they use hinges. Hinges allow you to buy previously hinged (Mint Hinged (MH)) stamps, thereby reducing the purchase price. More importantly, stamp hinges allow collectors to properly view and admire the beauty of their stamps. It would be quite hard to see all the intricate detail and colors if a plastic mount cover is used.