Your Stamp Collection

by Joelle Steele

Stamps are ephemeral. They were never meant to stand the test of time, even though many are printed on good paper with permanent inks. You were supposed to use stamps to mail your letters and packages and never see them again. But some of us kept them, collected them. And those fragile works on paper need to be stored properly to prevent damage and to preserve their value.

Like most collectors, you probably require a few different kinds of storage for your stamp collection because it is likely that you have individual stamps, panes, stamps on cover. and a ton of duplicates. All of these are prone to potential damage from mishandling, humidity, light, and chemicals. Improper handling alone results in the majority of all general wear and tear. Exposure to humidity attracts molds, sunlight can cause fading, and the acids in certain album and envelope paper can cause yellowing and browning. Clearly, you've got to find suitable storage as well as a means to display your collection.

For duplicate stamps and other postal extras, you can temporarily store your stuff in glassine envelopes. These semi-transparent envelopes come in a variety of sizes and are also good for transporting stamps to other collectors. They are not acid-free, so they should not be used for permanent storage. Stock books are good options for storing duplicates because the stamps lay flat and you can easily see what you have. You can also buy stock pages made of paper or plastic that can be inserted into a 3-ring binder — also an excellent option for storing your permanent collection.

Should you hinge your stamps? Probably not. It's such an outdated way to store stamps when you could use stamp mounts — plastic mini-envelopes with self-adhesive strips to attach them to the album page — or one of the really great stock page albums that hold stamps under plastic without any need for adhesive of any kind. They aren't cheap, but they are an excellent investment for the long-term storing and displaying of your collection. You don't want to invest in stamps and then watch them deteriorate because you skimped and put them in an album that is not of archival construction.

Those pre-printed albums are fine for kids, but serious collectors will probably find them more annoying than anything else, as they require hinging or mounting, are therefore difficult to display, and you'll have to frequently purchase new pages as new stamps are issued. Also, pre-printed albums don't have pictures of every stamp issued, and while they leave some blank spaces, it isn't the optimal way to store and display. And if you collect only certain countries or topics, there will be many empty pages.

One important thing to consider when purchasing albums and mounts or other storage materials is the composition of these enclosures. Be sure you know what you are buying. Never buy vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, as they emit hydrochloric acid over time. Instead, use items that are PVC-free, like polyester (such as Mylar), polyethylene, or polypropylene.

Once you have your stamps secured in archival albums and envelopes, you still have to store them somewhere. The basement is too damp, the attic is too dry, and both places are prone to leaks and pests of all kinds. In general, when storing ephemera like a stamp collection, an appropriate storage area should be one where humans are comfortable — not too hot, cold, wet, dry, dark, or light. A nice bookcase in the living room is sounding pretty good right about now. Closets are fine too, as long as they don't share an outside wall. In fact, anything of value that is on paper should never be stored on a wall that has plumbing or heating fixtures within it, such as an interior wall that backs up to a bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, water heater closet, furnace room, etc. As a rule of thumb, store your collection away from direct sunlight and in a space that has a consistently controlled temperature year-round.

This article last updated: 04/17/2016.