The Bay Village Historical Society is researching historical letter writing this year for upcoming educational projects. While doing so, we have come into contact with stamp expert, Michael Lynn, who has also generously donated several fine examples of stamps, envelopes and their contents to us. Some of these items date as far back as the Civil War era. Mr. Lynn also explained to us some of the terms and best practices used in the hobby of stamp collecting, which we are sharing on our website. If you would like to begin the hobby of philately (stamp collecting) and need a place to begin, Mr. Lynn is happy to get you started by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will supply a collection kit and mail it to you, all at no cost (including postage). Likewise, if you have any information or objects to share on the art of letter writing with the Bay Village Historical Society, please let us know by phone at (216) 319-4634 or email email@example.com.
by Michael Lynn
Collecting stamps is a wonderful hobby. I was introduced to it by my grandfather when I was very young and have continued collecting my whole life. Stamps can teach us a lot about history, geography, and many other things. More than 700 countries have issued stamps and they go back as far as 1847. There are a lot of different stamps to collect!
Most collectors pick a specific country or two to collect, but some people try to get stamps from as many countries as possible. I collect stamps from the United States and Germany. There are also people who collect stamps in a “topical” way – for instance, stamps with animals, flowers, space related stamps, or air mail stamps. Any way you want to collect is fine. While it isn’t so important at first, we divide stamps into “Mint stamps,” meaning that they have never been used, and “Cancelled stamps,” meaning they have been used and canceled by the postal system. All stamps have some value associated with them, but for most stamps it is very low – only a few cents. There are also stamps worth thousands of dollars but finding them is as difficult as winning the lottery. So, collecting stamps isn’t about the value, but the fun of collecting and learning about the stamps you collect.
One of the first things to do is to sort the stamps by which countries they are from. The name of the country is always printed somewhere on the stamp but not necessarily in English or using a name we are used to seeing. I would put them into groups where all the stamps of a certain country are together, with a separate group of stamps where you can’t easily figure out the country. Often you can figure out the country by typing whatever is printed on the stamp into Google. An example is “Magyar.” Many people would not know that country, but because I’m a stamp collector, I know that it is the country “Hungry.”
First Day Covers – a first day cover is an envelope that was sent on the first day a stamp was issued, usually from the post office that is the originator of the stamp. The envelopes are often pre-printed with information about the stamp.
Plate Blocks – A plate block is usually a block of 4 with the margins attached and showing the printing plate number. This is a great way to collect but doesn’t really make the value of the stamps higher unless the stamp is rare as a single stamp.
The next step after sorting the stamps by country is to put them in order of when they were issued. The best way to figure this out is using a stamp catalog (probably available at your public library) or using an online catalog such as stampworld.com – select Catalog and then the country you are interested in. Experiment a little with this and you will figure out how to use it. There are also some phone apps where you can scan a stamp and (maybe) it will identify it. I haven’t had much luck with these, but they may be worth a try. You can also take a good photo of your stamp and upload it to Google Images. This will probably find lots of links to your stamp. From those you can usually find the country and year making it easy to find in a catalog like stampworld.com. Stamps are often issued to commemorate historical events and it is fun to look these up on Google to understand the intention for the stamp. Other times, they are showing animals, plants, or other things. There is always something to learn from a stamp.
Stamps on paper – if you have an envelope with stamps on it and you want to add them to your collection, don’t try to tear them off the envelope. You want to collect stamps in fine condition with no rips or creases. Serious collectors care a lot about the condition of stamps and they would generally consider a stamp worthless if a corner is torn off. To remove most stamps from their envelopes, all you need to do is soak them in water. Just take a big bowl, fill it with water, and put your stamps that are attached to paper into it. Wait 10 or 15 minutes and they should begin floating off. Some modern self-adhesive stamps do not come off so easily. For now, it is best to just leave those stamps as they are. To dry the stamps, put them between some paper towels and put some weight on top of them so they dry flat.
Storing your stamps – It is good to store your stamps in a way that they won’t get damaged and where you can see them and show them to your friends. A stockbook is usually a good place to start.
Never use glue or tape with your stamps – they will be ruined. Here are some links to different products that can be helpful: Stamp Stock Pages and Stamp Stock Books
Stamp albums – especially if you decide on a particular country to collect, it is great to buy a stamp album for your country. The album will generally provide spaces for all the stamps issued by a country. There are ways online to get album pages you can print yourself. Stamp albums run from fairly inexpensive to quite expensive. You can also search online for some stamp pages you can print yourself.
Tools – Another thing that is necessary to handle stamps for stockbooks, albums, or even just moving them around, is a pair of stamp tweezers. One other tool which is useful when identifying some stamps is a perforation guide. Stamps are produced with different spacings of the perforations around the stamp. Especially with older stamps, a couple of stamps my look the same, but one could be worth 5c and another $5.00, the only difference being their perforations and how many of each type were printed. Here is one option – Stamp Perforation Gauge
I hope you enjoy your stamp collecting!
Come visit us Sundays, April through December (excluding holiday weekends) from 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Rose Hill Museum. Currently on display for 2023 is our temporary exhibition, Beadwork: The Beauty of Small Things, as well as our permanent collection concerning early Bay Village history.