Helpful Hints for Building Your Stamp Collection Eleven Major Categories of U.S. Stamps Definitive: Also known as regular issues, definitives are the “workhorses” of the stamp world and are most often used to pay postage on everyday mail. Generally smaller than a commemorative, a definitive is usually issued over a period of several years. Often reprinted, sometimes by a different printer, definitives may show small differences between stamps that at first glance appear to be the same. Differences may be in color, margin date, type size, perforations, gum, to name a few. Commemorative: Stamp that honors an important person, event or anniversary. Often larger and more colorful than definitives, commemoratives are printed in limited quantities and sold for a limited time. Unsold commemoratives are destroyed by the Postal Service. Semi-Postal: Collects an extra non-postal surcharge to raise money for a specific cause. Designated by a ‘B’ before the Scott number. Airmail: First issued for mail transported by plane. Today used only on international mail. Designated by a ‘C’ before the Scott number. Airmail Special Delivery stamps (‘CE’) paid the air postage plus a special delivery fee. Special Delivery: Originally issued in 1885 to indicate an extra fee had been paid for immediate delivery to a person’s home upon arrival at the post office. Designated by ‘E’ before Scott number. Postage Due: Used to indicate the amount due to the Post Office when not enough postage was used on mail. (Designated by ‘J’.) From 1912-13 twelve Parcel Post stamps (‘Q’) were issued to pre-pay postage on packages. Also issued in 1912 were Parcel Post Postage Due stamps (‘JQ’), which showed the amount owed on a delivered parcel. Watermarks are faint patterns impressed into paper during its manufacture. From 1895 to 1915, the U.S. used a watermark consisting of the letters USPS to discourage counterfeiting. Watermarks are no longer used on U.S. stamps. Watermarking tools (tray and special fluid) will help you identify them on your older U.S. stamps. In 1908, the U.S. government began issuing imperforate sheets for private coil makers. Coil stamps, sold in vending machines, are generally perforated on two sides only (left & right or top & bottom); the other two sides are imperforate. Booklets consist of one or more panes of stamps stapled together. Panes are perforated only between the stamps, the outer edges are imperforate. A single booklet stamp’s straight edges are next to each other, unlike the coil’s, which are opposite each other. These stamps may have one, two or three straight edges. The self-adhesives provide exceptions to these rules. With more than one printer producing the same stamps, small differences in the color, date size, etc. of “look-alike” stamps may occur. Self-Adhesive Stamps In 1974, the Postal Service issued the first self-adhesive stamp. However, regular self-adhesive production began with the 29¢ Eagle and Shield stamp of 1989 (U.S. #2431). They quickly became popular and now the majority of U.S. stamps are self adhesive. Most self-adhesive stamps are peeled off a special backing paper, ready to stick. An exception is linerless coils, which are more like a roll of tape. Each stamp adheres to the stamp beneath it, but can be peeled off due to a special coating on the face of the stamps. The majority of self-adhesive stamps have special “wavy” or “serpentine” die-cuts, which simulate the look of perforations. Selfadhesives don’t always “follow the rules” of water-activated stamps. For example, self-adhesive booklet stamps may have perforations on all four sides, or no perforations at all. That’s part of the fun of collecting! Mint self-adhesive stamps should be placed in their mounts while still attached to their backing paper. Trim the backing paper fairly close to the stamp’s edge for a good fit. Official: Originally issued in 1873 for use only by a department of the federal government, with separate Tools You’ll Need designs for each. Today there is one common design for Albums provide a proper home for your collection. They not only all. (‘O’) protect your stamps, but also make it easy for you to view your collection. Revenue: Issued for the Most collectors of U.S. stamps prefer to use an illustrated album. first time during the Civil However, an unillustrated album gives you the flexibility of arranging War to show the collection of a tax or fee. your stamps in a way that pleases you. If you are a worldwide collector (Designated by ‘R’). The most popular U.S. you may prefer to use an unillustrated album, simply because there are no revenues are the migratory bird hunting or worldwide albums that illustrate all the stamps issued by every country. Duck stamps (‘RW’). If you collect a particular country, specialty albums are available. For a topical collection, a loose-leaf binder and blank sheets are recommended. (For a listing of albums, binders, and pages see pages 151-52.) Additional Collecting Information Glassines are semi-transparent envelopes used to store stamps You can collect stamps in used and/or mint condition. A used before they are mounted in an album. (These and other collecting stamp has been used for postage. The gum is missing and the stamp supplies are sold on page 152.) bears a cancellation mark. A mint stamp is a stamp that is in good, uncanceled condition. Mint stamps issued through 1890 may or may Hinges are an economical way to mount stamps in your album. not have their gum. Stamps issued from 1893 through 1940 will have They also allow for examination of the back of the stamp, as well as their original gum, although they may be hinged. Most stamps issued the front. Hinges are made of strong, lightweight paper, backed with after 1941 are never hinged. a peelable gum. When properly applied, most hinges can be removed The first postage stamps didn’t have any means to separate them easily when dry without damaging the stamp or the album page. from the large sheets in which they were printed. Post office clerks A Magnifying Glass makes collecting more fun, since it lets you simply cut the stamps apart with scissors or tore study all the details of your stamps. It’s also a very useful tool, allowing them along the edge of metal rulers. These early you to distinguish many small differences between similar stamps. stamps are called imperforate. In 1857, perforations Mounts are small, clear plastic holders, designed to attach stamps were developed. Perforations are the rows of in your album. Because they do not damage the gum, mounts are small holes which allow stamps to be separated ideal for mint stamps and more expensive stamps. Mystic Mounts are easily. The number of perforations in the space of archival-quality. (An assortment of mounts is sold on pages 153-54.) two centimeters is called the gauge. Both early and modern stamps were perforated differently and that Tongs are the best way to handle or move your stamps. There is sometimes the only way to tell two stamps apart. are several different kinds to choose from, but generally, beginners are A perforation gauge allows you to measure the better off with a short, rounded-tip model. Regular tweezers should not perforations on your stamps. (Page 152) be used, as the sharp, angled tips could damage your stamps. 155
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