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Thursday 7 January 2016

Washing Stamps

My latest acquisition is a large (1500 stamp) collection of Russian fiscals, vignettes and bus tickets. Though sold at a fancy auction with a fancy name attached, it's basically a schoolboy collection, the large album pages filled with stamps, often mixed up and none written up. There are a few pencil notes made with a thick pencil. The stamps have been hinged to the pages, and the hinges are often enough on the top of old hinges - or in many cases, on top of  bits of old mint postage stamps cut up and used as hinges. It's a pity because there are some rare stamps present. I will show you some pictures when I have solved my problems with Windows 10 - today it tells me I don't have enough memory to do what I used to be able to do every day before I upgraded. I have concluded that it is a virus, designed to make me replace my computer and scanner and printer and ... I think it will succeed.

Anyway, when I look at some of these old stamps, I think there is just one thing I can do to improve them. I never repair stamps but I do wash them. I think that is legitimate because it returns the stamp closer to its original state before collectors got hold of it. More or less, you can get back to the state a stamp was in at the moment the first dealer or collector washed it off an envelope or a document. Unused stamps pose a separate problem: if there is no gum left, then it is reasonable to wash them. But if there is still some gum, it is probably important to retain it. So washing is ruled out.

I never wash stamps in batches, always one at a time in small dishes. That way, if the colour of one stamp dissolve  it does not affect the others. I use warm water not hot and I find that very few stamps or cancellations are fugitive at that temperature. Finally, I rinse the stamp in cold water to make sure I get rid of all the dirt and particles of hinge and so on.

Of course, some times you discover more Bad News: a thin in the stamp hidden by a hinge, for example. Or a stamp which breaks into two when the hinges come loose. But most of the time you end up with a stamp with better colour, a more even surface and no accumulation of  stuff on the back which does not belong to the stamp and should never have been  there in the first place.

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