Old stamps and soaking myself

I’ve got stamps. Hundreds, probably thousands of them. My grandmother , a world traveller and prolific letter-writer, saved every one that came her way, and I also bought a large collection of envelopes at a yard sale for five bucks.

Virtually all of these stamps are on envelopes or torn-off corners thereof. I’d like to find a good way to remove all of them from their paper and put them in stockbooks sorted by country. I’d like to do this efficiently and without damaging or devaluing the stamps.

I’ve already done a few dozen - soaking them in a baking dish of tepid water, gently lifting them out and putting them face-down on a paper towel. Works well, except the stamps will curl as they dry.

Any pointers here?


They make drying books for this purpose. Any good stamp dealer will carry them.

But don’t be so hasty getting those stamps off paper. Many times a stamp “cover” (on envelope) may be worth many, many times the value of stamp itself. This is especially true for older stamps.

You may want to find a dealer and get an opinion before you go soaking.

First, while BwanaBob is technically correct, virtually any stamp printed within the last 50 years or so will have very little value, on cover or off, so don’t worry too much about soaking away to your heart’s content. If you’ve got some stuff that’s pre-WWII, you might want to run them by a knowledgable collector or dealer, just to make sure.

Second, soaking them in tepid water is absolutely the right thing to do. Let them soak until you can slide the stamp off the paper - in other words, don’t try to peel them off. Then, gently rub them between your fingers to get any residual glue off them.

You can get drying books, as BwanaBob said, but I always found that I could just lay them out on a double layer of toilet paper, top them with another layer, blot most of the water out of them, flip the sandwich over, peel off the (now) top layer of t.p., replace with a dry layer, then put the sandwich between some books for a few hours.

Oh, and by the way, despite your thread title (“Old stamps and soaking myself”), you should not, I repeat, not get into the baking dish full of water with the stamps. :wink:

Having been given the correct procedure, it should be pointed out that nowadays, a lot of collectors now value having the cancel retained with the stamp, as “postal history!”

This is especially true of unusual cancels from small-town or short-lived post offices, or military cancels, censor stamps, “salvalged from air crash” cancels, etc. If any of your old covers have a lot of redirectional rubberstamps, and are pre-1950 ish, I’d keep them intact.

My 2 cents.

As an added bonus…

I don’t collect stamps…but I do collect old diaries and letters. Frequently I’ll run across someone selling old stamps on envelopes with the letters still inside and he’s only giving a damn about the stamps.

The letters have some value, too. Just a heads up.

Thanks for the replies. Most of the stamps on cover are WWII or slightly thereafter, no letters enclosed. Story was the seller’s uncle worked for a patent attorney’s office in NYC and saved every envelope that came in worldwide for about five years. There are about a thousand of these, and I’d keep them intact if A: they didn’t take up so much space and B: they didn’t smell so musty.

My grandmother’s stuff is a combo of international correspondence (again, no letters) and cellophane-wrapped packages of stamp assortments she’d buy as she travelled. Unfortunately, she never removed them from the plastic and at times they were stored in a damp cellar so many stamps are stuck ink-side to the plastic and are destroyed. She would also put paperclips on bundles of stamps so naturally the three stamps on either side of the clip are rust-stained. It’s enough to make a philatelist cry.

Thanks for the tip on the drying book - I’ll try one of those. I’ve been using paper towels but the stamps often end up wrinkled or curled.