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Stamp Collecting 101

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Soaking and Collecting Self-Adhesive Stamps

Stamp Collecting with GS

Self-adhesive stamps are here to stay, and sometimes
it seems as if they are truly stuck there forever.
Self-adhesives are also known as pressure-sensitive
stamps or peel-and-stick and were first issued by
Sierra Leone in 1964, followed by Tonga and Bhutan
in 1969.

They were something of a novelty item, an interesting
philatelic marketing angle, like banana-shaped stamps
or circular-hologram issues.

The USPS got into the act with the 1974 10¢ Christmas
issue (Scott #1550), but the public and collectors were
confused by the stamp and the issue was considered a
failed experiment. People were leaving the stamp on the
protective backing and taping and gluing them to their
Christmas mail.

Today the used '74 Christmas stamps cannot be soaked
from paper and the adhesive has disclored nearly all of
the stamps, turning the white background an uneven blotchy
brown. Mint copies can be saved by removing the sticky
adhesive with an organic solvent such as naphtha as found
in lighter fluid.

But that was then and this is now. The 29¢ Eagle and
Shield stamp (Scott #2431) was the start of normal
self-adhesive production in the US, and the public loves
them. SA's represented just eight percent of the USPS's
stamps in 1994, but a full 85% by 1998. Self-adhesives are
now the norm over the time-honored lick-'n'-stick stamps.

Four LayersA typical mint self-adhesive stamp has four

Protective Backing; the slick, shiny, non-stick packaging;
not really part of the stamp but essential in manufacture
and storage.

Self-Adhesive Layer; the sticky side of the stamp; two
types of adhesive have been used in self-adhesive stamps.

Binder; a thin chemical layer that stops the adhesive from
"bleeding" into the stamp design and discoloring it; it's soluable
in water so that when the stamp is soaked, the binder layer
releases the stamp paper from the adhesive that still adheres
to the envelope.

Stamp Paper; the printed paper top of the stamp bearing the
design and other postal indicia. AdhesivesThere are two basic
classifications of self-adhesive glues.

Rubber based: old technology; like the glues used in old
cellophane tape; not archivally safe; penetrates paper; darkens
in color; and loses adhesion (stickiness); used on the '74 US
Christmas stamp; recommended that the gum be dissolved in
organic solvents.

Synthetic polymer based: used on US self-adhesives since
'89; not archivally safe; won't yellow, dry out or become brittle;
subject to "cold flow," adhesive can ooze out around the edges of
the stamp and possibly stick to a mount or album page; adhesive
quality improves with age; softened by organic solvents and
leaves a residue behind that can be rubbed off.

Soaking Self-AdhesivesSoaking water-activated gummed stamps
means diluting the glue that hold the stamp to the envelope paper.
Soaking a self-adhesive stamp means dissolving the binder later,
which then releases the stamp paper from the adhesive still stuck
on the envelope.

Soak water-activated stamps and self-adhesive stamps separately.
Traditional gummed stamps use lukewarm water and will float
free long before the SA's.

Soak SA's 30 to 45 minutes in warm to hot water, but we wary of
colored envelope paper bleeding their inks into the bath. SA's float
off coarse enveloped more quickly than other covers.

The longer an SA stamp has been on the envelope, the longer it
will take to soak off because its adhesive quality improves with age,
so soak those new SA stamps today.

The stamp inks on SA stamps are stable when soaked for prolonged

After soaking, the stamp may remain in place on the paper, but if
you gently slide it between your thumb and forefinger it may come
off. Avoid tongs after a long soak as the paper is very fragile.

SA stamps curl when drying. Place another layer of blotters on top
of them and weigh them down. Stubborn Stamps

If an SA stamp won't come free after a good soaking, the binder
layer may have failed and the adhesive may be bonded directly
to the stamp's top paper layer. Naphtha or turpentine can loosen
the adhesive, afterwhich you must gently rub off the adhesive

"Un-du" is a heptane-based, adhesive remover sold in craft and
variety stores. It can loosen stubborn SA stamps, but it can also
affect some cancellation inks.

1989-90 Autopost and Postage Validation Imprinter metered
strips do not have a binder layer. Soaking does not release the
stamp from the envelope: the adhesive holds the stamp paper
to the envelope.

The 1999 Sonoran Desert stamps may need to soak over night
in hot water.
See other material on soaking stamps. Mints, Covers
and "Cold Flow"

Some stamp collectors favor the removal of the self-adhesive
layer on mint stamps because of the cold flow or edge ooze
problem, though removal of gum from a mint lowers its
acceptability in the eyes of some collectors.

Do not peel the stamp from it's original protective backing. Use
adjacent stamps for postage and trim a 1/8" border around the
stamp. Mount it, but periodically inspect it for cold flow.

Cold flow can cause trouble for cover collectors. Not only can
the adhesive seep out around the stamp and into the envelope
paper, but it can react with the inks in the envelope itself.
discoloring the envelope or turning it translucent. Ink, binder
and adhesive chemical formulations continue to change so be
alert for news of particularly stubborn stamps, and if you have
an SA tip please post it for others to read.


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