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Stamp collecting

Stamp collecting

Stamp collecting is fun, relaxing, and popular for many reasons. You can collect stamps at no cost, as they come in your mail every day and can be easily swapped with friends and relatives. New stamps are also issued regularly and provide hours of amusement - whether it's on your own or as part of a stamp club.

Buying stamps

Stamp collecting is a relatively inexpensive hobby, and just a few dollars a week will soon build up a very impressive collection.

Recent stamp issues are available from any Post Shop or you can buy stamps issued over the last 12 months by mail order from the NZ Post Stamps Centre, or online. Recent and older stamps can also be purchased from stamp dealers.

Joining a stamp club

A great way of learning about stamp collecting is to join a stamp club, which are present in most big towns and cities. To find your nearest stamp club, click here.

Stamp clubs usually have regular meetings at which information about stamps is exchanged and stamps are swapped. The clubs also often publish newsletters and magazines which have a lot of stamp information in them.

Stamp clubs hold Stamp Competitions and Exhibitions and club members love to show off their stamp collections at these events. By listening to what the judges say about the collections shown at these competitions, you can often get new ideas for improving your own collection.

What sort of stamps

Most people start what is called a General Collection - a collection of all sorts of stamps from all sorts of countries. But, since the countries of the world every year issue between five and eight thousand new stamps, a general collection can soon become much too large for comfort.

That is partly the reason why many collectors become interested in one type of stamps and start a One Country Collection or a Thematic Collection.

One country collection

One country collections are where the collector collects as many stamps as possible from one country only. Many people who decide to start a one country collection don't think about collecting their own country's stamps.

Yet the least expensive one country collection for a New Zealander to have would be a collection of New Zealand stamps. Each year NZ Post sells a Collector's Pack which contains all the stamps issued in New Zealand in the past year. This special pack is sold for no more than the cost of the stamps.

Thematic collection

When the stamps that you collect are all on one subject, such as space, paintings, transport, sports or animals, this is called thematic collecting.

Other people specialise in things connected with stamps. For example, some people collect Cinderellas - stamps that are not official stamps issued by a country's postal administration.

Others collect postal stationery, postmarks and postal markings of a country. In order to do this, these collectors must also know quite a bit about the postal system of the country or group they are collecting from.

Some real enthusiasts pinpoint their study to a small area of a country - the Wairarapa in New Zealand for example - and find out as much as they can about the postal services and anything else to do with the mail in that area. These collectors will know the names of all the local Postmasters from the past (and the present day Post Shop managers), when the post offices changed their date stamps, made certain deliveries, used stamps in error, and hundreds of other little details about the post in that area.

Stamp albums

While almost anything will do as a stamp album when you first start collecting, if you get serious about stamp collecting you will want to do it the way the professionals do.

The old type of stamp album was a bound book where the pages are bound together by sewing or staples as in a normal book. These books had a separate page for the stamps of each important country.

The next type of album is the loose-leaf album. This is a folder type of album with removable pages. The advantage of these ring binders, as they are called, is that they allow the pages to lie flat when opened. It is possible to buy pages for these albums that have the names of various countries printed at the top, as with a bound album. It is also possible to buy blank pages headed with titles such as 'Fish', or 'Ships' for collectors who are concentrating on collecting one type of stamps in a 'Thematic' collection.

Today, many collectors are using stock sheet albums. These are loose leaf folders with special plastic pages in them, and several strips of plastic running across them. These strips make a number of wide pockets into which you slip your stamps. The plastic is a special sort of plastic that doesn't discolour and protects your stamps. There are two sorts of plastic page. One is single sided, having pockets on one side only while the other is double sided - it has pockets on both sides of the page.

View stamp albums available for purchase.

Preparing your stamps


Whenever you touch a stamp, you should remember that one day, it may be worth a lot of money. So you should always handle your stamps carefully.

When you first start stamp collecting you will probably get most of your stamps from pieces of envelopes. Firstly, when cutting the piece off the envelope, take care not to cut the stamp, as this will make it worthless. The easiest part to damage on a stamp (and the most important part not to damage) is the perforations around the edge of the stamp.

Gummed stamps

To get a gummed stamp off the envelope you need to 'soak' them. To do this, you place the pieces of envelope with the stamp facing upwards on the surface of a bowl of warm water or on a cloth dampened with warm water. Leave the stamps on the water or the cloth until you can slide the stamp gently off the envelope. Never be in too much of a hurry or try to force the stamp off the envelope.

When the stamp has been removed from the envelope, dry the stamp by placing it face up on a clean and dry piece of blotting paper. When the stamp is dry, it is ready for placing in your stamp album. Very old and rare stamps are best left on the envelope they came on as they are likely to be worth more on the envelope, even if it is torn or dirty.

Self-adhesive stamps

To remove a self-adhesive stamp from an envelope simply heat two cups of water on a high setting in a microwave oven for 1½ minutes. Once you have heated the water add half a teaspoon of soft soap (preferably unscented) along with a cup of water and mix it well. Once you have mixed the soft soap in add your self-adhesive stamps to soak for two - four minutes. All self-adhesive stamps should soak off clean within this time frame with no remaining adhesive. After soaking the stamps transfer them to a large bowl of fresh water and allow them 5-10 minutes to soak which will remove the remainder of the soap. 

Handling the stamp

A basic rule of stamp collecting is try to avoid holding the stamp in your hand. This is because holding a stamp in your hand makes the stamp dirty, and the grease and sweat on your hand can damage or mark the stamp.

The best way to hold stamps is to use stamp tweezers. These have wide pinchers (thin ones will crease and damage the stamp) and are small enough to be comfortable to use. Try not to fold the stamp as this may make a crease on the paper and this makes the stamp less valuable.

Checking the stamp

To study the stamp more carefully you will need a good magnifying glass. There are a wide range of magnifying glasses available and if you visit a stamp dealer, stationery shop, or book shop you can choose the one that suits you best.

Perforation gauge

The jagged edge of a stamp is called the perforation, and is measured by the number of holes in every 2cm of perforation. If there are 14 holes in 2 cm then the perforation is said to measure 14.

A perforation gauge is a tool used to measure the perforation and has rows of black dots. Each row has a different size of black dot. When you place the stamp on the rows you can see which row of dots fit into the perforation holes on the stamp and the number beside the row of black dots on the gauge tells you what the stamp's perforation measurement is.

On some stamps the perforations on the side of the stamp and the top of the stamp are different sizes and a perforation gauge will help you check this.

Watermark detector

On some stamps you can see a design by holding the stamp up to the light and looking through it. This design is called the watermark.

Sometimes, although a stamp has a watermark, it is difficult to see even if you hold the stamp up to the light and look through it. A better way of seeing watermarks is to place the stamp face down on a black tray and add a drop or two of benzine to the back of the stamp. The benzine shows up the watermark of the stamp for a short time until the benzine evaporates away.

The liquid to use is benzine. DO NOT use benzene by mistake! Special black trays and benzine droppers can be bought from any good stamp dealer.

Colour guide

Colour guides help you match the description of a stamp given in a stamp catalogue. These guides are particularly important if a stamp has been printed in more than one shade of a particular colour.

Colour guides contain hundreds of different colours and shades and their names to help identify a stamp and its colour. They can be bought from any good stamp dealer.

Condition of the stamp

Any stamp that is clean, not torn, badly creased, or made thin by having a stamp hinge or piece of paper badly torn off the back of the stamp, is said to be in good condition.

A collector also judges how good a stamp's condition is by how good the postmark is (it should not cover up most of the stamp's design), and how good the perforations are.

Sometimes a stamp has brown spots on it which are caused because the stamp has been moist for too long or there has not been enough light in the place the stamp has been stored. In stamp collecting these spots are called rust. If you have any stamps with rust on them, you can use some special chemicals to clean them up. Many collectors think that they have rust on their stamps but the marks on the stamps are either just dirty or the stamps have a water stain on them. Dirty stamps should be cleaned with a very soft rubber, while stamps with an old water stain can be cleaned with plain water.

Stamp catalogues

Stamp catalogues are very useful for a stamp collector. A world stamp catalogue lists all the stamps that have been issued throughout the world, while a one-country catalogue lists all the stamps that have been issued for a particular country.

Using a catalogue

Most catalogues will not have a picture of every single stamp issued as this would be an impossible task, but one stamp in each set is usually shown. You should find it easy enough to identify any stamp from the basic illustration in the catalogue.

Most stamps are issued in sets and the catalogue will list all the stamps which were issued in the set your stamp comes from. It will also tell you why the stamps were issued (to honour a famous person or to commemorate an event, for example), the year the stamps were issued, the denomination of the stamps in the set, and the colour of each stamp in the set.

Some catalogues will give you even more information, including the name of the person who designed the stamps, the name of the printer, and how the stamp was printed. Also listed may be information about watermarks and perforations on the stamps.


An important piece of information a catalogue gives is the price. A catalogue usually gives two prices for each stamp.

The first price is the cost of the stamp in an Unused condition, in other words, one without a postmark. The next price is for a Used stamp. A used stamp is one that has been through the mail and is usually postmarked. Sometimes there is another price in a catalogue for a stamp in Mint condition. A Mint stamp has all its original gum intact as when it was first sold.

Sometimes a catalogue has different listings - UHM, M, and U.

UHM stands for Unhinged Mint - the stamp is in the condition it was in when first purchased. M stands for Hinged Mint - the stamp has previously been mounted in a collection. U stands for Used - the stamp is postmarked but not heavily.

Getting a catalogue

There are lots of catalogues available but many of the hard-backed ones are very expensive. However, most public libraries have copies of the bigger stamp catalogues or you may be able to buy an out-of-date catalogue at a very low cost.

There are also smaller catalogues available from some New Zealand stamp dealers that are very reasonably priced. Used sensibly, the stamp catalogue is the most useful book a stamp collector can have.

Purchase a New Zealand stamp catalogue.

Mounting your stamps

When you put the stamps in your album, this is called 'mounting' the stamps. If you do have a stamp album with plain paper pages, you will have to use Hawid Mounts or stamp hinges.

Hawid Mounts are small plastic pockets in which stamps are placed for mounting in the stamp album. This protects the stamps and is ideal for mint stamps. You can, however, simply use a good quality stamp hinge. Stamp hinges are tiny pieces of paper with gum on one side only.

To mount a stamp with a hinge, you fold the top third of the hinge back. Make sure the gum is on the outside and moisten the short side of the hinge. Fix it as close to the centre of the top edge of the stamp as possible. Next, using your finger to avoid wetting the backing of the stamp, lightly wet the lower half of the larger side of the hinge. Now use your tweezers to hold both the stamp and the hinge. Carefully place the stamp in the correct position in your album. Gently press the stamp into place using a piece of paper.

If the stamp has been mounted correctly you will be able to lift it up easily to examine the back of the stamp. If you ever have to take a hinge off a stamp, never try to peel it off if the hinge is still wet. Always let the hinge dry first. If the stamp is a used one, you should soak the hinge off but if the stamp is a mint one you should very carefully peel the hinge off once it is dry.

Mounting stamps properly is very important if you wish to keep your stamps in good condition and keep their value. People with expensive collections use a Hagner system type of stamp album as these protect the stamps the most. Hagner system albums are the most common type of stamp album sold today.

Arranging your stamps

Many of the stamp albums you can buy have the names of countries printed at the top of each page and, often, a black and white picture of a stamp from that country. Also on the pages there may be squares printed for each stamp.

On some albums each page has a pattern of tiny squares, called a grid. With this sort of album where you put the stamps is up to you. The pattern of squares is there simply to help you mount the stamp straight up and down. The main things to remember are not to overcrowd the page with too many stamps, to try to keep together stamps that were issued as a set, to keep the stamps in some sort of order according to the date they were issued, and to leave enough space between stamps to write in the information about each stamp.

Most collectors do not worry too much about the denomination of each stamp. You don't need to keep all the 40 cent stamps together. For example, your album will look nicer if you concentrate more on the shape and size of the stamps and keeping the shapes and sizes in balance.

Don't forget if you have looked up information about the stamps that you have and discovered that they are part of a larger set, you will need to leave enough room, if you decide you want to try and collect the set.

Once you have decided on the layout of the stamps on the page, make some light pencil marks to show where each stamp will go, to show where to place each stamp when you mount them. Don't forget to leave room for the annotation that goes with each stamp. The annotation is the written description the collector puts into an album to describe each stamp, where it came from and how much it cost etc.

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