Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Snap, Crackle and Pop - Soaking Self-Adhesive Stamps

Self-adhesive stamps (also called peel-and-stick stamps or pressure-sensitive stamps) are a modern type of stamp that has become amazingly popular. They're so popular, and so pervasive in the mailstream, that it's hard to imagine self-adhesive stamps ever going away. They're quick and convenient to use on mail because they don't need to be licked or otherwise moistened - just peel and stick!

Unfortunately, self-adhesive stamps have made life difficult if you're a member of the stamp collecting world. No matter what we do to get them to soak off, some self-adhesive stamps seem like they're stuck on their envelope or box forever. But because they're so popular, we're "stuck" with them, even though they make stamp collecting much more difficult.

There are several additional collecting challenges that are presented by self-adhesive stamps, including how to properly mount the stamps, how to properly store the stamps and how to effectively soak them off their paper.

If you store unused self-adhesive stamps on their backing paper (as they are bought from the post office) mounting them in a stamp album becomes a bit awkward because the stamp blocks provided on the album pages won't be the right size: backing paper left around the edges of the stamps, even if closely trimmed, makes the stamps bigger than the albums provide for. And even worse, if you leave unused self-adhesive stamps on their backing paper, you run the risk of the stamp adhesive migrating onto the edges of the front of the stamp.

But figuring out the answers to those problems is easy compared to figuring out how to effectively soak used self-adhesive stamps free from the paper they were mailed on.

Some used self-adhesive stamps aren't too much of a problem. They may require soaking for a much longer period, but eventually they'll detach and float free of their paper. Just be careful soaking those relatively easy stamps when they're on brightly colored paper - the long soaking times that are usually needed will increase the chances that the vividly colored inks from the paper will bleed onto the stamps.

You should soak used self-adhesive stamps as soon as you get them. The longer they're left on paper, the harder it will be to get them to detach and float off their paper. The adhesive seems to get stronger, not weaker, over time.

But the real problem children are what I call the "snap, crackle and pop" self-adhesive stamps, and it seems like the United States is producing more and more of them each year. You know the kind - no matter how you soak them (varying the water temperature, adding a bit of soap, longer soaking times, etc.) these things just will not come free. Or if they do, they're a wrinkly, crinkly, crackly mess that won't ever be flat when they're dry no matter how they're pressed. The recent 42 cent Bette Davis stamp from the US Legends of Hollywood stamp series is just one of many examples of this type of stamp. It's a shame, because some of these stamps are beautiful and many have a widespread appeal.

The snap, crackle and pop stamps - the ones that just will not properly detach from the paper they were mailed on - are making it quite difficult for used stamp collectors. The only solution I've found (for now, anyway) is to trim the excess paper away and not even try to soak the stamps, because soaking will essentially destroy them. I just collect them on-paper.

But I think some people may find a pot of gold at the end of the used stamp collecting rainbow. Lucky (or talented) stamp collectors who do manage to successfully soak these stamps without mangling them will probably be few in number. And that means that successfully soaked stamps will be few in number as well. Guess what that means for their future value? They'll be worth far
more than comparable-subject stamps that are much more easily soaked. So I guess these things aren't all bad for the stamp collecting hobby. It just seems that way right now.

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