Friday, February 29, 2008

Stamp Collecting Tools - Stamp Tongs

Stamp tongs are probably the most basic tool of stamp collecting. They are essential for protecting your stamp collecting from a variety of ills.

Of all collectibles, stamps are probably the most fragile. As stamps age, the chemicals in the paper and printing inks can make the stamp especially brittle. Tongs are the only way to handle stamps safely.

Stamp tongs resemble tweezers, but they differ in one significant feature ... the blades (tips) of the tongs are smooth. Never, ever use tweezers to handle stamps -- they are simply too destructive. Tongs are manufactured so that there are no rough spots or imperfections that would cause them to "bite" into the stamp.

Tongs also save your stamps from dirt and oils from your hands. Even if you wash your hands thoroughly before handling stamps, it is impossible to remove all of the oils from your fingers. Plus any moisture on your fingers is detrimental to the gum side of a stamp. Tongs provide a way to handle stamps without physically touching the stamp.

Stamp tongs are usually made of metal, such as stainless steel or nickel, although plastic tongs are available in beginner's stamp collecting kits. Gold plated tongs are available for those who might have metal allergies, since gold is non-reactive to almost everything.

Stamp tongs come with different blade types. A pointed tip is helpful to pick up stamps from flat surfaces such as a table, but is more likely to cause a crease from the point. Rounded tips help to grasp a stamp and minimize danger that might arise from a pointed tip, but their width may increase the risk of causing damaged perforations. The bottom line, though, is that user preference is the best indicator of whether a specific tong works or doesn't work.

As with any tool, proper maintenance is the key to safely handling your stamps. Examine your tongs from time to time to make sure that there are no imperfections to the tips, especially on the inside faces where the tongs meet together. If you discover a problem, discard them at once; do not risk picking up that rare, inverted Jenny stamp with a tool that costs around $10 (USD).

Also, never use tongs as tweezers. Plucking out eyebrow hairs or pulling splinters will only serve to damage the tips, and at the very least transfer body oils to the next stamp you pick up.

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Anonymous said...

Some collectors lose a pair a years or more. But I still have the two pairs I started with 45 years ago. Perhaps I should wash them occasionally ;-)

Joshua McGee said...

Gold-plated tongs provide another benefit: nickel-clad tongs can stain the stamps you touch with them!

Now I am going to opine. In my opinion, the Showgard corporation makes the best tongs in the world. For the beginner, I would seriously suggest the 907 -- the "long bent spade" type. This will not damage your stamps, and allows your wrist to work at a more natural angle than the advanced tongs.

But the Rolls Royce has to be the 902. A marvel of human engineering, it's one of the most perfect tools I own, and certainly the best philatelic tool. Buy several gold-clad 902s, and enter the "big leagues"! These won't damage your stamps the way that "lethal-point" tongs will, but they allow precision, speed with sorting, very small areas of the stamp to be covered while examining, and, once you are used to them, you will never want to go back. (Remember this is just my opinion!)

In what other field is the best tool for the job in the beginner's price range? For woodworking, you can spend a hundred times as much on an advance model as on a beginner's model. But a pair of gold 902s will set you back about thirteen bucks. It's worth its weight in -- wait for it -- gold.