Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stamp Hinges And Their Proper Use

You have probably used stamp hinges from your earliest stamp collecting days. These lowly devices are indispensable to the collector, yet some collectors know very little about the hinges and a few are not sure of their proper use.

Stamp hinges are small strips of paper, usually glassine, a smooth, semi-transparent paper, having an adhesive on one side. In the early days of philately, collectors had to sometimes cut the hinges to the correct width, and then fold them over to use them. The hinge would allow a user to mount the stamps to album pages with a minimal disturbance to the stamp, and still allow a collector to lift the stamp off the page and look at the back side of the stamp for glue condition, pencil markings, etc.

Modern hinges now come pre-cut to the ideal size and pre-folded so that they are ready to use. The pre-folded stamps have about 30% of the hinge folded over so that you have a short side and a long side. The short side is used to stick the hinge to the stamp; the long side is used to mount the stamp to the album page.

Because the hinge sticks to the stamp by the use of a moistened adhesive, any gum on the back of a stamp is often disturbed by the hinge. Due to the rarity of early stamps having undisturbed gum, using a hinge on such a stamp can greatly reduce its value. Collectors are advised not to use stamp hinges if the gum on the stamp is unblemished or just very lightly damaged. If the gum is very disturbed, or if it stamp has no gum, it is usually safe and economical to use hinges.

Collectors love to upgrade the stamps they have in their albums, causing a need to remove stamps that are already hinged to an album page. The best hinges are called peelable, meaning that they can be peeled off the stamp or album page with minimal problems. If they are not peelable, or if the glue adheres too tightly to the stamp, attempts to remove it will very likely damage the stamp. In this case, it is better to leave a portion of the hinge in place (a hinge remnant) than to thin out the paper by pulling fibers off of the back of the stamp.

To properly use a hinge, the collector should always use stamp tongs to pick up a hinge by the long side and then lightly moisten the glue on the short side. The short side is now placed on the back of the stamp very near the top center. Next, grasp the stamp with the tongs and moisten as little of the long side as possible. You need to moisten just enough glue to adhere it to the album page, but the least amount used is better, especially if you have to move the stamp later. Then position the stamp on the album page and press slightly. At this point, some collectors prefer to lift the stamp high enough off the page to cause part of the hinge to lift off the page, so that later on the hinged stamp can be lifted and flipped up so that the back can be inspected.

There is one thing to be careful of with stamp hinges -- if you inadvertently hinge the stamp in the wrong spot, you must be extremely careful to not try to move the stamp until the hinge is thoroughly dry. If you move it before the adhesive on the hinge is dry, you risk damaging the stamp, as the peelable qualities of a stamp hinge seem to only work when the glue is dry.

Always use quality hinges from a reputable manufacturer. Why risk your stamp collection just to save a few dollars?

Oh, and never, never, never use cellophane tape (such as the "Scotch Tape" brand) as a substitute for a stamp hinge. The tape adhesive is too strong and will yellow with age and ruin the stamp. I have heard that lighter fluid can remove cellophane tape glue, but the use of such a strong chemical will be a topic for a later blog entry.


Joshua McGee said...

It can probably be said that, without exception, if you have mint stamps (stamps with full, intact gum on their reverse) you should never use a stamp hinge. The stamps of the "old days" (that I remember) would leave a tiny little mark -- but even that mark is the death knell of stamps to many collectors today. By hinging your stamp, you can take half (or more) of the value of the stamp away in one motion.

An alternative is the mount, the well-designed types of which allow the stamp to "breathe", but do not adhere to the stamp in any way. Properly used, a stamp can be removed from a mount years later, with no ill effects. Isn't your collection worth that?

I like transparent Hawid mounts, which are open on three sides, with a seam on the bottom that kind of pinches the stamp into place. They are made of stable and archival material, and have not been shown to even glaze the gum where the stamp is held.

Many collectors, especially Americans, enjoy Shogard-type mounts. These have a clear acetate front, a seam at top and bottom, and two flaps of black material behind. Downsides include: if misused, moisture can seep into the crack in the back of the mount and disturb the gum (or adhere it to the mount!); people's uncanny tendency to use a mount that is 2 mm smaller than it should be, damaging the perfs of the stamp; propensity to catch on double-sided stamp albums; and, arguably, the inability for a stamp to "breathe" enough to escape mildew in humid locales. The big bonus? Black backgrounds, which highlight your perfs!

I believe Hawid makes black-backed mounts, but I've never taken to them. I buy my mounts in strips, and I can never get them cut perfectly square, even with a nice German guillotine trimmer, and it drives me crazy every time I open my album. I would rather not see my perfs clearly, then have an askew "frame" for them! But that's just me.

Never, ever, ever, use the "tube" type mounts, sold under names such as "Crystal". These are not archival, damage stamps, promote mildew, and basically just destroy everything you put into them. If you're considering investing in Crystal mounts, save a step and buy a paper shredder, and just run your stamps through it. You get the same end result.

The author's advice to use "high quality" mounts cannot actually be fully followed these days. The best hinges -- I think everyone would agree -- used to be Dennison's. They were a charm, perfectly peelable: they stuck when you wanted them to, and unstuck when you didn't! Why can't you make them any more? Because the adhesive was a horse-rendering byproduct (you read that right) and the FDA opposed its use on something the human tongue could touch. In these days of prion diseases, that's probably very good advice.

If you only collect used, and are on a shoestring budget, and promise to soak off your hinges rather than peeling them in the future, I would approve of your use of hinges. Otherwise, pay a little more and get mounts! The can be ordered cheaply through the mails.

Anonymous said...

....or buy stamps with a margin and put the hinge on this (or fold the margin under the stamp first). Either way you still have an unmounted mint stamp!
Pete Evans