One popular past-time for the stamp collector is soaking stamps off of envelopes. This makes your stamps take up less area, and is the only way to put stamps in most stamp albums. While you can purchase stamps that have already been removed from paper, the most economical way to collect stamps is to soak them off of your own mail. This entry gives advice on how to soak stamps so that you can add them to your collection.
- Make sure that the stamps should be soaked. There are some stamps that must not be soaked. Read my two previous entries entitled When Not to Soak - Part 1 and Part 2, to refresh your memory on the types of stamps that should not be soaked.
- Trim loose paper. There is no use soaking entire envelopes as that only serves to take up space in the soaking bowl, and has the potential to dirty the water with ink smudges or grime from the envelope. Instead, trim around the stamp so about one-eighth of an inch (0.3 cm) surrounds the stamp. This gives you enough extra paper to safely handle the stamp, yet it doesn't take up a lot of extra space.
- Segregate the stamps by envelope color. Be aware that envelope dyes, particularly red, will wash out while soaking, contaminating nearby stamps. Soak stamps on colored envelopes by themselves, in very small batches, to prevent the dyes from washing out and tinting all of your stamps.
- Prepare a bowl of water. Most people will want to use a clean bowl to soak their stamps. I prefer a glass bowl, typically called a casserole dish, which is about 2 inches (5 cm) deep. I put about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of lukewarm water in the bowl. Some people suggest only cold water, but I have found good results in mildly warm water, as this helps to soften the glues, especially on self-adhesive stamps. Some also suggest adding on drop of liquid soap so as to lower the surface tension of the water and helping to clean the stamp. I've found this to be a matter of personal preference, although if you do so, you will want to rinse the soaked stamps before drying them, so as to remove any chemical residues.
- Work in small batches. I find that working in small batches, keeps me focused on the task at hand, plus allows me to change the water before it gets too dirty. The water will deteriorate after a batch of stamps have been soaked, so you will often want to replace the water. Having to do so while the bowl is half-filled with stamps, just leads to a mess.
- Place the stamps in the water. Some will suggest that you gently put the stamps on top of the water, so that only the backing paper gets wet. This suggestion will work well, but I've found that, with care, you can immerse the stamps below the surface of the water. The only precaution is that when the stamp is immersed, it becomes more delicate to handle, as the wet paper fibers in the stamp can be easily damaged. Other than damaging a few stamps (usually due to rushing the process), I've found that fully immersing the stamp speeds up the process slightly, and tends to wash any surface dirt off of the stamp.
- Take your time. There is no way to hurry the time needed to soak stamps. The water has to penetrate the stamp and/or the envelope so that the glue can be softened. Pulling on a stamp prematurely, or trying to do too much in a short time, only leads to frustration and damage to stamps.
- Remove the soaked stamps from the water. Once the water has done its magic, the stamp will begin to float off of the paper. You can help it along with a gentle pull with your stamp tongs, but if you are unsuccessful, let it soak longer. The stamp will usually float free by itself, although some self-adhesive stamps are very difficult to soak and may have to be collected on paper.
- Dry the stamp. When pulling the stamp out of the soaking bowl, gently shake the stamp, or drag it across the lip of the bowl, so that excess water is removed. Some stamp collectors will then put their stamps on newsprint to dry the excess water. I usually put mine in a special stamp-drying book that has a special material to keep the stamp from sticking. After the stamps start to dry, you can place a book or heavy object on the stamps to press them flat.
- Let them dry completely. Do not rush the drying process ... let them dry naturally. If you pull the stamp out and it begins to curl, it is because it was not completely dry. Give the stamps adequate time to dry.
Soaking stamps is fun, even for advanced collectors. It offers some down-time when we can recharge our batteries. Even older, long-time collectors enjoy soaking stamps every once in a while.