Thursday, March 13, 2008

When Not to Soak - part 1

Usually, the cheapest way to fill spaces in a stamp album is to collect stamps that have already been used. And the best way to get used stamps is to find them on envelopes (also called covers) that have gone through the mail.

The temptation for budding stamp collectors is to remove the stamp from the cover by soaking it off, and then adding it to their collection. The problem is, some stamps are much more collectible if they are not soaked off the cover they were canceled on. Plus, soaking a stamp can actually damage some stamps.

Today, we will discuss some reasons not to soak a stamp off of an envelope because it would reduce the value of the stamp.

No matter what, an envelope with a canceled stamp on it, is always worth at least as much as the canceled stamp that is on it. The thinking is that someone could always soak the stamp off at a later time. So, logically, the stamp, by itself, will never be worth more than the stamped envelope.

But the opposite statement is not true; sometimes an envelope can be worth much, much more than the stamp on it. One modern day, simplistic example is a First Day Cover.

First Day Covers are stamped envelopes that receive a special cancellation that is dated with the first day that the stamp is available. The cancellation usually has some design or lettering to identify that the cover was canceled on the first day. Because the stamp is a new stamp and highly desirable, the postal administration issuing the stamp tries to just barely touch the stamp, so that the design on the stamp is only minimally obscured.

Soaking the stamp off of a First Day Cover would yield a very "clean" stamp with minimal cancellation, but the stamp then becomes just a normal used stamp -- it loses its special First Day status. The stamp on the original First Day Cover, however, will always yield a premium value, primarily because there are so few of them in relation to the total number of stamps issued.

Another reason not to soak a stamp off a cover, is that the cover itself may bear some special significance that would be lost if it was separated from the stamp. For example, a letter sent from the battlefront during World War II would likely have been reviewed by a military censor to see if it revealed military secrets. The censoring agent typically marked the cover with a rubber stamp stating that the contents were approved by the censor, yielding a highly collectible cover for World War II collectors.

Sometimes scheduled mail deliveries are disrupted by localized catastrophes such as fire inside a mail facility. If mail can be salvaged from the disaster, it will be, and that mail will usually be marked to indicated that it was salvaged. Mail with these markings is quite collectible to a specialist.

Bisected stamps, stamps purposely cut in half as a way to make them worth 1/2 of their intended value, must never, ever be soaked off stamps. Covers with these stamps on them, prove that the stamp was sent through the mail bisected. If the stamp is soaked off of the envelope, there is no way to differentiate it from being a used stamp that was cut in half after the fact. Covers with bisected stamps are very rare and very valuable; stamps cut in half that are not proven to have been used that way, have no value.

These are just a few examples of where soaking a stamp from a cover would destroy the collectibility of the stamp and reduce it from rare to common. Tomorrow's Stamps of Distinction entry will conclude this two-part article with examples of how stamps can actually be harmed by the act of soaking.

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