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Don’t Come Unglued Unsticking Items

Question: Please describe how to soak stamps off their envelopes. I seem to have a lot of trouble with smeared canceling inks and damaged stamps.--L.B.

Answer: First, be sure that the stamp is not worth more on its original envelope than in “off-cover,” loose condition. Then separate your envelopes in order to soak them separately by color, because some colored paper used in commercial envelopes tends to “bleed” into the stamps when soaked, resulting in a stained stamp.

It is best to leave about a half-inch margin of envelope paper around the stamp that you wish to soak off. When you have a few such stamps on similarly colored envelope corners (called on piece in philatelic terms), place them vertically in a cup or bowl of cold tap water for five or 10 minutes, until the stamp floats free of the paper. Take each stamp out of the water carefully with blunt-edged stamp tongs and place face down on a flat paper towel to dry.

After your soaked-off stamps are thoroughly dry (I usually wait about 24 hours), place them in a book and press them flat with heavy books on top of it. After a few days you should have a nice group of stamps flattened and ready for mounting in your albums.

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Q: When did Greenland first issue its own stamps?--L.D.

A: In 1938. And don’t confuse their stamps with those of Iceland, which started stamp production in 1873. Both countries are popular among stamp collectors, especially polar philatelists who specialize in issues from regions near the poles.

Q: How do I know if a stamp dealer is honest? I want to sell a stamp album that I inherited, but I am afraid that the price offered might not be fair.--T.J.

A: There are several tests of a reliable dealer:

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1) How long has he been in business? The longer the better, because it shows stability and customer satisfaction.

2) How long has the dealer been at the present location? Or in the same city? A dealer who moves every year may be in financial trouble.

3) Does the dealer belong to any stamp societies such as the American Stamp Dealer’s Assn. (ASDA) or the American Philatelic Society (APS)? Membership or lack of it doesn’t tell the whole story, because a crook may still be an organization member, while some dealers may have some reason for not joining philatelic groups. But long-standing stamp society membership may be the mark of a stable dealer.

4) Finally, how does the dealer treat you? Does he play games and refuse to make a quick estimate on the value of your stamps? Is he up-front about discussing what is good and deficient in the collection? Is he willing to pay in cash or check on the spot, or does he procrastinate a few days? And is he confident enough about his evaluation to recommend another dealer in town if you reject his first offer or want to get a second opinion?

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Q: I would like to learn where to send for upcoming new U.S. commemorative issues. With four grandsons to keep alert, I would like to introduce them to the fun of collecting. The local post office is of no help. Can you be?--T.B.G.

A: You can get on the mailing list without cost if you write to Philatelic Sales Division, U.S. Postal Service, Washington, D.C. 20265. This office issues illustrated brochures of available U.S. stamps and will sell them by mail if you can’t get them locally. It also offers a first-day-cover service at a small fee.

Q: What is the largest stamp auction company?--L.R.

A: In dollar value and in the prestige of its rarities, the Siegel Auction Galleries would be hard to beat for United States and selected world stamps in high demand. They usually have auction lots selling for less than $100 each, but their great-rarities sales often get prices of many thousands of dollars for single rare stamps and covers. They’ve been in business for 57 years.

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A sample catalogue is $1, or you can send $10 for a yearly subscription of 15 or more catalogues: Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, 160 E. 56th St., New York, N.Y. 10022.


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