Dealing With Self-Sticks
By John M. Hotchner
Hardly any stamp collector is happy with the Postal Service’s practice, begun in earnest in 2007, of producing increasing numbers of self-stick issues that when used, can’t be floated free of the envelope paper.
The reason given was that they were saving on the cost of the stamp paper. But this developed later. Initially there was no announcement. Collectors made the discovery through trying to wash new issues so as to have a nice clean example to put in the album.
Actually about a quarter of what is issued these days can be soaked off — even today. But the remainder either have to be specially treated, stamp by stamp, to be removed. Or, they have to be left on neatly clipped (hope- fully thin) paper and put in the album.
The latter will not bother some people, but as most of us are creatures of habit, the change from the old way is annoying. It makes the presentation of a used collection on album pages a bit disorderly with different thicknesses and colors of envelope paper. Even mint self-stick stamps have to be left on their backing paper when displayed in albums. Thus, fewer stamps will t on a page, and albums get thicker faster. Not a few collectors have reacted to this new era by combining this problem with ever higher face values of stamps, and using these excuses to stop collecting U.S. stamps issued after 2000, or to leave the hobby altogether.
But are the changes really fatal, or do they simply force changes in collecting with which we are unhappy? Are we over-reacting to what we see as high handedness on the part of the USPS? Personally, I feel it, and there can be little doubt that there is some of this in the reaction of collectors. As confirmation, we saw it in letters to the editor in the philatelic press as the USPS went to unwashable self-sticks, and then decreed that all issues would be self-sticks.
The latter decision was popular with the public, but it was anything but for collectors. It is still my belief that this could be “fixed” by leaving mail-use stamps self-stick, and issuing commemoratives as lick-and-stick since their purpose is to be sold to collectors. And I would like to see the Postal Service return to the days of washable self-sticks. This would seem to be only rational given that reporting in the philatelic press indicated that the stamps issued without that feature actually cost more than washable stamps.
But I’m dreaming. Back to reality.
The basic question is this: Will you let the changes wrought by the USPS drive you out of the hobby? Or will you find a way to adapt? I can’t picture life without stamp collecting! So adapting is the way I have gone, and the way I recommend.
For those who think that they will teach the Postal Service a thing or two by dropping out with a blast in the Letters to the Editor column, forget it. They have set their course, and are “driving hard to the basket”, to mix a metaphor.
The only power you have is the power of the purse. If you do not spend money on their products, that has an impact. But the USPS is busily about the task of recruiting new collectors who take as a given the new reality. Apparently, they are having success sufficient to offset losses of old-line collectors who are dropping out.
So, the first way to adapt, is not dropping out alto- gether but limiting U.S. stamp collecting to those issues that are pleasing; say ending with the issues of 2000 or 2005. You save on supplements as well as stamps. And this allows you to spend available money on lling in older spaces with those beautifully engraved stamps of yesteryear.
But if, like me, you maintain your interest in the cur- rent issues of the USPS, then there are several avenues you can take:
1. In choosing stamps-on-paper for your album, consider the color and thickness of stamps to be part of condition. Thin white paper is the goal, and just as you would replace a heavily cancelled stamp with one that is lightly cancelled, replace thick red paper when you can.
2. Choose the margin size you will use for consistency, and trim the excess paper so that your album page looks nice.
3. Obtain and learn to use the Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue, which has a feature identifying those modern stamps that can and cannot be washed. Then wash what you can. I am hopeful that Scott will eventually add this feature to the U.S. listings in Volume I of the Standard Catalogue. (Note: Keep in mind that I have found several stamps that Scott indicates can be washed are at best very difficult, and at worst, actually won’t wash. Best to try one or two before trying to wash quantities.)
[Note: For three years, The Virtual Stamp Club kept track of which U.S. self-adhesives were soakable, through the hard work of volunteer John Cropper. Then he had to move on, and no one else was able to undertake this task. But the “Soaking Stoplight” information is still online here for 2008, 2009 and 2010. — VSC]
4. Consider removing the envelope paper from stamps destined for your album using one of the spray or chemical products that have been discussed in Linn’s [Stamp News] and The American Philatelist (mostly in letters to the editor). Although it takes more time than the old float-free method, and for that reason is not suitable for large quantities, it works well on individual stamps. I use non-aerosol “Pure Citrus” Orange Air Freshener which is available at Home Depot and other locations. It is effective and non-toxic.
I will close with an offer. I will provide a write-up on how I use “Pure Citrus”, and/or a write-up of how to separate some of the more difficult soakable stamps from paper to any reader who requests one or both. If you want these, please write to me, specifying which, and enclose 10¢ in mint postage to cover photocopying, and a stamped addressed envelope. Send to me at PO Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125.
Should you wish to comment on this column, or have questions or ideas you would like to have explored in a future column, please write to John Hotchner, VSC Contributor, P.O. Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125, or email, putting “VSC” in the subject line.
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