Cruising through "Stamps"

What are your essential stamp collecting tools?

Written by catpaw

August 20, 2020

Stanley Gibbons posted an interesting question on their Facebook page about essential stamp collecting tools:

What tools do you use the most? A good magnifying glass is useful for examining stamp detail. Tweezers are useful for handling them. Perforation gauges and watermark detectors are needed in the more advanced stages of the hobby.
Stanley Gibbons Facebook page

That started me thinking about what my essential tools are. Yes, I have the usual suspects, a good pair of tweezers, various perforation gauges, watermark fluid, magnifier, and a UV light. I also consider a handy little position finder and the Stanley Gibbons Stamp colour key essentials as well.

The position finder is invaluable when trying to figure out the position of a flaw or detail on a stamp. It took me awhile to master using one, and if you’re interested, I can post a tutorial on it.

Photo of a position finder, used in stamp collecting to find location of details on stamps

Handy position finder for stamp collecting

I rely heavily on Stanley Gibbons catalogues, even if they are getting a little long in the tooth, because the amount of detail they offer so when I look at colours, I tend towards SG’s key. I keep it tucked into a dark cupboard, so the colours haven’t faded over the years.

Catalogues, catalogues and more catalogues

I have a lot of catalogues as well. Scott, Stanley Gibbons, Unitrade, Sanabria are the main ones. I scour book sales looking for editions I don’t own and often get them for a song. Well, except for the two I use the most, which I saved up for and purchased new – Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth & Empire Stamps 1840-1952 (With the exception of Canadian stamps, I don’t tend to collect after 1950) and Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps & Covers 1840-1940. I rely on the two old Sanabria airmail catalogues for identification, but the prices are sorely out of date.

For Canadian stamps, I switch between SG, Unitrade and Canadian E.F.O.’s: Errors, Freaks and Oddities (Darnell), which I can’t seem to find, at the moment. I put it down somewhere the other day and for the life of me, can’t remember where. It’ll turn up.

What’s missing is The Pioneer and Semi-Official Air Stamps of Canada 1918-1934 by Longworth-Dames. No idea why I keep putting off buying this essential guide. I’ll have to remedy that one day.

There are 3 more tools I use extensively – an excellent quality scanner, Tineye/Google image search and my largish collection of stamp related bookmarks. I rarely see these make the list of essential stamp collecting tools. I can’t live without them.

Scanners as an essential stamp collecting tool.

I’m not a fan of squinting into a magnifier for any length of time, especially with the vision issues I have. That’s where a good scanner allows me to capture details, I’d otherwise miss with just a magnifying glass. With the scanner set to a high resolution, outstanding results can be produced. The benefits of a scanner over a camera, is the stamps lay flat and I get a quality image every time. I don’t have to worry about flash, lighting, or weird angles. I have most of the scans stored in the cloud for reference. When I have a question, they are all categorised and stored away.

Careful scanning will show flaws, condition clearly (nibbled corners, small tears will be easier to spot), fine details and, if you get lucky, you can also see the watermark on certain stamps.

Scan of an early German airmail stamp, showing watermarks

Weimar Republic airmail stamp with selvage and clear watermark 126 network

Here’s how my stamp folders are organised. 001 signifies airmail, 002 general stamps (pre 1950), 003 covers and used post cards, 004 revenues, 005 all reference materials, including inventory lists and album pages, and finally 006 a catch-all for photos I’ve taken of postal boxes, postcards not used, but interesting (usually air related), and posters I’ve found about stamps. The numbering makes it easy to scan down the list and locate what I need.

screen capture of some of my stamp folders I store in the cloud

A partial view of my stamp collecting folders.

Another use for the scanner is to scan magazine and book articles for later use. I have an extensive archive of pdfs, culled from library sources, stamp magazines and old publications. Instead of letting them accumulate, collecting dust on a shelf, they are scanned, labeled, and stored in one of the 005 folders for easy access. By keeping them on the cloud, I can access them from any device.  I think of it as my personal library of essential stamp resources. I’m going to resort the 005 this weekend because it’s becoming a bit large. I need to refine the categories such as 005 Canadian Reference, 005 Flaws.

Scanning also allows me to create visual lists of the stamps I own. I struggled for years with trying to catalogue my collection and finally realised most of the software was too clumsy to use. Instead, I scan the stamps into contact sheets, label them and store them for future reference.

Scan of sheet of Canadian airmail stamps

Click on the image to see it in full size

Scan of Canadian semi-official stamps

Not as tidy, but still easy to use for reference  purposes.

If I’m looking for a stamp to buy, I’ll call up my master lists and see if it’s there. In newer lists, I’ve been including various catalogue numbers and details like flaws, colour variations etc. I also now list the type of cancels I have. This is great when I’m looking for a specific cancel.

Those are the basic tools I use. Next article, I’ll discuss how to use Tineye and Google image search as a reference tool. If you aren’t familiar with using them, come back in a week to find out how. I’ll also finish up the article on my stamp related bookmarks.

What are the essential stamp collecting tools you couldn’t live without? Drop a comment below or on Facebook and let me know. Don’t forget to give the article a like to let me know you want more articles like this.

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