Many collections of postage stamps, which if properly treated would be valuable, are, instead, merely accumulations worth practically nothing because of improper handling.
Perhaps the greatest sin of mishandling a stamp is to handle it with your fingers. I cannot emphasize enough the most important point that stamps should never be handled except with a pair of fine stamp tongs. These are available in three main designs, all depending upon the shape of the points. The professional and dealer usually use tongs with fairly sharp points. They are used because these tongs can be used to roll a hinge off a stamp without tearing or thinning the stamp provided, of course, that the hinge used was one of the peelable varieties. Some of the older hinges were not peelable, and taking them off the stamp with a pair of tongs is merely inviting trouble.
If the stamp is mint, then nothing can be done except, perhaps, to cut the flap on the hinge off carefully, leaving the glued part still stuck to the stamp. If the stamp is canceled, then the chances are you can resoak the stamp and remove the hinge that way. Be careful to wipe off the hinge gum while the stamp is wet and soaking, otherwise it may dry as a square of gum on the back of an otherwise ungummed stamp,
The Tong shape handiest for beginners, and advanced collectors as well, especially if they are not using hinges to mount their specimens, is the spade point. This tool has an aquarist, Shovel or spade like shape at the points which afford the maximum amount of support to the stamp. The trouble with most spade-point tongs is the thickness of the points. In order to be useful, the points should be as thin as possible. I have overcome the trouble by grinding down the points of my spade tongs carefully until they are paper-thin at the ends.
An intermediate kind is called paddle-pointed. This variety has small round paddle-shaped points, usually much thinner than the spade points and quite a bit smaller. Some companies sell very fine tongs, for double or more the usual cost of the tool. These have every thin points, and are gold plated to prevent corrosion and rust.
It is must and should that tongs are not used to handle stamps when soaking them off paper. This is the only time when stamps are handled with the fingers. If you used tongs on wet stamps, and the tongs had been used until the plating was worn off the points, there is a good possibility that the steel would leave a mark on the wet stamp that would later turn into a rust stain impossible to remove. Since the stamp is soft, limp, and wet, it can be handled with the fingers without any danger of leaving oil stains from your hand. As soon as it is dry, however, break out the tongs to handle it.
When soaking stamps off pieces of paper or the envelope on which they were used, they should be left in the water only long enough to entirely soften and dissolve the gum. Further soaking will do nothing toward releasing the stamp from the paper, but it is very possible to ruin the stamp if it is next to another on which an aniline dye was used in the printing. This dye could bleed from one stamp to another, ruining both in the process.
Stamps on brown wrapping paper should never be soaked together with stamps on ordinary white envelope stock. The brown paper, especially the corrugated cardboard used in making cartons, will often color the soaking water and stain the stamps. As a matter of fact, if the stamps can be removed by methods other than soaking, it is far better to do so.
After the stamps have been soaked off the paper, they must be dried before they can be put away in stock books or mounted in albums. The drying can by accomplished by laying out the wet stamps in rows on a clean terry-cloth towel, covering them with another towel and laying a weight, such as a book, on top to keep the stamps flat. Don’t let the stamps touch each other. Take care when laying the covering towel in place that you do not move the stamps, causing them to overlap one another or even folding over a corner. A crease put into a stamp this way can never be removed.
A far better method of drying soaked stamps is to use a drying book. These are sold by stamp dealers for a couple of pounds and can be used over and over and will last many years. They are merely books with pages of heavy blotting paper and the stamps are placed on the last page first, the next page turned to cover them, then the pages continuing to be loaded and covered until the book is filled or until you have positioned all your stamps. The book is then laid flat and a book or other weight placed on top. Let the whole thing stand for a day or two to insure that the stamps are entirely dry. If all the gum was removed in the soaking water, there is no danger of the stamps sticking to the blotter pages.
Another very important point in the care and handling of a stamp collection is the storage of the albums or stock books. These should never be stored on their edges or ends unless you have enough books to wedge them tightly into a shelf space so the pages will be held pressed together. Rather, albums and stock books are best laid flat on their sides, preferably with another book (perhaps your stamp catalogues) laid on top of the pile to hold the pages together.
Since stamp values are predicated almost entirely on the condition of the item, great care should be exercised in handling the stamp not to damage the perforations. Just one perforation, broken from the stamp, or even torn just enough to shortern it, will cause a dealer, when appraising the stamp with intent to purchase it, to lower the value a large percentage.
Happy stamp collecting.