Once you have decided what to collect, and what you need to get started down the path of collecting, you have to decide how you will store and display your stamps. Your storage system serves essentially 3 purposes:
- To protect your stamps from moisture, dust, dirt mold and stains, as well as unnecessary handling.
- To organize your stamps and keep them together.
- To allow you to display your stamps so that you can look at them.
Depending on what type of collector you are, and what type of collection you are building, the above three purposes will have different priority levels, at different times in the life of your collection.
The question of how to store one's stamps and display them is a daunting one, as there are so many choices available to the collector. The main ones are:
- Printed country or world albums.
- Blank looseleaf albums.
- Black or clear "Vario" or "Hagner" pages.
- "102" or "107/109" cards.
- "102" or "107/109" cards combined with "Vario" or "Hagner" pages.
- Stockbooks or looseleaf stockpages.
I will discuss the pros and cons of each one, in terms of how well each one fulfills the above three purposes, as well as cost, aesthetic appeal, flexibility of display and how well each accommodates adding notes about your stamps.
Printed Country or World Albums
For the longest time in the history of the hobby, the printed country and world albums, such as the Scott International album shown above, were the most popular way to display stamp collections. Typically, the more expensive albums would cover one country, such as Canada or US, or a group of countries in several volumes, and would include a space for every major Scott Catalogue Number from those countries. The spaces were laid out in a visually appealing nature, and not just crammed into the pages. The album bindings were generally a post system with a mechanism to "open and close" the album, so that pages could be added or removed. These bindings were generally designed so that the albums would lay relatively flat when open, which is a real plus if you are trying to view your collection. Blank pages with the same border styles, but otherwise blank are often available, as are yearly supplements covering the new issues for each year, so that such albums could be kept up to date.
The cheaper, beginner albums will generally allot between 1/4 of a page to 6 or 8 pages per country and would generally only include spaces for the more common stamps from each country. So, sets would not usually be complete, for instance. Printing is usually double sided, and all space on each page is generally taken up with illustrations or blank spaces. The bindings are usually a screw and post style, which may be opened and closed as before, but generally, these albums do not lie perfectly flat when open.
The pros of these types of albums are as follows:
- They provide a ready, built-in framework to structure your collection, so that many collectors who have these albums collect to try to fill the album. This way, they do not get too bogged down in the minutae of each stamp issue.
- They provide a nice layout for the stamps in your collection, and the completed pages on the more expensive albums look quite nice when complete.
- There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from completing a page.
- They are relatively inexpensive compared to the other options, when you consider the capacity of each album, especially if they do not include stamp mounts. Hingeless albums, containing pre-cut acetate stamp mounts on the other hand, are quite expensive.
- They avoid going into too much detail, as they are generally covering a broad range of issues. This is an advantage to the collector who does not want to get into a lot of detail.
- You can achieve some flexibility for items not illustrated, with blank pages.
The cons of these types of albums include:
- Flexibility is limited, in terms of how you display your stamps. The page layouts are set, and cannot be changed. Also, although you can put unlisted items on blank pages, you will still need to find a way to print wordings in a font that matches the rest of the album, which can be difficult.
- The paper used for the pages of the larger albums and cheaper albums is of lower weight and quality, which can cause the pages to buckle when a large number of stamps are mounted on them. This is especially so if you are mounting stamps on both sides of each page. The buckling is not really a serious problem, per se, but many collectors find it less appealing visually.
- These albums tend to emphasize what is missing, with the blank spaces on each page, rather than encouraging you to celebrate and appreciate the stamps you already have.
- They do not go into much detail, and so they are not really suitable if you plan to collect in any kind of a specialized manner, unless you are willing to use and design a lot of blank pages, in which case, they are just fine.
- Although the initial album purchase is relatively inexpensive, the cost of annual supplements can become quite high, with many years costing upwards of $30-$50 now. So they are an expensive option if you want to keep them up to date.
- They do not offer the stamps complete protection from moisture in the sense that if they are kept in a humid room, the stamps will become stuck to the pages.
- Your stamps can get "caught" on one another if you mount them on both sides of the album pages. As a result, your stamps can sometimes get creased or damaged.
- If the hinges or mounts come loose, stamps can fall out of the album.
If you decide to go with this option, you will need to decide on a brand. The leading manufacturer for world albums in North America is still Scott Publishing. Minkus and Harris used to be big names, but they are no longer in business, though you will find no shortage of used albums around. The used albums may be a good solution if you are not planning on collecting right up to date. If you want hingeless albums that already contain the mounts, then Lindner, Lighthouse and Davo are all good brand names, that produce albums for almost any country you could want.
Once you decide on a brand, you will have to decide on whether you wish to mount your stamps using stamp hinges, or whether you want to use acetate mounts. Hinges are little rectangular, pre-folded pieces of gummed glassine paper, which are moistened and attached to the back of the stamp on one end, and then affixed to the album page on the other. Acetate mounts come in strips that are of different widths, that open either at the top, or from the centre on the back outwards. The strips come in different widths, depending on the height of the stamps you are trying to mount. You place the stamp in the mount and then cut it to the desired width. I find that scissors don't generally give straight cuts. If you are going to use mounts, it is best to invest in the small guillotine cutters that are available from Lighthouse to cut them.
I find that good, peelable hinges are the best and cheapest way to mount used stamps and stamps with no gum, if you are concerned with hinging mint stamps. I don't mind hinged stamps myself, so I would use them on mint stamps without hesitation. But, because they are not very popular now, most brands of hinges on the market are not very good. For one thing, they are not very peelable. What I mean by peelable is that the hinge can be removed easily when dry, without fear of damaging the stamp. The best hinges in the business in this regard were Dennison hinges. They are a bluish green colour. Unfortunately, they have been out of production for decades. But, you can still find packages of 1000 hinges on the market for $30-$50, so they are not cheap anymore. Mounts can get expensive, but they really are the only one of these two solutions that are readily available from any retailer and will avoid disturbing the gum on mint stamps.
Blank Looseleaf Albums
This is similar to the above solution for printed albums, except that these albums have completely blank pages. Stanley Gibbons is the market leader here, with their Simplex, Senator, Utile and Frank Godden albums to name a few. Generally, the quality of the pages is much higher than the printed albums, and the bindings of the more expensive Godden albums are designed to lie completely flat when open.
The pros of this type of album include:
- Complete flexibility to arrange your collection in any way that you wish, and can include as much or as little detail as you wish, in terms of explanatory notes next to the stamps on the page.
- Relatively inexpensive for the less expensive albums, which can work out to be about 50c per page.
The cons are:
- You will have to find a way to print your borders and lettering on your pages. There are many online software templates that you can use to design your album pages, which you can find by clicking here. However, you have to take care to ensure that the album pages are of a size that are compatible with your printer. For example, much of the software in North America is designed for 8.5 x 11 inch pages, whereas many of the pages in the British Gibbons albums are A4 size, which is slightly different. Another route you can go which is time consuming, but very satisfying is to learn calligraphy and use special calligraphy pens to write your own pages out by hand.
- The more expensive albums can become a very expensive solution if your collection is large and includes a lot of blocks, proofs and covers. In addition to the album cost, you have to consider the cost of hinges or mounts and the printing costs. When these are factored in, blank albums can be quite expensive. But the nicest albums result in a beautiful display that cannot be surpassed by any other solution.
- As with all looseleaf albums, they offer only limited protection against humidity. All the other drawbacks inherent to printed albums apply here also.
Black Or Clear "Vario" or "Hagner" Pages
Another attractive solution that I particularly like is the Hagner, or Vario page. Vario pages are plastic pages that come either clear, or in black, and contain acetate pockets, of different width. They are available as either single or double sided pages. Hagner pages are similar, but are made from cardboard and acetate strips, rather than being made of plastic.
The picture above shows Vario pages in the smallest 8-pocket size. These are ideal for most smaller definitive stamps and most narrow horizontal designs, like the 1937 Coronation stamps above. If you use double sided pages, then you can print your explanatory notes on double sided pages that go between each page. If you do this, you can have the notes refer to the stamps on each page to the left, and right of the notes page. You can enclose your note pages in plastic page protectors, so that there is no need to punch the paper pages. As you can see, the Vario pages are punched to fit many, many different types of binders. So, they are very versatile.
There are several advantages to these types of pages:
- Because pages are available in many sizes, this solution affords you almost as much flexibility as a blank album, without any of the work of having to design pages.
- You can arrange and re-arrange your pages easily.
- Because they are made from inert plastic, your stamps are very well protected from moisture and abrasion. Your stamps on one page, will not get "caught" on the stamps on the opposite page, which often happens on albums that are double sided.
- You can add as many explanatory notes through printed pages as you want, and you can thus take advantage of the cheap printing technology available in a program like Word.
But, there are some disadvantages:
- Although you can add as many notes as you want, it is not the best solution to use if you are still studying the attributes of your stamps, because it will be difficult to keep track of which notes relate to which stamps on the page. Consequently, it will be difficult to shuffle the order of the stamps around when the time comes to study attributes that rely a lot on comparison, such as shades.
- It is expensive. Most Vario pages cost around $1 per page, and a good binder can run you $30 or so.
- Although the pages come with different pocket widths, they are generally always the same width, with one or two exceptions. So, if you want to display items of varying sizes on the same page and have the plastic cover them, you have to use the pocket size that corresponds to your largest item. This will result in wasted space, as you will be using a wide pocket to display stamps that do not require them. However, this is not that significant a disadvantage, if you are willing to incur the cost of displaying your collection out over a larger number of pages.
"102" or "107/109" Cards
These cards are used mostly by dealers for their stock, but they work just as well for collectors. They generally come in a small size, shown above, which is about 4 inches by 3 inches, and a larger size, which is about 6 inches by 4 inches. They are available with an all white background, or with the black background shown. There is a small space at the top for notes, and usually the back of the cards are white, so that you can write notes on the back related to the stamp, such as the perforation measurements, paper type, shade and any plate flaws. These cards are generally stored upright in large rectangular boxes that are available at most stamp dealers, and are specially designed to fit them. You can generally fit about 850-900 full cards in a box. The cards generally cost about $45-$50 per 1000 cards.
There are several advantages to using these cards:
- These are the best solution by far, when you are studying the attributes of your stamps, because you can record all the relevant information on the cards. Then when you want to compare papers or shades you can do so by shuffling the cards into whatever order you want.
- They are acid-free and the plastic covers the whole card, so they protect your stamps against most forms of wear, dust, dirt and provide relatively good protection from humidity, even though they are made from card.
- They are relatively inexpensive at 5c per card.
- They can accommodate most single stamps, and most smaller plate blocks.
But, there are some disadvantages too:
- Because you have to store them in boxes, viewing your collection can be more cumbersome. There is no page by page display, as such.
- Because they are made from card, they are not suitable for very humid environments.
- They are not suitable for most larger multiples, plate blocks, booklets and souvenir sheets.
- Although you can place more than 1 stamp inside them, you will find that the cellophane tends to come apart from the cards if you try to store more than 20 stamps in one card.
"102" or "107/109" Cards Combined With "Vario" or "Hagner" Pages
This, for me, is the ultimate solution when you are studying your stamps, but still want to display them to look at easily. This solution involves using larger Vario pages to hold the 102 or 107/109 cards that contain your stamps. You keep all your notes on the back of the cards and arrange the cards on the pages. Then, when you are finished, you can either leave them they way they are, or you can move the stamps to pages with narrower strips and transfer all your notes to double sided printed pages.
This is the most expensive solution though, as the only Vario pages that will work are those with 4 rows, so you can generally only display 8 stamps per page.
Stockbooks or Looseleaf Stockpages
Another very popular method for storing stamps are stockbooks. Stockbooks generally come in 8, 16 and 32 double sided pages. Each page usually has between 8 and 9 pockets, with a glassine interleaving page between each page to protect the stamps on one page from getting caught on the stamps of the opposite page. These books are generally either available with white pages and glassine strips for the pockets, or black pages with acetate strips. The picture above shows a white stockbook used for a collection of 1/2c Small Queen stamps from Canada.
The advantages of stockbooks include:
- Complete flexibility in the sense that you can display anything that fits on the page, as long as it will at least fit on the bottom row. You can arrange, and rearrange the pages to your heart's content.
- You can add small notes to the pages in pencil on the white stockbooks.
- Relatively inexpensive you can buy a 32 page (64 side) stockbook for about $35.
The disadvantages include:
- Very limited ability to add any notes to describe of identify your stamps. You could place little printed tickets in the pockets on the pages, or use sticky labels, but you cannot add any pages with notes.
- The same problems you can encounter with albums in humid climates will apply to stockbooks as well.
- The white glassine strips in the white stockbooks partially obscure the designs, so that they are more of a storage solution than a display solution.
In addition to stockbooks, there are looseleaf manila stockpages, as shown below:
These manila pages usually contain 12 rows of open pockets, and are ideal for storing large numbers of stamps. Although the page above has the stamps placed side by side, you can actually overlap up to 10 stamps on top of one another and fit them into the pockets.
The main advantage to these type of pages is that they are cheap: about 35 cents a page, and they can hold a lot of stamps, when the stamps are overlapped. They are really only a storage solution though, as the stamps are partially obscured. However, you can add notes in pencil or pen on the pages, so they can be an ideal temporary solution when you are studying your stamps. Of course, being made from card stock, the limitations that apply to albums in humid climates apply to these as well.
- If you are living in a very humid climate and collect mint stamps, then Vario pages are really the safest way to go, despite being the most expensive.
- If you are interested in displaying your stamps, with minimal extra notes, and your collection is straightforward and from a country, then a pre-printed album may be the best solution for you.
- If you want to display your stamps with no notes, and want flexibility, then a black stockbook with acetate pockets is probably your best bet.
- If you are studying your stamps and have a lot of notes and are not ready to display them yet, then 102 or 107/109 cards are likely your best solution.
- If you want maximum flexibilty of display, your collection is specialized and does not conform to a standard printed album, then Vario pages are probably your best solution.
- If you just want a place to store duplicate used stamps and want to store a lot of stamps, then manila stocksheets are the best and least expensive solution by far.
For covers, the best solution is either single or double pocket Vario pages, or the Lighthouse cover albums that are really large stockbooks for covers. These albums can generally hold 200 covers per album, and are relatively inexpensive at $50 or so per album.