I'm an American currently living and teaching English in Phuket, Thailand. I like to read, write, take photographs, and collect stamps. You can read about all of these things and more on my three blogs:
Asian Meanderings, http://jochim.wordpress.com
"Please, Mr. Postman!", http://markspostcards.wordpress.com
Philatelic Pursuits, https://philatelicpursuits.wordpress.com .
At the beginning of 2017, my favorite stamp blog (Big Blue 1840-1940) began a series “to present a postmark calendar for all the 366 possible days of the year, represented by interesting appropriate date cancellation stamps from the [Ralph A.] Kimble collection.” I thought this was a great idea and began going through scans of my collection to determine whether I could do something similar.
I came up with 255 stamps I could use for a Postmark Calendar of my own; this does include some duplicate dates. At the moment, the best-represented month is March. I did find out a couple of things in compiling stamps for my calendar: my eyesight is getting worse (time for a checkup!) and some dates are difficult to determine even when the postmark is clear. My criteria was simple: the month and date had to be clear; if I had to squint to figure out the date, I wouldn’t use it. I prefer to have the year included, but this wasn’t always possible. I also decided that I wouldn’t include postmarks from first day covers and other philatelic items.
While I was still going through my stamps examining their postmarks, I came across the Postmark Calendar thread on my favorite stamp collecting online forum, The Stamp Forum. The thread was started on August 11, 2013, and is now 122 pages strong! I began adding stamps to it around a month ago.
I love the format Jim has been following for his calendar entries on Big Blue so I’ll follow his model. After all, “imitation is the sincerest [form] of flattery” according to the quote by Charles Caleb Colton.
Philatelic Pursuits Postmark Calendar: August
Kingstown is the capital, chief port, and main commercial center of Saint Vincent. Surrounded by steep hills, the town was founded by French settlers shortly after 1722, although Saint Vincent had 196 years of British rule before her independence. The botanical garden, conceived in 1765, is one of the oldest in the Western hemisphere. William Bligh, made famous from the Mutiny on the Bounty, brought seeds of the breadfruit tree here for planting in 1793.
Accra is the capital and most populous city of Ghana, with an estimated urban population of 2.27 million as of 2012. The city stretches along the Ghanaian Atlantic coast and extends north inland. Originally built around three different settlements, including a port (Jamestown), it served as the capital of the British Gold Coast between 1877 and 1957. Once merely a 19th-century suburb of Victoriaborg, Accra has since transitioned into a modern metropolis; the city’s architecture reflects this history, ranging from 19th-century architecture buildings to modern skyscrapers and apartment blocks.
Lake Forest is a city in Orange County, California, that incorporated as a city on December 20, 1991. Prior to incorporation, the community had been known as El Toro. Following a vote in 2000, Lake Forest expanded its city limits to include the master-planned developments of Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills. This expansion brought new homes and commercial centers to the Northeastern boundary of the city. Lake Forest (along with its neighboring cities Mission Viejo and Irvine) is ranked as one of the safest cities in the country. The population was 77,264 at the 2010 census.
Founded in 1541, Santiago has been the capital city of Chile since colonial times. The city has a downtown core of 19th-century neoclassical architecture and winding side-streets, dotted by art deco, neo-gothic, and other styles. Santiago’s cityscape is shaped by several stand-alone hills and the fast-flowing Mapocho River, lined by parks such as Parque Forestal. The Andes Mountains can be seen from most points in the city. These mountains contribute to a considerable smog problem, particularly during winter. The city outskirts are surrounded by vineyards and Santiago is within a few hours of both the mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
Wesel originated from a Franconian manor that was first recorded in the 8th century. In the 12th century, the Duke of Clèves took possession of Wesel. The city became a member of the Hanseatic League during the 15th century. Within the Duchy of Cleves, Wesel was second only to Cologne in the lower Rhine region as an entrepôt. It was an important commercial center: a clearing station for the transshipment and trading of goods. Wesel is situated at the confluence of the Lippe River and the Rhine in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Not here, but on my “other” stamp blog — A Stamp A Day. It just snuck up on me. I published an article a few minutes ago about Trinidad & Tobago, illustrating the ½ penny green Britannia (my copy might be Scott #1, released in 1913, but it’s probably a later issue as the postmark is dated in 1924), and noticed the post count. The amazing thing is that I started the blog just over one year ago — July 1, 2016. I never thought I would be able to maintain daily entries for more than a few months; the blog’s name kept me going — even when it was the last thing I wanted to do on certain days, even when work or the weather or unreliable Internet all seemed to transpire against me. Four hundred posts. Wow, indeed!
By contrast, I started this blog — Philatelic Pursuits — on May 25, 2015. This will be my 97th entry. I’ll have to think of something special for #100, just as I’ll need to pick a significant stamp for ASAD’s 500th post. I can’t let that one sneak past me like this one nearly did….
The August issue of The American Philatelist arrived a few days ago and I’ve slowly been perusing it during rare periods of free-time (this time of year has always been a busy period for me but this year I am nearly overwhelmed!). American Philatelic Society president Mick Zais has a particularly interesting column this month in which he examines some of the reasons that people collect and poses the question, “Is there a collecting gene?”
An auction house once stated that collecting is, in fact, a basic human instinct; a survival advantage amplified by eons of natural selection. Those of our ancient ancestors who managed to accumulate scarce objects may have been more prone to survive long enough to bear offspring. Even today, wealth correlates to longer life expectancy — and could any form of wealth be more basic than scarce, tangible objects?
According to The Guardian a few years ago, “One psychoanalytical explanation for collecting is that unloved children learn to seek comfort in accumulating belongings; another is that collecting is motivated by existential anxieties — the collection, an extension of our identity, lives on, even though we do not. More recently, evolutionary theorists suggested that a collection was a way for a man to attract potential mates by signalling his ability to accumulate resources.”
Another site lists the following as the most common reasons people collect things:
Knowledge and learning
Relaxation and stress reduction
Personal pleasure (including appreciation of beauty, and pride of ownership)
Social interaction with fellow collectors and others (i.e. the sharing of pleasure and knowledge)
Recognition by fellow collectors and perhaps even non-collectors
Altruism (since many great collections are ultimately donated to museums and learning institutions)
The desire to control, possess and bring order to a small (or even a massive) part of the world
Nostalgia and/or a connection to history
Accumulation and diversification of wealth (which can ultimately provide a measure of security and freedom)
There’s even a “Psychology of Collecting” article on Wikipedia which says that, “When people think of collecting, they may imagine expensive works of art or historical artifacts that are later sold to a museum or listed on eBay. The truth is, for many people who amass collections, the value of their collections are not monetary but emotional — and often, not for sale. Collections allow people to relive their childhoods, to connect themselves to a period in history or to a time they feel strongly about. Their collections may help them to ease insecurity and anxiety about losing a part of themselves, and to keep the past present. Some collect for the thrill of the hunt. Collecting is much like a quest, a lifelong pursuit which can never be complete. Collecting may provide psychological security by filling a part of the self one feels is missing or is void of meaning. When one collects, one experiments with arranging, organizing, and presenting a part of the world which may serve to provide a safety zone, a place of refuge where fears are calmed and insecurity is managed. Motives are not mutually exclusive; rather, different motives combine in each collector for a multitude of reasons.”
The Wikipedia article mentions that while “there are unemotional commerce-motivated collectors, those that hunt for collectibles only to turn them around soon after and sell them. . . .collecting is still mostly associated with positive emotions. There is the happiness from adding a new find to the collection, the excitement of the hunt, the social camaraderie when sharing their collection with other collectors.”
According to a 2007 article in The National Psychologist, “Sigmund Freud didn’t see collecting as stemming from these kinds of motivations. He postulated that collecting ties back to the time of toilet training, of course. Freud suggested that the loss of control and what went down the toilet was a traumatic occurrence and that, therefore, the collector is trying to gain back not only control but “possessions” that were lost so many years ago. Well that’s Freud.”
I believe that I collect stamps primarily for the knowledge that I gain from these little bits of paper. I have learned a great deal about history and geography which I frequently use in my job as an English teacher in Thailand, as well as about other topics that may seem useless but enhance my enjoyment of the hobby (printing methods, paper, etc.). Researching the subjects of my stamps often lead me to unexpected discoveries. I also collect for the relaxation it offers, the “thrill of the hunt,” and goal of completion (“A Stamp From Everywhere”, thank you very much).
I’m not certain if any collector can narrow down the reasons they collect to just one. Can you?
I never have fun when using Photoshop and there are only about two functions that I can perform using the unwieldy program (and not always with the same degree of success). “Fun with Paint” isn’t quite as good a title, however…
If I attempt to design something, I use a combination of Microsoft’s Paint (and not that new 3D version they tried to force upon me a few Windows 10 auto-updates ago) and an open-source program called PhotoScape which is great for things like placing (and resizing) transparent background images upon other images and manipulating lettering amongst other functions.
This weekend, I decided that it was time to change the small logo at the top of my “other” stamp blog, A Stamp A Day. After all, I hadn’t done anything to the design of the blog since I started it over a year ago (I am VERY happy with the theme — a free WordPress theme called Spun).
That logo was just a simple “edit” of a stamp issued by France in 1963 for an upcoming philatelic exhibition (Scott #1078):
But this didn’t even include the name of the blog, something that kind of bothered me but also allowed me to use the image from time to time here on Philatelic Pursuits and as an avatar on various stamp forums that I’m a member of.
I’d planned to make a new one for quite some time but it’s just hard to find the free time (another detractor is that I didn’t save a copy of the “unlettered” version so I’d have to start from scratch). This weekend, I finally had plenty of downtime and made several versions:
After I made those, I thought, “Let’s do some more!” Once I get started on something, it’s hard for me to stop.
My second try with “editing” a stamp was an attempt using Monaco #C16 issued in 1947, my favorite stamp-collecting themed stamp (I also collect FDR topicals):
My first tries at obscuring the cross-hatching in the upper-left and below the country tablet were fairly awful:
I then decided on a “wipe” approach to the upper-left cross-hatching (mainly because any lettering I placed over the cross-hatching was completely unreadable):
Hey! This is fun! Let’s see what the United States #1474 from 1972 looks like:
German Democratic Republic #91 issued in 1951 for Stamp Day:
For my final stabs at stamp “editing” this weekend were to work on two booklet panes issued in 1986 with a stamp collecting theme: Sweden #1588a and United States #2201a:
I even added a couple of items to the selvage of the Swedish stamp (at the top is the Phuket provincial seal) and at the bottom is a stylized entwined U.S. and Thai flag design. I had some problems removing elements and some of the quadrilles on the U.S. issue in particular are out of alignment. I will go back and fix these at some point, but my “free time” on a Sunday morning had come to end….
Admittedly, what I’ve done is quite basic. But the point is: If I can do this, then anybody can.
My biggest problem now is deciding which of these that I like the best. Which one shall have the upper left corner of the “A Stamp A Day” blog for the next year? I applied the Monaco stamp yesterday but it appears too large so I’ll resize that. I may end up setting it so that a different image appears on each separate click.
In preparing this article, I thought I’d also share a few stamp “designs” I made earlier this year. They may see eventual “release” through my Muang Phuket Local Post; I haven’t printed any of my creations for that project in almost two years (the last being a souvenir sheet for ASEAN Day on August 8, 2015). I have found somebody who can print these labels on dry gum paper and apply perforations so I may do that at some point in the future. The personalized image at the head of this article was created entirely in Photoshop (one of my few “successes”, I suppose but I’m still not entirely happy about it); I’d planned to make covers for my 50th birthday at the end of 2015 but never finished it.
“Admirals” refers to several series of definitive stamps depicting King George V released by Canada (1911–1928: Scott #104-134, #162,172, #178-183, and #MR1-MR7), Rhodesia (1913-1923: Scott #119-138), Southern Rhodesia (1924-1930: Scott #1-14), and New Zealand (1926: Scott #182-184). Although George V had succeeded Edward VII as King of England and the British Dominions on May 6, 1910, stamps depicting his reign were not issued until the latter part of 1911. The delay in producing the new design, some 18 months after the King’s accession to the throne, had more to do with the process of preparing new printing contracts than with the time needed to actually produce the new stamps, although there were objections to the King appearing on the stamps at all. These particular stamps are called the “Admirals” due to the fact that the King is portrayed in the ceremonial uniform of Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal Navy.
The first of these were the 1 cent and 2 cent denominations issued by Canada on December 22, 1911. These saw postal use for about 16 years, which was longer than any other definitives except for the Small Queens released from 1870 until 1897. This was the start of the first series of the Canadian “Admirals” released from 1911 to 1931 with eleven different denominations ranging from 1 cent to 1 dollar. These depict King George V in profile, facing the left.
The engraving of King George V on the 1911-1931 Canadian series is modeled after two photographs by H. Walter Barnettby and the other by W. & D. Downey. The engraving was mastered by Robert Savage of the American Bank Note Company whose main base of operation was in New York but which also had printing facilities in Ottawa, Canada. These issues are perforated 12 x 12.
The 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 10 cent denominations were reprinted at later dates with different colors. Every denomination of the King George V issue were printed in panes of 200 and 400 stamps and cut into and issued in sheets of 100 stamps, or in booklet form with pages of four or six stamps. They were also released in coil form with three different perforation varieties and were first released in November, 1912. The last stamp issue of this series to be released was the 2-cent carmine issue which had the unusual perforations of 12 x 8 and was issued on June 24, 1931.
During this period, Canadian stamps and their usage were affected by many factors.
World War I interrupted the supplies of pigments from Europe as well as the supply of high quality steel used for printing plates.
The printers changed from printing stamps on wet ungummed paper to dry pre-gummed paper.
A growing population and increased use of the mails required that the printers find faster ways of printing greater numbers of stamps.
In 1915, a 1¢ War Tax was placed on each piece of mail. Eleven years later it was repealed.
The postal rates changed numerous times. This resulted in new stamps being issued to meet these rates, and existing denominations being issued in new colors.
Increased use of stamp vending and affixing machines prompted the Post Office to issue stamps in coil format.
Increased popularity of stamp booklets resulted in their continued issuance during this era.
New services such as Airmail were offered by the Post Office.
Old cancelling devices were gradually phased out as new types of cancels were introduced.
The unusually long issuing period required new dies and several plates to be struck, resulting in a large range of flaws and other varieties for a stamp collector to study. It is because of these factors that the “Admirals” are some of the most extensively-researched stamps in Canadian philately.
Stocks of the earlier Canadian series of King George V definitives began to become exhausted in 1928 so a second series was prepared and issued beginning in August 1928. Rather than portraying the King in complete profile, these stamps portrayed King George V with his head in a quarter turn to the left. The series was issued in six denominations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 cents, with a different color for each value. The first stamp of this series to appear was the 4 cent released on August 16, 1928, while the 8 cent stamp was the final to appear, issued on December 21, 1928. Stamps from this series that were also issued in coil form and include the 1, 2 and 5 cent denominations.
Rhodesia’s “Admiral” stamps were released between 1913 and 1923, portraying King George V facing straight. Four values were printed from a single working place while the remainder were bicolored and printed from double plates. Three engraved dies for the head were used which can be identified from the shading on the King’s ear and the shank of the anchor on his cap badge. Shades for these issues are numerous. These stamp issues were perforated with gauge 14 or 15. Because of this numerous color varieties and other factors, correct identification can be difficult the collector. Many books on the subject are out of print and difficult to obtain as is other source information.
Using the same design as those of Rhodesia were the first stamps to be inscribed SOUTHERN RHODESIA, fourteen engraved stamps printed on unwatermarked paper, perforated 14, released in 1924; a coil version of the 1 penny scarlet, perforated 12½, was released in 1930.
In New Zealand in 1924, it was considered that the demand for 2s and 3s stamps was such that two new stamps were required to replace the “Duty” stamps that had been in use up to that time. As Viscount Jellicoe was then Governor-General, it was considered appropriate to depict on the stamps a portrait of the King in the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Jellicoe having been the commander of the British fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
The New Zealand Cabinet approved the stamp on July 1, 1924. The three stamps (Scott #182-184) were designed by H Linley Richardson of Wellington. The dies were engraved by Waterlow and Sons, London, while Bradbury Wilkinson produced the printing plates which were printed by the Government Printing Office, New Zealand, in sheets of 80, perforated 14, on paper watermarked with NZ and a star. The first printing of the 2 shilling in deep blue and 3 shilling in mauve was on thin Jones paper and released on July 12, 1926. The engraved impressions are generally rather poor.
In May 1927, the 2 shilling New Zealand Admiral was issued on a thick Cowan paper and the 3 shilling was later issued in September 1927. The impressions on the Cowan paper are far better than those printed on the Jones. Initial printings of the 2 shilling value on Cowan paper can easily be distinguished from the earlier Jones paper as they are a much lighter and brighter blue. The color became deeper in later printings. In November 1926 a 1 penny stamp was issued with the same design. The stamps remained on sale till May 1935.
On May 29, 1997, I entered the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California, on the opening day of the massive PACIFIC 97 World Philatelic Exhibition. To date, this is still the only international (or, even national) stamp event that I’ve participated in. To say the least, I was extremely impressed and overwhelmed by what was the largest stamp show to be held in the United States that decade (the first one ever on the West Coast) and I have many fond memories of the two weeks I spent there. This was the absolute peak of my philatelic life!
I had flown to San Francisco the day before from my then-home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For the duration of the show, I stayed with my aunt and uncle at their home in Walnut Creek on the opposite side of San Francisco Bay. Each morning, I would take the BART train into the city and spend most of the morning at the Moscone Center. My afternoons were usually spent sightseeing in my favorite city of the United States. One afternoon, I unexpectedly ran into my sister and brother-in-law on Fisherman’s Wharf. I had no idea they were vacationing there as well, having come in from Kansas City.
The numbers are impressive: there were 3,584 competitive frames exhibited as well as another 100 in the Court of Honor and 15 frames devoted to special exhibits. This computes to around 60,000 stamp album pages of material to look at. The total length of the rows of frames was just under two-and-a-half miles! Fifty-seven different countries were represented by these exhibits with particular emphasis on Pacific Rim participants. George Kramer won the Grand Prix National with “Across the Continent — Mail across the American Continent before the Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869,” which included the greatest Pony Express rarities. It was the first time a U.S. postal history exhibit had earned that honor. Two collectors from Thailand won the other top prizes: the Grand Prix International went to Pichai Burenasombate for “Classics of Great Britain,” and the Grand Prix d’Honneur went to Surajet Gongvatana for “Siam.”
More than 200 stamp dealers had booth and a number of philatelic auctioneers were in attendance (I sold my U.S. #1 and #2 as well as a Penny Black in one of the auctions). More than 130 different postal administrations were represented. My fondest memories are of visiting EVERY SINGLE ONE of the post office booths to buy at least one stamp (which was duly affixed into my philatelic passport and postmarked with each administration’s cancellation). I recall HUGE lines at the Hong Kong booth as the then-British colony was due to be handed-back to China the following month. The PACIFIC 97 Philatelic Passport is the item I most regret not bringing with me when I eventually moved to Thailand — an irreplaceable souvenir now lost forever.
Another highlight for me was the daily preparation of covers. The U.S. Postal Service released several stamps and postal stationery items at the exhibition. These included the first-ever triangular stamps released by the United States, a pair of souvenir sheets commemorating the 150th anniversary of the first U.S. stamps and featuring die proofs of the original designs, and two very attractive postal cards portraying the Golden Gate Bridge. The Franklin and Washington souvenir sheets created some controversy as they were only available for the duration of the show (the Washington sheet from May 30). Each day also had special USPS postmarks so it was quite fun preparing combination covers to receive the various cancellations available. I no longer have any of these (all remained in America when I made my cross-Pacific move), but I do remember making one or two very large covers that bore every available USPS cancellation (the first days and special days) that were available during the length of my stay.
There were a few interesting books published at PACIFIC 97 as well, including one about the Pan American Clippers. The 1997 edition of the American Philatelic Congress Book doubled as the PACIFIC 97 Handbook and contained many scholarly articles related to the themes of the show. There were many freebies on offer; Avery-Dennison distributed “dummy” self-adhesive stamp booklets and there were beautifully-engraved souvenir cards by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing available. It was also the first international stamp show to include a section for philatelic software.
Looking back, I feel that I was a rather unorganized collector. At PACIFIC 97, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy shop — overwhelmed by the choices available. I like to believe that I’m much more organized in my present philatelic pursuits. I do long to attend another large stamp show. They seem to have one or two each year in Bangkok with a larger regional show every six or seven years. There are also shows in Malaysia and Singapore which are definitely within range (and budget!). The problem is finding details on these shows with enough advance notice to actually plan a trip! I often find out about the Thai exhibitions when there is a photo in the newspaper (usually of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn opening the show). There must be a better way…
The slideshow below displays some items I’ve restored to my collection recently and a few I once had but now need to replace. When I came to southern Thailand more than 12 years ago, I never thought that I would stay so long. I was in one of those periods of “non-collecting” and never thought about picking up my tongs again. It wasn’t long before the philatelic bug bit me once again but, by then, it was too late as I’d instructed my sister to sell off the entire contents of my storage unit in New Mexico. The only items I requested her to “save” were certain music albums and a few books. If only….
We have quite the sticky subject today — that concerning all that is used to adhere stamps to covers or cards. The term ADHESIVE in philately can either refer to the gum on the back of a stamp, be it water-activated or self-adhesive, or the stamp itself affixed to prepay postage in contrast to a pre-printed design as on postal stationery. Stamps have also been issued without any adhesive at all and were affixed to envelopes by glue or other means.
It has been said that stamp gum, in its never-hinged state, is the most valuable substance on Earth.
The earliest human use of adhesive-like substances was approximately 200,000 years ago. Two stone flakes were discovered in central Italy partially covered with birch-bark tar and a third stone dating from the Middle Pleistocene era. This is thought to be the oldest discovered human use of tar-hafted stones.
The birch-bark-tar adhesive is a simple, one-component adhesive. Although sticky enough, plant-based adhesives are brittle and vulnerable to environmental conditions. The first use of compound adhesives was discovered in Sibudu, South Africa. Here, 70,000-year-old stone segments that were once inserted in axe hafts were discovered covered with an adhesive composed of plant gum and red ochre (natural iron oxide) as adding ochre to plant gum produces a stronger product and protects the gum from disintegrating under wet conditions. The ability to produce stronger adhesives allowed middle stone age humans to attach stone segments to sticks in greater variations, which led to the development of new tools.
The first references to adhesives in literature first appeared in approximately 2000 BCE. The Greeks and Romans made great contributions to the development of adhesives. In Europe, glue was not widely used until the period 1500–1700 CE. From then until the 1900s increases in adhesive use and discovery were relatively gradual. Only since the last century has the development of synthetic adhesives accelerated rapidly, and innovation in the field continues to the present.
In 1750, the first British glue patent was issued for fish glue. The following decades of the next century witnessed the manufacture of casein glues in German and Swiss factories. In 1876, the first US patent (number 183,024) was issued to the Ross brothers for the production of casein glue.
Before postage stamps existed, people receiving letters would have to pay for them. The payment was based on how many papers were in the envelope and how far the letter had traveled. Rowland Hill came up a solution of prepayment. At the time, he wrote that his prepaid postage adhesive would be “covered at the back with a glutinous wash.” This led to his invention of stamp gum in 1837; the first postage stamps used starch-based adhesives when issued in 1840.
The first U.S. patent (number 61,991) on dextrin (a starch derivative) adhesive was issued in 1867. Natural rubber-based sticky adhesives were first used on a backing by Henry Day (U.S. Patent 3,965) in 1845. Later, these kinds of adhesives were used in cloth backed surgical and electric tapes. By 1925, the pressure-sensitive tape industry was born. Today, sticky notes, Scotch tape, and other tapes are examples of PSA (pressure-sensitive adhesives).
Originally, gumming took place after printing and before perforation, usually because the paper had to be damp for printing to work well, but in modern times most stamp printing is done dry on pre-gummed paper. There have been a couple of historical instances where stamps were regummed after being perforated, but these were unusual situations.
On early issues, gum was applied by hand, using a brush or roller, but in 1880 De La Rue came up with a machine gumming process using a printing press, and gum is now always applied by machine. The gum is universally spread as uniformly as possible.
The greatest manufacturing problem of the gumming process is its tendency to make the stamps curl, due to the different reaction of paper and gum to varying moisture levels. In the most extreme cases, the stamp will spontaneously roll up into a small tube. Various schemes have been tried, but the problem persists to this day. On Swiss stamps of the 1930s, Courvoisier used a gum-breaking machine that pressed a pattern of small squares into the gum, resulting in so-called grilled gum. Another scheme has been to slice the gum with knives after it has been applied. In some cases the gum solves the problem itself by becoming “crackly” when it dries.
The appearance of the gum varies with the type and method of application, and may range from nearly invisible to dark brown globs. Types of gum used on stamps include:
• dextrin, produced by heating starch
• gum arabic or acacia gum, derived from the acacia plant
• glue, from gelatin, rarely seen on stamps
• polyvinyl alcohol
Some stamps have had gum applied in a pattern resembling a watermark, presumably as an additional security device. German stamps from 1921 had a pattern of wavy lines while Czech stamps from 1923 had gum showing the initials of the Czech Republic, CSP. These patterns have been called gum devices or gum watermarks.
A 1965 British study of the transmission of bacteria and viruses on gummed paper found that “Although pathogenic bacteria and viruses were not isolated from sample envelopes obtained from various sources, the gums used in manufacture were found to exert a protective effect against death from desiccation on the bacteria and viruses which had been introduced into them” and it was possible to demonstrate bacterial multiplication in the gum used for the manufacture of postage stamps.” The authors added the warning that “postage stamps are often handled very carelessly when issued over the counter, and yet the purchaser will usually lick them without hesitation. The present work shows how readily bacteria can adhere to the surface of gummed paper which has been slightly moistened; and the finger is a suitable source both of moisture and of bacterial contamination.”
A 1996 episode of the popular sitcom Seinfeld featured a character (Susan Ross) who was poisoned after licking the flap of too many gummed envelopes. The episode has been linked anecdotally to an increase in worries about the health risks of licking gummed paper and it has been speculated that it may have contributed to the growing popularity of self-adhesive stamps, at least in the United States.
For collectors, gum is mostly a problem. In 1906, trouble had constantly arisen due to the gum on the under face of the stamps. There was an official notice that stated that stamps were going to be prepared with ‘hard’ gum, and were intended for use in the summer or humid season to prevent the premature sticking together of the stamps, or the sticking to the paraffin paper when in book form. It is rarely of use in differentiating between common and rare stamps, and being on the back of the stamp it is not usually visible. Nevertheless, many collectors of unused stamps want copies that are mint, never hinged which means that the gum must be pristine and intact, and they will pay a premium for these.
While not so much of a problem for modern issues, the traditional way of mounting stamps in an album was with the use of stamp hinges, and some experts claim that very few unused stamps from the nineteenth century have not been hinged at some point in their existence. This means that old unused stamps are inevitably under suspicion of having been regummed, and the detection of regummed stamps is an important part of philatelic expertization.
The first self-adhesive stamps were issued by Sierra Leone in February 1964 and Tonga in April 1969 in an attempt to avoid the tendency of traditional water-activated stamps to stick together in humid conditions. They also made die cutting into fanciful and unique shapes easier.
Pressure-sensitive adhesives are manufactured with either a liquid carrier or in 100% solid form. Self-adhesives for stamps are made from liquid PSAs by coating the adhesive on a support and evaporating the organic solvent or water carrier, usually in a hot air dryer. The dry adhesive may be further heated to initiate a cross-linking reaction and increase molecular weight. 100% solid PSAs may be low viscosity polymers that are coated and then reacted with radiation to increase molecular weight and form the adhesive (radiation cured PSA); or they may be high-viscosity materials that are heated to reduce viscosity enough to allow coating, and then cooled to their final form (hot melt PSA, HMPSA). The stamps are usually issued on a removable backing paper.
The United States Postal Service’s first foray into self-adhesive stamps was in 1974 with the 10-cent Dove Weather Vane (Scott #1552), produced by Avery Dennison, that soon became discolored due to the instability of the adhesive. Another such stamp wouldn’t be issued by the United States until 1989. Stamp collectors criticized the format, as the rubber base adhesive used tended to progressively yellow the stamps. They also found them difficult to remove from covers, and to save in mint condition, though self-adhesives of recent years have improved in these respects.
The British Post Office first issued self-adhesive stamps on October 19, 1993, with the introduction of books of 20 First Class stamps, later a 2nd class stamp was introduced. In later years, other issues were produced in the self-adhesive format. Die cutting tools for the UK self-adhesive stamps were manufactured by Arden Dies of Stockport, Cheshire, using tools designed by Robert Clapham. Outside of the philatelic community, the stamps have been welcomed as more convenient; by 2002, virtually all new USPS stamps were issued as self-adhesives.
More recent USPS self-adhesive stamps are not readily removable from the envelope or cover backing by traditional water soaking. Some collectors of used stamps have discovered that although not readily removable by water, the self-adhesives can be removed with Bestine (a hexane solvent), Benzine (Petroleum Ether), or a natural based citrus solvent containing d-limonene (e.g., Pure Citrus Orange is an air freshener product that works for this purpose).
Many collectors are only interested in owning stamps in the pristine, mint, state in which they were originally sold at the post office. They are willing to pay a premium for stamps on which the gum has never been disturbed. For investment purposes there is nothing like the never hinged stamp with full gum.
Gum on stamps does have a number of disadvantages. It may crack, curl, become glazed and brittle, discolor, eat into the paper, attract vermin, stain and possibly harm the paper of the stamp itself, possibly even destroying the stamp over time. For this reason, there is a growing movement among collectors to abstain from the practice of collecting never-hinged stamp, even to the point of collecting stamps with no gum.
Other than mint stamps with full original gum, stamps are also described as lightly-hinged (LH) which show a slight mark where the stamp hinge was once attached. The gum is not greatly disturbed. Some stamps still have pieces of a stamp hinge adhering to its back which are described as having hinge remnants (HR). Heavily-hinged stamps may have been hinged badly or hinged more than once and may have a large area of missing gum and/or multiple hinge remnants.
Hinges may also turn brown with age causing discoloration to the stamps. Creases may occur in the gum due to careless handling. Thinned areas (“thins”) can also occur when removing hinges as the gum sticks to the hinge. Some gum is over-sensitive and can cause mint stamps to stick to each other if stacked prior to mounting in an album.
Gum used on some stamps contained sulfuric acid which destroy the paper over time and unused examples should be collected with the gum removed. Inferior gum used in the manufacture of stamps can result in damage when stamps are later subjected to less than ideal conditions, such as high heat and humidity.
Yes, gum is often the source of condition problems among stamps. It has been said that the long-range health and preservation of stamps would be better without gum. Short of soaking the gum from your stamps, the next best thing you can do is protect them by proper storage in albums or stock books and by not subjecting them to high humidity, sunlight or swings in temperature.