Removing Used Postage Stamps from Paper

I previously talked about how to separate mint stamps that are stuck together. Of the methods mentioned in that article, soaking and steaming are the two methods most used to remove used stamps from paper. Although, I don’t recommend steaming because of the damage it can do to the stamps. Here again, if the stamp is valuable it might be better to leave it on the paper. Especially any stamp printed in the 1800s.

Soaking in water works for gummed stamps, but will not work for self-adhesive stamps. Removing self-adhesive stamps from paper requires using something else besides water to soften up the adhesive. The best thing that I have found for this purpose is Rosonol lighter fluid. It can be purchased at most any drugs store in the U.S.. Of course, the fluid is highly flammable, so care must be taken when using it.

First, find a container to hold the fluid. I use a watermark tray for this purpose, but you could use a small jar or a plastic container. Next, cut the paper close to the edge of the stamps. Lay a few in the bottom of the container and then squirt the lighter fluid over the top of the stamps until they are soaked. The soaking time varies, but should not take more than 5 or 10 minutes. Now for the messy part. The adhesive will soften, but will not separate from the back of the stamp. Slide the stamp off the paper and proceed to remove the adhesive as follows:

Spread a sheet of newspaper on your work surface and get yourself a pocket or other non-serrated knife. Place the stamp adhesive side up and gently scrape the glue off the stamp. Work from the top edge to the bottom edge of the stamp. When all the adhesive is removed place the stamp face down on a clean sheet of newspaper to dry. When completely dry, the stamps can be flattened by placing them between the pages of a thick heavy book for a day or two.

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Separating Mint Postage Stamps that are Stuck Together

There are several methods for separating mint postage stamps that are stuck together. The stamps that I am referring to are the ones with the gummed backs, not the self adhesive ones. The results vary and invariably a few will be damaged beyond any collector value. Value should be considered before trying to separate stamps. The most valuable stamps are from before 1940, but I have never come across mint stamps before that time that were stuck together. So, determining value and how to handle them is up to the individual. The following are methods you can try:

Steam – I have tried steaming by holding the stuck together stamps with stamp tongs over the spout of pot for boiling water for tea. I have also put them in a vegetable steamer. The stamps will come apart, but I never had good results. The stamp paper will take a beating and the colors readily fade. So, I don’t recommend that anyone use this method.

Soak – Soaking stamps in warm water works well, but there will not be any gum left on the back side when finished. If many stamps are stuck together (I have had 15 or more) then the soaking process should be done in steps. That is, soak them for a while and then see if you can get a few apart. Put the rest back in the water and repeat. It may take a few soakings to get them all apart. Place the separated stamps on some sheets of newspaper face side down. When dry, put the stamps between pages of a thick book for a few days to flatten them. The stamps are then classified as unused, no gum. You can use them as space fillers in your album, sell them as described or use them as postage.

Sponge – This method gives the best results, but takes the longest to achieve. You are going to need two large kitchen sponges for this method. First, soak the sponges and then squeeze out all the water. Place the stuck together stamps on top of one sponge and then place the other sponge on top of the stamps. The humidity created by the sponges will soften the gum to the point where the stamps can be separated. This may take a few hours to overnight. This method works well when just a few stamps are stuck together and not very well if there are several layers of stamps. When separating the stamps try to slide them apart. Doing so does the best to preserve the gum. When apart, dry the stamps on some sheets of newspaper face side down. When dry, put the stamps between pages of a thick book for a few days to flatten them. You may have to go back with a damp sponge and wipe off any gum residue from the face side of some of the stamps. If you have sheets of stamps that are stuck together, place the sponges side by side inside a large zip-lock bag. Place the sheets on top of the sponges and close the bag. Again, this may take a few hours to overnight to work. The results are going to vary. At best, the stamps will look to be almost mint with very little gum disturbance. Other times, there is going to be a lot of gum disturbance. It all depends on the stamps and how careful you are when separating them. Again, the stamps can be used as space fillers, as postage or sold as mint with disturbed gum.

There probably are other methods for separating stamps and I would like to hear from anyone that has had success with other methods.

Stamp Collecting Woes

I have been collecting U.S. stamps since I was a kid. Early on I had to scratch and save to buy stamps or I traded with the other kids for what I needed. As the years passed I had several opportunities to purchase some good size collections. I kept what I needed and sold the rest. Within the last few years I am seeing more and more collections being made available through estates and estate sales and I have purchased a few of them. These are collections that people took a lifetime to assemble and now they are being passed on through their heirs. Unfortunately, many of these collections that should be in mint condition are far from it.

The issue is that many times the mint stamps in the collection are stuck together. This can happen no matter how they are packaged. Even unopened stamp kits from the post office are susceptible. This is usually caused from storing them in a high humidity environment such as an attic, basement or a non air conditioned house. Once mint stamps are stuck together, the collector value decreases. There are ways to separate them, but the results vary and they will never revert back to their original mint condition. The good news is that no matter when a U.S. stamp was minted it can always be used for postage.

The best way to store mint stamps is to put each in a mount that is specifically made for stamps. After that store them in a dry environment. In a later post I will discuss several ways to separate stamps that are stuck together.