Posted: Oct 26/10

Canadian Stamp News
Jun 23, 2009


Freshen up self-adhesives
by Peter Butler, FRPSC for The Canadian Stamp News.

Grassroots Philately
Canadian Stamp News, June 23, 2009 issue

Freshen up your used self-adhesives

Decades ago, an icon in many areas of philately in the United States, Herman “Pat” Hurst Jr. wrote, “Stamp gum is the most valuable substance on earth, by weight – worth much more than refined uranium or flawless diamonds.” His words are truer today than they were when they were published many years ago. Collectors then probably laughed at Hurst’s humorous insight. But today, while the insight is still applicable, the humour is lost. The current alarmist stories in the press about not being able to soak certain self-adhesive stamps, with gum that will not dissolve in water are causing un-necessary frustration and confusion within the stamp collecting community.

The gum is certainly the culprit… if we only knew how to dissolve it so that collectors could “soak” stamps and add them to their collections. Now, as in Hurst’s day, the problems of finding out the make-up of stamp adhesives continue to baffle the hobby. The re-gumming of stamps and the new gumming of forgeries then and the efforts to break down non water-activated gum to remove stamps from envelopes now, do make the many chemical varieties of gum, “the most valuable substances on earth.”

I was recently invited to a stamp club meeting to demonstrate how to remove self-adhesive stamps from envelopes. We were focusing on many of the US stamps that continue to create challenges to collectors but we also branched out to stamps of other postal authorities that are going the same route to discourage collectors from soaking these stamps off paper. I gave them the “Bestine Routine” (Regular readers of this column will remember the three articles I wrote to explain the use of this handy solvent. If readers missed the main article and would like a copy, please contact me and I will Email you a copy.) Along with that demonstration, I also showed the members how easy it was to remove self-adhesive stamps using a household air freshener. Yes, air freshener. I use two types (one available in the USA, the other in Canada called ZEP) but there are several brands available at your local Canadian Tire or Shopper’s Drug Mart as well as a few building supply big-box stores. Look for the following: Non-Aerosol (no fluorocarbons), 100% Natural, Citrus (orange or lemon) Air Fresheners. Here are the procedures:

  • Hold up the corner piece of the envelope with the stamp side away from you and spray the paper-side with the tiniest of spray, only enough to dampen the paper. If the spray drips from the paper, you have used too much.
  • You will see that the paper becomes immediately translucent, as the solvent soaks through the paper. Turn the paper over and “roll” it a little to encourage a corner of the stamp to begin to separate from the paper.
  • At that point, carefully begin to pull the entire stamp away from the paper. Do not wait too long to begin the peeling because the solvent evaporates quickly and the breakdown of the glue stops. Apply a little more if necessary.
  • You will note that the paper quickly become dry and you will realize there is no glue on the paper. That means the glue is entirely left on the stamp. The solvent has broken down the glue sufficiently to not allow you to re-apply the stamp elsewhere but the back of the stamp remains sticky. Some stamps will be stickier than others.
  • The smallest amount of talc on one’s finger can then be gently rubbed on the back of the stamp to take away the stickiness. In a few hours the solvent has completely evaporated, the stamp can be stored in a stock book or directly in an album.
  • The used stamp will take a regular hinge if that is how you mount your collection.
I was asked if any studies have been done over time, to ascertain if there is any damage to stamps treated with Bestine or an air freshener. My response was that I didn’t know of any but that a colleague and I have been removing stamps from paper this way for over two years. There is no visible damage. Don’t forget, today’s stamps are tough! The papers are thicker and the plastic or varnish that is applied over the printed side, makes the handling of stamps through such a process much easier than earlier stamps which were so fragile.

Someone asked about hologram stamps and stamps using foil in their production. If you soak these stamps in the traditional way, the hologram and foil material often ripples and becomes “cracked”. Using the solvents mentioned above, prevents that scaling or cracked appearance.

At the close of the workshop, I mentioned that I was waiting for my first cover from the UK with high value Machins on it, to see if air freshener will work. One of the members said, “I’ve got one with three of them on it. Here, why don’t you try it?” To the hushed group, I proceeded to spray and peel. It worked beautifully to the cheers and applause!

There you have the real, illuminating story on how to continue to separate stamps from covers. There are unsubstantiated commentaries in the philatelic press that are not helpful. They are misleading statements such as, “Machin collectors will be given a headache by [the] new-style self-adhesive definitives… for they will be unable to soak them off envelopes.” (Julia Lee, page 23, January 2009, Stamp Magazine, (GB) and Ian Billings of Norvic Philatelics, UK, who confirmed in Autralia’s national philatelic magazine, that the high-value Machins, “will all have non-soakable PERMANENT adhesive on them.” Those quotes do not reflect my experience.

While we are quoting the press or experts in the hobby, how about the headline in the January 2009 issue of Stamp Magazine: “Security cuts in Machins will prevent soaking-off.” (page 24) or the official reason from Royal Mail stating that the U-shaped slits in each stamp… “will make it impossible to peel stamps off envelopes. This will act in the same way as retail price stickers, causing the stamps to rip if you try to pull it off an envelope.” When we curled the paper after spraying it and the corner of the stamp came away from the paper, the U’s curled open and closed when the stamp was flattened. No tears occurred and the stamps came free easily, intact.

The real exciting aspect of all these security issues on Machin stamps is not the soaking or non-soaking possibilities but the amazing printing techniques used in creating a background around and through the Machin head. Looking face-on the stamps, you can notice the U slits easily but only by tilting the stamps to reflect the light can you see the micro printing around the Queen’s head, in a curved design, with the words, “Royal Mail.” The same words are also printed across the Queen’s head in straight lines. It really is a printing masterpiece much like many of the security measures taken in the printing of the £10 stamp of the 1990’s.

For the philatelists that follow the Machin collection, there will be a whole new printing code in many of the new Machins to identify the format in which the stamps were issued. In the curved micro printing mentioned above, letters in the words Royal Mail, will be changed creating codes, e.g. F replaces R to read “FOYAL MAIL” or S replaces A to read ROYAL MSIL. There are six codes to be identified.

“Trust the British to go overboard in all this business!” said one colleague and added, “I think I’m ending my Machin collection in 2000.” I think it’s more like getting back to the classic stamps of 150 years ago, with all their varieties in printings, papers, colours of inks etc. It will be just like sorting “Small Queens” only a lot cheaper!

Do we accept the fact that the postal authorities are justified in trying to prevent the removal of stamps from paper to prevent their re-use? All this at a time when we are trying to find new ways to thwart their efforts. Non-collectors continue to break the law and sell ungummed, uncancelled stamps for profit. The postal authorities continue to loose incredible amount of revenue while we encourage collectors to remove stamps for their collections and others remove stamps for profit, knowing that, “It is unlawful to remove and attempt to reuse postage stamps.” (Canada Post Regulation as stated on all booklets of stamps.)

It’s a crazy philatelic world, full of wonder for collectors. Enjoy using an air freshener. It’s summer and you can use it outside and your house won’t have that sickly citrus odor from using too much of a good thing! Enjoy the search for stamps with new printing techniques and other security measures in the stamps of the countries you collect. And keep enjoying your stamps!


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