Friday, May 13, 2011

To Hinge or Not To Hinge

This is a subject that comes up with some frequency on stamp bulletin boards. One problem though with such threads in general venues is that most people weighing in have single country or specialized collections with emphasis on MNH or expensive stamps. Things might look different if they were trying to cope with 35,000 mostly inexpensive stamps. Or maybe not! So, for the record, here are some pros and cons of hinges and mounts for the Blue collector.

Cost. Hinges, of course, win hands-down here. I can buy a package of 1000 Prinz Stamp Hinges for around $3 which comes to a little over $100 for enough hinges to mount every stamp provided for in the Blue Volume 1. As for mounts, I've seen an estimate of 6-10 cents each for individual stamp mounts. That multiples out to $2100-$3500 for sufficient mounts to handle the entire album. A lot of money, but one way of looking at this is if you are building a Blue collection over 10 or 20 years, you're spreading this cost out quite a bit.

Protection. Clearly, mounts are the big winner here. Those little bits of glassine on the back of stamps do nothing to protect their fronts, not to mention what hinges do to any gum that has survived. And, if you are using hinges, you definitely need interleaving to keep stamps on facing pages from rubbing against each other. Even then it is not difficult to accidentally dislodge a hinged stamp when turning pages. I should note, vis-a-vis mounts, that at least one well known dealer cautions against any mount type that might leave a vertical or horizontal line down the middle of a stamp. The alternative he suggests is to use mounts that are closed on the bottom but open on the other sides.

But aside from interleaving, how much additional protection do most stamps really need? My Blue is half full and the average cost per stamp is still only 13 cents. Perhaps a compromise solution is to use hinges for most stamps and reserve mounts for your more expensive treasures. Although I'm not completely consistent, my "rules" are to use hinges unless:

1) replacement cost of the stamp is greater than $25 or so (retail, not catalog);
2) the stamp is delicate and likely to be damaged (what comes to mind are some se-tenant pairs that might detach); and
3) the stamps are Mint Never Hinged.

Although the issue of stamp gum borders on the religious, I will confess that for me the backs of stamps are unimportant except to the extent that they reveal grills, watermarks or other interesting features. I practically rub my hands in glee when I come across a note from a seller along the lines of "No gum, priced as used" next to a $100 stamp selling for $10. I recognize though that many, if not most, collectors would disagree and so I begrudgingly use mounts if a stamp appears to be MNH, even if of minimum catalog value. That way I'm not spoiling any stamps for future collectors. Nor am I doing myself any real inconvenience as my preference for used stamps means the choice rarely comes up. Even so, I can't resist a parting shot that there are those who believe that the chances of finding original, undisturbed gum on more expensive classic era stamps is much less than most collectors would like to believe--i.e., there are a lot of regummed stamps out there. Nevertheless, if it looks MNH, I use a mount.

Weight. Perhaps the most serious barrier to using mounts in the Scott International is that mounts weigh down the pages. This is exacerbated because the Blue Internationals, unlike most if not all single country albums, are printed on both sides of a page. But also, to a lesser extent, because the Internationals tend to squeeze more stamps on a page than specialty albums, which means more mounts per page. This is especially an issue for the pre-1997 editions of the Blue which are printed on thinner paper.

Aesthetics. Obviously, this is the most personal of criteria. I like the appearance of both hinged and mounted albums, although the number of stamps per page in the Blue can make using mounts more difficult.

While I like the look of the black mounts in albums in which every stamp is mounted, I do not care for black mounts intermixed with unmounted stamps. So I use clear mounts which I think blend in better with hinged stamps. From looking at many albums sold on eBay, I'm obviously in the minority on this one.

Practical matters: If you've taken up stamp collecting after a hiatus, you probably are trying to remember who marketed those great peelable hinges and where can you buy them? The hinges you are thinking of where made by Dennison and, unfortunately, are no longer manufactured although packets do show up on eBay at very inflated prices. (Note that the similarly named Dennisen hinges are not the same thing.) I personally use Prinz hinges which are not peelable in any way--but they do seem to do a good job of staying adhered to the page. Other people have other preferences but I've never come across a consensus.

The mounts I use are made by Showgard. Since I knew I wouldn't need a lot of mounts, I started out with a starter pack containing precut mounts of varying sizes. However, these packs are made for common US stamp sizes so several of the included choices aren't particularly useful. A nice alternative is the strip set. I just purchased one on eBay containing 75 clear mount strips measuring between 22mm and 52 mm. But now I am wondering if there are any stamps in the Blue that won't fit into one of these strips?

Or to ask it another way: What are the largest and smallest stamps in the album? To go right to the obvious, the largest "stamps" to be accommodated are a couple of US Souvenir Sheets (thank goodness, the White Plains is too expensive for the Blue). Scott didn't include Souvenir Sheets for other countries so these are the only trouble makers, mount-wise. Not quite so obvious, some US cut squares could have a descent vertical height depending upon how they were removed from their entires. But since cut squares don't have gum, does the MNH crowd still use mounts for them? Perhaps just to protect the expensive ones. Among actual stamps, I was first diverted by obviously large stamps such as those issued by China in 1939 (Scott 364-367) which measure 39cm high. But in leafing through my album, I settled upon the triangular Brazil 1936 Carlos Gomes stamps which measure in at about 48 cm. This might actually be too large for my 52 cm mount strips as you have to add 5 cm overhead for the mount edge seams.

As to smallest, my first thought was the bottom part of stamps of Belgium with their do not deliver on Sunday labels. But then I decided that even though I have a couple of these without the "mother" stamp, I wouldn't put the bottom part by itself in a mount that couldn't accommodate the full stamp.

What is usually advanced as the smallest stamp ever issued is the Mecklenburg-Schwerin from 1856 measuring 10mm x 10mm, but this stamp, indeed the entire country, isn't in the Blue. Neither is the other contender, the 1863 Colombian state of Bolivar. So for smallest (i.e., least tall) I'm going with the 1940 Colombia Postal Tax stamps which are 14 cm in height.

If anyone knows of smaller or larger stamps that are in the Blue, please let me know.

I can't leave this topic without shedding a tear for our poor Brown colleagues. Not only must they budget millions for stamps like the Swedish 1855 Treskilling Yellow, there are a number of items that will cost a pretty penny just to mount in their albums. I'm thinking of the British 1840 Mulready Envelopes, US 1865 Newspaper Stamps, Afghanistan 1920 Parcel Post Stamps, Madagascar 1884 British Vice-Consulate Stamps, and the China 1913-14 Special Delivery stamps, to name a few. (The Brown, incidentally, deigns to only provide a blank page for the Chinese SD stamps that reportedly measure 247mm by 65mm.) But then look at all the money these collectors saved when they mounted the Mecklenburg-Schwerin stamp.


williamgrady said...

Funny you should write this when I am in the process of hinging MNH Swiss stamps into my Globals. I pledged no mounts would go into the worldwide collection. And I have kept to this pledge.

However, in topical collections and in my single country collections I hinge all mint stamps and valuable used ones.

If you can tear yourself away from Showgard mounts, clear Hawid mounts can be bought in strips and cut down to fit any size. I typically use Hawid 48 and just trim for smaller stamps. I would rather trim for small ones than have to maintain so many sizes of mounts.

John said...

When I started my big blue, my intention was to use mounts, but I quickly switched to hinges for convenience and aesthetics. Too me, it just looked better hinged. I also have several country collections but with those I'm using Davo hingeless albums for the mostly mnh stamps.

Bob said...

The first mounts I used several decades ago were Hawid and somehow I had forgotten that one major advantage of this type of mount is being able to trim to the size needed.

fredbee said...

Thanks again for your great articles. In a global album, I use hinges as I think they look better and have been able to stock many packs of the good old hinges.
Gum is a problem. A couple of us global collectors were talking at the last show how nice mint no gum stamps are to handle. Some packet makers used to soak everything and then press them, so they mount nicely. I wonder if one can get all the Jr stamps no gum. As you say they should cost a whole lot less.

Also has anyone copied the Jr pages on to blank pages - one sided. I understand G&K makes a blank (no border) page. Should be better than the thinner double sided pages. Would lose the double page views, however with glassine in between, one can't see both pages at once anyway

Bob said...

I have not seen an International Blue album that has been printed on only one side, unlike the Brown albums that Scott sold both single and double-sided. The latest four-part version of the Blue has more blank backs of pages than any other edition, but still is mostly two-sided.

If someone wanted to do this on their own, I would guess they could follow the advice sometimes suggested for similar ventures--i.e., have a printer or copy shop reproduce the Blue pages on to archival quality paper of whatever size they choose (the printer can also punch the pages if they haven't chosen something like the G&K paper). However, the printer might be unwilling to copy an entire album because of copyright concerns.