Philosateleia
Kevin Blackston
PO Box 17544
San Antonio TX 78217-0544
United States of America

Philosateleian Blog

The Unsoakables

I recently received an e-mail from Bob G. asking if there’s any way to remove the adhesive from “unsoakable” U.S. stamps. He writes, “Using lighter fluid separates the stamp from the envelope leaving a tacky adhesive residue.”

From what I’ve seen, I’m guessing the residue is there to stay. I’ll explain why a bit later.

Freaks of philately

“The Unsoakables,” as you could call many modern U.S. self-adhesive stamps, have sparked spirited debate and more than a few complaints from stamp collectors in recent months.

A cool bath of water used to be all it took to remove a stamp from the envelope to which it was affixed. “The Unsoakables,” however, can be immersed for hours and still refuse to come loose in a peaceful fashion. So what’s a collector to do with these pesky critters?

Your options

Several solutions have been proposed, all of which have their proponents but none of which, it seems, is the perfect answer. Among the more common suggestions:

  1. Soak in hot (or cold) water for an extended period—this may have worked with the traditional lick-and-stick stamps, and it certainly works with some self-adhesives, mainly those of the 1990s. But for many recent issues there’s no point; as noted before, some simply won’t come loose from the paper, while others curl up into tight scrolls with the design flaking off the face of the stamp into the water.
  2. Soak in lighter fluid—this may very well get the stamp off the paper to which it’s attached, but as Bob points out, it doesn't eliminate the sticky layer of gum. You now have an off-paper stamp that sticks to anything and everything with which it comes in contact. Oh yeah, and lighter fluid is flammable, which means if you’re not careful then soaking your stamps could be very exciting….
  3. Leave on paper—don’t bother soaking at all. Simply trim off the corner of the envelope with the stamp on it and mount it in your album. The problem here is a stamp on paper is thicker than the same stamp off paper, which means you can’t put as many pages in an album and so forth.

Obviously, each of these “solutions” has its own drawbacks. But how did we end up with this tacky, gummy mess in the first place?

A brief history

The U.S. issued its first self-adhesive postage stamp way back in 1974. That “Peace on Earth” stamp, much like its modern cousins, has caused collectors nothing but angst due in large part to its unsoakability.

When experimenting with self-adhesives in the 1980s and early 1990s, however, postal officials solved the problem. If the paper on which the stamps were printed had a water-soluble layer applied before the self-adhesive gum was added, the stamps could be soaked off the envelopes. Collectors rejoiced.

Why then, you might ask, are so many self-adhesive stamps today such a pain to handle? The answer, to put it bluntly, is money.

Trying to save a buck

Postal revenues are down. It seems like every year there’s a news article about how many millions or billions of dollars the USPS is going to lose. Rates go up, income drops even more, and the cycle continues.

While looking for ways to cut expenses, USPS officials discovered that it is cheaper to have stamps printed on paper without the water soluble layer under the gum. They save a few dollars. We stamp collectors complain, but the vast majority of USPS customers go about their daily lives blissfully unaware of what has happened.

Permanently stuck

This brings us back to the original question: is there anything that will remove the gum from the back of one of “The Unsoakables”? My short answer is that there is not so far as I know. The gum is attached directly to the paper; there’s no water-soluble layer that can be dissolved, and nothing to prevent the adhesive from taking a chunk of the stamp with it if you try to remove it.

I suspect there may be chemicals that would dissolve the gum, but my opinion is that anything powerful enough to tackle the tacky is probably going to do some serious damage to the paper itself.

One collector’s recommendation

I’ve stopped trying to soak self-adhesive stamps. While I don’t like leaving them on paper, it seems like it may be the least of the evils in this situation. The other solutions simply have too many drawbacks.

Until someone comes up with a better idea, you might consider doing the same thing. Trim off enough of the envelope paper to which the stamp is attached that it will fit in its space in your album, but don’t cut too close. Who knows—collectors of the future may want self-adhesive stamps only if there are four full margins of backing paper.

Some self-adhesive stamps are still soakable, of course. The Virtual Stamp Club indicates on its list of new issues which stamps are safe to soak and which ones are not.

What’s your opinion? Are you leaving stamps on paper or still trying to soak them off? Have you found a way to get rid of the self-adhesive goo?

Simpsons stamps are smaller than I expected

When I first saw pictures of the Simpsons stamps in USA Philatelic, the USPS sales catalog, I thought the stamps were going to be issued in the large commemorative format used for the Disney stamps issued over the past few years, for example. It turns out they’re much smaller—the size of the Christmas stamps issued each year, in fact.

There’s no problem with this, but it does mean the spaces for those stamps on my 2009 stamp album pages were far too large. I’ve changed the size of those spaces, and you can download the fixed page [PDF] now.

Did the Simpsons stamps meet your expectations, or are you surprised they were not issued in a larger format?

Looking for early covers from Mauk, Georgia

Some time back I learned a tiny bit about the postal history of a small community in the state of Georgia in the USA. The name of the place is Mauk.

There isn’t much to Mauk—a gas station, a volunteer fire station, and a church or two. And then there’s the post office, which today is housed in a single-wide mobile home.

It seems the Mauk post office opened in late 1906, November perhaps, after a railroad was built through the area. Dan Smith was the postmaster.

I have ties to Mauk, and I would be very interested in acquiring covers postmarked at the Mauk post office during its early days, if any such covers still exist.

Do you have any covers postmarked Mauk? Please let me know if you’re willing to sell.

14¢ American Indian on Hindenburg cover

The 14¢ American Indian stamp has been my favorite for years, so I jumped at the opportunity to acquire this piece recently.

Cover flown on Hindenburg
1936 Hindenburg Cover

This cover bears two copies of Scott No. 565 (14¢ American Indian, perf. 11), and one copy of Scott No. 693 (12¢ Grover Cleveland, perf. 11×10½). It is the only piece in my collection that was carried by an airship, the Hindenburg. The Hindenburg might be the best-known airship due to its explosion in Lakehurst, N.J., in 1937.

The Richmond, Va., postmark, although incompletely struck, provides all the information we need to determine the year the cover was flown. According to Airships: A Zeppelin History Site, the Hindenburg’s first flight took place in March 1936 and its last took place in May 1937. The July 13 postmark therefore can only mean the cover flew in 1936.

Are there any airship covers in your collection?

LPCS elections

It looks like it’s election season again. The Local Post Collectors Society is accepting candidate declarations from members who want to run for LPCS president, vice president, or secretary/treasurer. The winners will serve for five years beginning in January 2010.

According to the candidate declaration form mailed to LPCS members, a candidate must:

  1. be a LPCS member in good standing
  2. have been a LPCS member in good standing for at least the past two years
  3. be familiar with the duties of the office for which he or she is running
  4. not be facing pending disciplinary action by the LPCS or APS
  5. follow the APS Code of Ethics

Are you a LPCS member? What would you like to see the new officers do during their term?

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