Learning how and when to soak your stamps is one of the basic skills in stamp collecting. Many collectors will receive their latest additions with paper still attached and will want to remove them so that the stamp can be included in their album.
This is not a difficult skill, but impatience or carelessness while soaking can do considerable damage to your stamp and its value.
Before soaking, however, collectors should consider the value of the entire cover, as it may have some interesting and valuable postmarks. In these cases it is important to keep the cover in its original state, with stamps fully attached.
This is the first step to take when preparing your stamps for soaking. Trim the excess paper from the edge of the stamp, leaving a border of around 50mm. This will reduce the time it takes to soak and lowers the amount of contaminants that enter the water, thereby reducing damage to your stamp.
If you are soaking many stamps at one time, sort them into type, so that any colours that may dissolve into the water will not affect others. You should also sort them according to the type of paper on which they are mounted, as well as separating any adhesive stamps, as these will take considerably longer to soak.
Now that you're ready to soak, you should start with those on white paper, as these will be the easiest to remove. Place one or two stamps (you can add more when you feel more confident) face up in a bowl of lukewarm water and leave them to float, until they start to separate. Once the stamps have completely come away from the paper, remove them from the bowl very gently and place in another bowl of cool, clean water to wash them.
Coloured paper generally has a higher risk of dying your stamps, so use cool water for this. As the temperature is lower, removing them will take longer, but be patient. You do not want to peel the backs off, as this will undoubtedly cause damage to your stamp.
Manila envelopes are very soft and soaking them will usually stain your stamp, should you allow too much time in the water. If it doesn't come off quickly it is best to leave the stamp attached.
Simply place your stamps face down on a towel or drying book and leave them to dry naturally, preferably overnight. Do not attempt to use any form of heat, as this will usually leave you with an unappealing curled piece of paper. Professional drying books are cheap to buy and will prove invaluable if you plan to soak regularly.
This is just a basic guide to soaking and you will find hundreds of different techniques used by experienced collectors. Soaking techniques also vary from stamp to stamp, so make sure your issue is suitable for soaking before doing so.
To soak or not to soak?
When it comes to when to soak, you will find certain issues cannot be separated from the paper without causing damage. In these instances it is advisable to keep the paper on a stamp of any significant value.
When the surrounding paper shows foxing or toning, you will want to remove this in order to avoid it spreading to the stamp. However, simply cutting away as much of the paper as possible will often suffice to stop the spread.
You will undoubtedly hear collectors talking about Chloramine T, which is a chemical used to restore a stamp affected by toning and to remove any unappealing marks. This is fine to use if the stamp is for your collection only, as it will increase eye appeal, but restoration is still considered a dirty word in stamp collecting and you will have trouble passing any restored stamps on when you come to sell.
PS. Speaking of stamps, I have some world class rarities for sale. Click here to take a look.