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Stamp Collecting Questions and Answers

Stamp Collecting Questions and Answers

Q.  How do I start my collection?

A.  You can start your collection on a shoestring budget right at your own mailbox!   Just save any envelopes with stamps on them, and a 15-minute soak in warm (not hot) water will easily remove the stamp from the paper.  Let your family and friends know about your new hobby, and ask them to save their stamps for you.
     As your collection expands, so should your means of acquiring new stamps.  Even if you live hundreds of miles away from the nearest stamp dealer, don’t despair!   There are huge inventories of stamps which can be purchased conveniently through the mail or on the web, no matter where you live.   Mystic offers catalogs and price lists to customers in all parts of the country.   Our "stamps on approval" program lets you receive selections of stamps at your home.   You decide which ones you wish to add to your collection, and return the others with payment for only the stamps you keep!   You should only purchase stamps from a reputable company (like Mystic) that guarantees your satisfaction.   That way, you are assured of getting just what you want at the price you expected.

Q.  Should I join a stamp club?

A.   It’s up to you!   Mystic’s Stamp Clubs are very popular with our collectors because they offer an affordable, easy way to get the stamps you want.   You save lots of time and effort by belonging to a Mystic Stamp Club because we do a lot of the work for you.   You get more time to enjoy your stamps.  There’s also a free album for almost every club.   Shipments are sent right to your home every few weeks and there are no duplicates.

Q.  When was the first postage stamp issued?

A.   On May 6, 1840, Great Britain released the first postage stamp for public use.   Up until that time, posting a letter was an expensive process, with the person receiving the letter being the one to pay for the privilege!   The first postage stamp allowed pre-payment of the postal fee and reduced the price of delivery to one cent.

The First Postage Stamp

Q.  What are "Scott" numbers?

A.  Each year, Scott Publishing Company produces an updated Specialized Catalog of U.S. stamps.  The Scott Catalog does not offer stamps for sale, but lists estimated values for each issue, and identifies each with a "Scott Number."  As new stamps are issued by the U.S. Postal Service, Scott assigns catalog numbers to them.
     Because the Scott catalog is a highly respected authority, and because Scott Numbers were the first comprehensive identification system for stamps, nearly all stamp dealers, collectors and even the U.S. Postal Service use Scott Numbers to identify U.S. stamps.   Your Mystic catalogs, circulars, and even our American Heirloom Album list U.S. stamps by Scott Number.  Most foreign stamps are also identified by Scott Catalog Numbers.  Various countries around the world have their own catalogs.  Great Britain uses Gibbons, Germany has its Michel, and France its Yvert.   Italy’s catalog is Bolaffi.

Q.  What makes certain stamps so valuable?

A.  The value of a particular stamp is based mainly on the "law of supply and demand" – and condition.  If demand is high, and supply is low, the price for an issue will usually increase.   If the supply is low, but the demand is also low, the price will stay the same or decline.   Also, stamps in higher-quality condition generally sell for more than those in lesser condition.   For example, U.S. stamps issued before 1920 are scarce in Mint Never-Hinged condition.   Demand is high and supply is low.  Therefore, the retail price may be several times that of a hinged stamp of the same issue.
     Another reason a stamp may be valuable is if it’s an error of some type.  The Jenny Invert, for example, was printed with the center upside down.  A single such invert has been sold for over $150,000!

Q.  Have all U.S. stamps been printed the same way?

A.  No, they haven’t.  From 1847 to 1922, most of America’s stamps were produced on flat bed presses.   Printing stamps this way was a slow process, because the presses could print only one sheet of stamps at a time.  In 1923, the Post Office Department decided to use rotary presses to print regular issue stamps because these presses were faster and could keep up with the increasing demand for stamps.   Rotary presses improved printing efficiency because they could print sheets of stamps on a continuous roll of paper.  Stamps produced on a rotary press are longer or wider than the same stamps printed on a flat bed press.
     Today, many stamps are printed by offset.   This is a printing process in which an inked impression from a plate is first made on a rubber-covered cylinder and then transferred to the paper being printed.   Offset printing is less expensive and more flexible for the production of multicolored stamps.
Q.   Why do some stamps with the same design have different Scott Numbers?

A.  The two stamps pictured look exactly the same.  Yet one is Scott #552 and the other is Scott #578.   #552 was printed in 1923 and was perforated 11.   Shortly after this, the printing method was changed and the same design was printed again, perforated 11 x 10 and numbered #578.  There are many issues such as this. 
     In addition, some stamps may  have different numbers because of a watermark or secret mark.  Some might have different paper or a color variation.  But regardless of the differences, each new issue gets its own number. 

Scott #552

Scott #578


Q.  What is a sound stamp?

A.  Sound stamps are totally free of defects.  Stamps issued thorugh 1890 may or may not have gum, and will have perforations that touch or cut into the design.  Stamps issued between 1893 and 1940 will have full original gum (if mint) and perforations that may cut into the design.  In addition, most stamps from this period will be hinged.  Stamps issued since 1941 will, in most cases, be unhinged and will have perforations that clear the design.

Q.  What is the best way to store my stamps until I get an album?

A.   Stamps purchased from Mystic or at a stamp show should be kept in their original package away from heat and humidity.  Used stamps you’ve collected from your mail can be stored in envelopes in a desk drawer or small box.

Q.  What are vertical and horizontal "gutter pairs"?

A.  Some sheets of stamps have wide spaces or "gutters" which separate the sheet into four panes.  A pair of attached stamps with a gutter separating them is known as a "gutter pair."  The direction the gutter runs between the pair determines if it is a vertical or horizontal gutter pair.   A block of stamps containing this gutter is called a "gutter block," and a block from the exact center of the sheet with two gutters crossing is called a "crossed gutter block."

Crossed Gutter Block

Horizontal Gutter Pair


Vertical Gutter Pair


Q.  What are plate blocks and are they worth more than the value of the single stamps?

A.  A plate block is an attached block of four or more stamps (commonly between 4 and 20 stamps) from the corner or side of a pane which includes the selvage bearing the number of the plate used to print the sheet.  When each stamp in a pane is a different design (like the State Flags sheet of 50), the entire pane is collected as a plate block.
     The value of a plate block depends on the available supply and current demand for a particular block – in other words – the market value.  Plate block collecting is a fun aspect of U.S. stamp collecting.

            U.S. #1283 Plate Block of 4                        U.S.  #1414 Plate Block of 8    

U.S. #1396 Plate Block of 12


Q.  How do I mount self-adhesive stamps?

A.   Mint self-adhesive stamps should be placed in their mounts while still attached to their backing paper.  To ensure the right size mount and the most attractive presentation, trim the backing paper as closely to the stamp’s serpentine perforations as possible.  Once the paper is trimmed, the stamp can be mounted normally.  For more detailed mounting instructions, click here.

Q.  How do I get the right size mounts for my stamps?

A.   It’s easy.  Just measure each stamp with a ruler showing millimeters both horizontally and vertically, and call one of our friendly customer service representatives at: 1-866-660-7147.