A great way to get stamps is from pieces of mail. Unless the envelope has a neat cancel you want to save, you’ll want to remove as much of the paper as possible.
The following steps are helpful for removing water-activated (“lick and stick”) stamps from paper.
1. Put 3-4 inches of cold water in a sink or other container. Do not use hot or warm water – some ink or envelope colors will run in warmer water.
2. Be sure to separate any stamps with heavy black or red cancellations along with those attached to bright or dark-colored paper. Because the inks and dyes may bleed, these stamps must be soaked individually and removed from the water promptly.
3. Place the stamps face down in the water. It’s possible to put as many as 50 stamps in the water at once. If you’re soaking sheets you can soak 20-25 at once, but place them in the water one at a time, making sure each one becomes thoroughly wet before adding the next one.
4. Spread the stamps out and gently press them into the water so that it will soak through the paper. Leave them to soak for at least 10 to 15 minutes – time will vary due to the differences in stamp gum.
5. After 10 minutes or so, check the stamps. The gum should have loosened and the stamps started to float off. Some stamps will sink and some will float. It is very important to remove the stamps promptly after they have come off the paper. If left in the water for a prolonged period of time the stamp paper may begin to weaken.
6. Gently remove the paper (pieces of envelopes) and look at both sides to make sure no stamps are stuck to it.
7. After you have removed all the paper from the water, most of the stamps will be at the bottom of the sink or container. Discard the blank scraps of paper.
8. Gently run your fingers along the bottom and come up under the stamps, catching them in a net fashion. Place these stamps in rows, face down, on blotters (waxed paper, white construction paper, paper towels or any other white, unprinted paper surface) being careful not to overlap them. (Overlapping stamps could cause them to permanently stick to each other, thus destroying them.)
9. Placing a heavy object like a book on top of the stacked layers of paper and stamps will help keep your stamps from curling. It will take a lot longer for the stamps to dry.
10. When this batch of stamps is done, start over with a fresh container of water.
Note: To remove paper from a sheet or strip of stamps, the entire item must be soaked. If the stamps have water-activated gum they will remain attached to one another after soaking. For self-adhesive stamps, we recommend you trim the paper to within about 1/8” rather than trying to remove the stamps from the paper.