First we have to identify the ink used to print the stamp with. Some of the early stamps where printed with fugitive inks which will run in water or dis-colour. Example Edward VII & later Queen Victoria issues from England & the Commonwealth where printed with this type of ink. So soaking them off with water is not a good idea! SEE STAMP LIFT SECTION later on in this page. If in any doubt about the stamp use the STAMP LIFT FLUID METHOD.
Modern stamp (any stamp after the 1940's) SHOULD be ok to soak off.
I will describe how I used to soak mine off, Trust me I have soaked a few million in my time! Never steam them off!
Number one thing to do before we start is to cut round the stamps and remove it from the envelope, leaving as little paper as possible around the stamp (do not cut into the stamp!) special attention has to payed to envelopes that have the red/blue airmail printed border and some coloured envelopes, there is the possibility that the colour could run from these envelopes and ruin your stamps, so check these first. Treat them separately if they shown any signs of colour running. IMPORTANT: If the colour runs from these it can ruin the other stamps in the bowl as well!!
I used to place my stamps about 100 at a time into a bowl of warm water, do not try and do to many at a time as they will soak for too long. You will find that some will float off fast. Do not pull them from the envelopes! Some will be stubborn so you might have too, but as rule let them float off. The object is to get the stamp off cleanly and remove all the gum. Some of the early stamps have very thick gum, so just gently rub this off the back of the stamp with your finger while it is under the water, get all the gum off the stamps
I then took the stamps out and placed them FACE DOWN on some newspaper and let them dry naturally. Of course they will curl. After they are dry, I then placed them in a book for 24 hours to flatten them. To speed this process up you can place them into a special drying book. Stamp or photograph drying books are ideal for this. and they dry flat in the book. You can imagine what happens if you do not get all the gum off the stamp during the soaking process, You now have your stamps stuck in your drying book, START again!
STAMP LIFT: Now to the stamps that are printed with water based inks (fugitive). Get a bottle of "stamp lift" If you have trouble getting this try Vera Trinder in London. This liquid will not remove water based inks or GUM. so you can brush this on your stamp or best on the part of the envelope on the back of the stamp, This will eventually loosen the gum so you can remove your stamp. IT WILL NOT REMOVE THE GUM JUST LOOSEN IT, then carefully with a cloth slightly damped with water clean the gum off the back of the stamp, Do not leave the gum on the stamp. This can cause cracking or discolour your stamp in time after this treatment. This liquid is ideal for removing old stamp hinges from used stamps as well. not mint stamps.
MODERN SELF ADHESIVES! ARRR!!!. Don't you hate them! Just cut carefully round these and display them in your collection like that.
Hope this is of some help. Enjoy your collecting whatever it is.
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