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To soak or not to soak, that is the question.

One of the most common questions we receive from new collectors is whether or not you should soak stamps off of the envelope they came on. Soaking stamps involves removing them from their original paper backing so that they can be preserved, displayed, or sold as a single stamp, rather than “on cover”.

The answer to this question largely depends on the type of stamp/ cancellation/ cover in question and your personal preference.

Some collectors believe that soaking stamps off the envelope can damage them, especially if they are older or more delicate. This is because the act of soaking involves submerging the stamp in water or specialist fluids, which may cause a stamp to become soft and potentially tear or lose its original colour.

However, others argue that soaking stamps is necessary in order to remove any adhesive or paper remnants from the back of the stamp, which can affect its value and quality. Soaking stamps also allows you to better inspect the stamp for any tears, creases, or other imperfections that may not be visible when it is attached to an envelope. It may sometimes be possible to avoid soaking and instead gently use a pair of tongs or a damp cloth to carefully remove any remnants from the back of the stamp.

We would recommend you watch this YouTube video by Exploring Stamps featuring Gold PTS Member, Bill Barrell as an example of soaking a stamp to reveal its secrets:

But can stamps be more valuable if they remain on cover? Absolutely, sometimes, yes, but it ultimately depends on the specific stamp, cancellation and condition as well as other factors such as the cover design, the mail route it has taken, or even who the item was sent to or from, whether the postage rate was accurate, what ink was used, is the wax seal intact, censor marks, crash damage, and many other weird and wonderful collecting interests.

In some cases, a stamp that has remained attached to an envelope or other piece of postal history may have added value due to its historical significance or unique cancellation marks. In addition, leaving a stamp attached to its original cover can also help maintain its provenance and authenticity. However, if the cover has been damaged or modified in any way, it could potentially decrease the value of the stamp. It is always best to consult with a philatelic expert or do thorough research on the specific stamp in question before making any decisions about removing it from its cover.

Some collectors choose to collect stamps both on and off cover, as each offers its own unique appeal. Stamps on covers can provide a glimpse into the postal history of a particular time period or location, while stamps removed from covers can showcase intricate designs and details that may be difficult to see when attached. Some collectors may cut around the stamp to preserve the cancellation mark thus leaving the stamp “on piece”. This requires less storage and display space than keeping the stamps and cancellations with the full envelopes. For some, soaking stamps is a therapeutic process – with mindfulness being one of the benefits of collecting stamps for many of you out there.

Ultimately, whether or not you choose to soak your stamps will depend on your personal preference and the specific requirements of the stamps in your collection. If you are in any doubt, please contact a PTS Member to receive trusted advice. They will likely ask for a scanned image or photo of the item. You can find a PTS Member near you, or with a relevant category specialism at:

Whether a stamp is kept on its cover or removed is just one aspect of stamp collecting. What truly matters is the enjoyment and fulfilment that comes from building a collection and learning about the history and culture behind each stamp. Whether it be through carefully preserving stamps on their original covers or proudly displaying them in albums, stamp collecting is a hobby that brings joy and connection to the world around us. So whether you choose to keep stamps on their covers or not, know that each stamp holds its own unique story and significance in the world of philately.

Are you a soaker? Let us know your stories in the comments below.


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