Stamp tagging is the way world postal systems mark stamps to aid in the sorting process. Tagging is the application of a phosphorescent or fluorescent ink onto a stamp, allowing it to be identified when scanned in ultra-violet light. It helps machines position stamps for post and cancellation marking.
The 10 best UV lamps for stamp collectors are:
- Lighthouse Dual Wave Ultraviolet Lamp
- SAFE Portable UV Lamp Shortwave (U453)
- SAFE Portable UV Lamp Longwave
- Stanley Gibbons Dual-Wave Ultraviolet Lamp
- Lighthouse L92 Ultraviolet Table Lamp
- Lighthouse L81 Switchable Dual UV Lamp
- Raytech Versalume Ultraviolet Lamp PP-FLS
- Desktop Ultraviolet Lamp-Longwave-110v
- Philalux 3 UV Light Table with 3x Magnification
- Pull Out Magnifier with LED & UV 9x/18x
There are several reasons, if you’re a stamp collector, that you should consider these lamps. Understanding those reasons is a good idea before you rush out and purchase something that is either overkill or insufficient for your needs. Below is a description of why each of these made the list.
UV Lamp Purchase and Usage Tips
The type of UV lamp you purchase should be determined solely by your need to have it for your stamp collection. That need determines what you collect and what you are looking for in terms of types of stamps, rarity, and condition.
If all you collect, for instance, is pre-1950 stamps, you do not need a UV lamp at all. However, if you are only interested in collecting British stamps from the 1960s, both a portable and fixed UV lamp is critical. If you are a collector that wants to verify a purchase but then will never look at the tagging on your stamps again, a portable UV lamp is sufficient.
There are other variables that can determine the type of UV lamp you need. These are that you only collect tagging errors or misprints, you only want untagged stamps from the tagging era, you will not look at tagging after a purchase decision, you only collect phosphorescent or fluorescent stamps (but not both), or you only collect certain national stamps.
Of the range of possibilities that determine the type of UV lamp you need, three have to be explained. Not needing a UV lamp because you only collect stamps before tagging is self-explanatory. If you only look at tagging when making a purchase decision, you only need a portable, handheld UV lamp. Here is what to consider with the other three situations.
Untagged Errors or Misprints
These can happen when the paper absorbs too much ink, ink was not applied evenly, a stamp sheet shifted during production, equipment malfunction, etc. The result of any of this can be threefold, including excessive coverage, thinner coverage that’s hard to see, or a lack of coverage entirely.
In each of these cases, you at least need a portable UV lamp, but because the issue is not readily visible, may want to consider a fixed UV lamp. If you think that you may look at your stamp tagging wherever you keep and view your collection, you can still use a handheld UV lamp, but a fixed UV lamp makes viewing stamps much easier.
Phosphorescent Versus Fluorescent
There are two types of tagging inks, phosphorescent and fluorescent. The ink can be incorporated into the paper (as has happened with Canadian phosphorescent stamp sheets,) or it can be applied to the paper over the image of the stamp. When held to a UV lamp, a sheet with phosphorescent ink incorporated into the paper makes the entire sheet glow.
Tagging using phosphorescent ink was introduced in the early 1960s. It begins to glow slower than fluorescent ink, but it glows after the UV lamp has been removed. To see phosphorescent ink on stamps, a shortwave UV lamp is needed.
Phosphorescent tagging can sometimes be seen without a UV lamp by holding the stamp up to a light and looking across the top of the stamp. The part of the stamp with phosphorescent ink appears slightly shinier than the rest of the stamp.
Fluorescent tagging is a form of ink coating that glows as soon as it is held under a longwave UV lamp. This type of ink will stop glowing almost as soon as it is removed from the UV lamp’s coverage. Fluorescent ink has been used since the early 1970s.
Tagging Methods Of Various Countries
Different nations use different types of tagging. If you collect just that nation’s stamps, your use of a UV lamp is easily defined. If you collect stamps from nations that use both shortwave and longwave, you will need to have two UV lamps or you will need to purchase a UV lamp that has dual short and long wave capabilities.
The different types of tagging used by different countries can be broken down as follows. Great Britain, the USA, Israel, Finland, and older issues from Canada and Mexico use shortwave lights. Canada, Mexico, Norway, France, Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, Russia, and Great Britain after 1992 used longwave lights.
There are always exceptions to the type of tagging a country uses or has used. For example, the USA has used both phosphorescent and fluorescent tagging, as has Britain, Germany, and Canada. Generally, however, the type of tagging a country used in the mid-1970s is the type of tagging it will use today.
Choosing A UV Lamp
There are several ways to pick the best UV lamp for your needs. These ways are detailed as follows.
Shortwave, Longwave, Or Both
Depending on the type of stamps you collect, you may need a shortwave UV lamp, longwave, or a lamp that can produce both types of light. If money is not a concern, getting one that does both prepares you for just about any conceivable situation where you may need UV lighting.
About the only argument for not getting a UV lamp that produces both forms of waves is cost. Dual wave UV lamps cost marginally more than single wave UV lamps. If you are on an extremely tight budget, you may want to get the type of light that is the least expensive, which generally will be a single wave UV lamp.
Use Determines Type
Another consideration comes down to usage. Fixed UV lamps are stationary and usually are attached to a table by clamps. Portables are usually handheld. Many collectors have both.
The benefit of a fixed UV lamp is that you always have both hands free to manipulate the view of your stamps. The benefit of a portable UV lamp is that you can easily take it anywhere.
Of the two, fixed UV lamps tend to be more expensive because they have more hardware. Portable UV lamps can be used in just about any situation, including most environments that utilize a fixed UV lamp, but in a head-to-head comparison, fixed lamps tend to be pricier.
Fixed Versus Portable
An average fixed UV lamp has a cost ranging from under $100 to over $1000. Another major cost for more expensive UV lamps is replacement bulbs, which can be very pricy.
A portable UV lamp can cost from under $25 to several hundred dollars for a more sophisticated model. Portable UV lamp bulb replacements are significantly less expensive than fixed UV lamp bulbs, but still can be pricy.
There are benefits that may justify paying more for a fixed UV lamp model, including the hands-free work, which lets you quickly sort through multiple stamps, and broader coverage that allows you to work on multiple stamps at once.
Downsides To The Lamps
The downside is that moving a fixed UV lamp can be a major undertaking, particularly if you must move it often. Taking it down and protecting the bulb can grow old very fast.
On the other hand, a portable UV lamp is easy to move and very convenient at shows or in dealer shops where a fixed UV lamp cannot be set up. A portable unit is also less expensive due to cheaper replacement costs for the bulbs.
There are downsides to a portable UV lamp, which are that you can only look at one stamp at a time, your workspace is severely limited, and a portable UV lamp bulb is limited in power.
Long Versus Short Wave
In addition to why you may want a long or short wave UV lamp, another consideration is the cost of purchase and maintenance. Depending on what you pick, you could be looking at an inexpensive purchase or a very expensive investment.
Longwave lamps tend to be less expensive. A longwave UV lamp can also help determine paper type for stamps that have the tagging ink infused into the paper. Longwave bulbs are durable, so the cost of replacement over time is negligible.
Shortwave UV lamps are both expensive on their own and more expensive than longwave UV lamps. Shortwave bulbs burn out quicker and are expensive. Shortwave lamps can be used to detect phosphorescent after-glow and if you collect US stamps, you must have a shortwave lamp to see the tagging ink.
Dual Wave Versus Single Wave
Dual wave UV lamps generally are a little more pricy than single wave, but much of that cost depends on the lamp you are purchasing. If you are purchasing on the lower end of UV lamp costs, the difference between dual and single wave lamps is not that great. If, however, you have an expensive lamp, the cost difference between single and dual wave can be significant.
What Will Help You Most?
The final aspect of cost is an indirect consideration. What type of lamp lets you do what you want or need to do with the most confidence? You should pattern your purchase decision on that answer.
Remember that if you are just starting out, getting a rudimentary UV lamp that does not cost much might be your best bet. You can always upgrade if your stamp collecting complexity exceeds the capabilities of the light you purchased.
If you are a more experienced collector than a novice, but still not a professional, you should keep in mind that unless you are a professional stamp collector or dealer, you likely will not need to buy both types of wave versions. Doing so can be very expensive and with the money you save only buying the type of UV lamp you need, you can buy other stamps.
A final consideration in purchasing a UV lamp is safety. UV light can damage your eyes and skin and to avoid that you need to be careful. Here is what you need to do to eliminate the possibility of UV light injuring you.
Always wear protective eyewear when working with UV light. UV light can burn your corneas and leave you with ulcers or even make you blind. Worse, the person with the eyes that are being scorched will not usually feel it until afterward.
UV light can also give you a “sunburn.” The effect is like what happens when you use a tanning bed. Always wear gloves when working with UV light. If you are going to be working with it for more than a few seconds, apply sunscreen to any exposed skin. Wearing a long sleeve shirt is also wise if you are using a UV lamp for any amount of time beyond a second or two.
Limit Your Time
Limiting your time working with UV lighting is not a substitute for wearing safety equipment or clothing. It is, however, a way to reduce your exposure to damaging UV rays. Work with UV lighting for as long as you need to do so but take precautions and stop using it as soon as you can.
If you do notice burning on your skin or are exposed for a longer period to a UV lamp, turn it off immediately and treat your exposed skin as if it were sunburned.
If you suspect you received overexposure to your eyes, seek medical help as soon as you can. At the very least, documenting possible damage to your eyes can give your eye doctor something to look out for going forward.
The 10 Best UV Lamps For Stamp Collectors
1. Lighthouse Dual Wave Ultraviolet Lamp
This dual UV lamp lets you easily see every detail of tagging on any stamp, virtually no matter what condition it is in. Switch from longwave to shortwave with the push of a button and see the most precise details on stamps, notes, telephones, credit cards, and anything else that has phosphorescent or fluorescent tagging.
As a collector, you know how the tiniest detail can affect a stamp’s value. With the Lighthouse Dual Wave Ultraviolet Lamp, you will be able to quickly identify a stamp by its taggant, pinpoint a mistake, or pick out stamps that aren’t legitimate. Additionally, you will be able to clearly see nuances in stamp paper that indicate damage or repairs.
Best of all, the versatility of this lamp will help you find hidden treasures and avoid making costly mistakes. You are not limited to what the lamp lets you examine, but rather what you want to examine. The Dual Wave is compact, fits in just about every hand, and has push-button features. That can be of immense help when attending a stamp expo or visiting a dealer’s shop.
2. SAFE Portable UV Lamp Shortwave (U453)
The SAFE Portable UV Lamp Shortwave works, as its name implies, in the shortwave sphere. It is excellent for identifying tagging on stamps from Great Britain, the USA, Israel, Finland, and older issues from Canada and Mexico. This portable UV lamp is larger than many portables, but still easy to use.
Its dimensions are 6 1/2” L x 2 1/2” W x 7/8” H. It runs on a 254 nanometers wavelength, making spotting minute details easy. It also comes with a nylon carrying strap, which, combined with its broader lighting footprint, makes the larger size worth it.
3. SAFE Portable UV Lamp Longwave
This portable is the longwave answer to the SAFE shortwave described above. It is great for identifying stamps from Canada, China, France, and Mexico. The unit is portable and lightweight, coming in at 6 3/8” L x 2” W and 7/8” H. It is also great for examining coins, banknotes, certificates, artwork, etc.
As with the shortwave version, the nylon carrying strap makes the larger pocket size acceptable. It should also be noted that this model costs half the price of the shortwave version of virtually the same machine. The SAFE Portable UV Lamp Longwave has a wavelength that is 366 nanometers.
4. Stanley Gibbons Dual-Wave Ultraviolet Lamp
Like the first listed portable UV lamp, the Stanley Gibbons is a dual wave lamp. It has been the standard for many years. The lamp is powerful enough to identify pen cancellations and paper repairs. This piece of equipment has been used for years and is respected as the trendsetter.
The spectrum on the lamp is 254 through 390 nanometers and is “sweep view” capable. It comes with an eyepiece for viewing in any light, including direct sunlight. The bulb, which is more powerful than most portable UV lamps, will last up to 50,000 hours.
Another selling point is that this model is lightweight and pocket-sized. That makes it perfect for taking to fairs, trade shows, and exhibitions. As an added bonus, it comes with a watchmaker’s glass for getting a better look at the detail of a stamp.
5. Lighthouse L92 Ultraviolet Table Lamp
The Lighthouse L92 Ultraviolet Table Lamp is a longwave UV light that is both reasonably priced and more than adequate for most stamp reviewing and inspection needs. It works on a 4-watt bulb with peak efficiency at 366 nanometers. This makes it perfect for looking at banknotes, credit cards, and stamps.
It operates on 110 to 120 V at 60 Hz and has double insulation. The lamp is 7 1/8” L x 4 1/2” W and 3” H. It is perfect for keeping on a table or desk but also able to be easily stored.
6. Lighthouse L81 Switchable Dual UV Lamp
The L81 is one of the most popular versions of a portable UV Lamp that Lighthouse sells. It is both longwave and shortwave. Switching is as simple as flicking a button. That means there are no tagged stamps that cannot be reviewed and done so on the spot.
It is handheld, which makes taking it into shows or dealer stores easy. The light is 4-watt and it runs from 254 to 380 nanometers. It runs on 4 AA batteries. One of the best features of this portable UV lamp is that it works on stamps from across the globe. The 4-watt bulb will run for up to 50,000 hours under normal usage.
Maintenance costs run less than $20 for a new bulb. The entire size of this L81 fits into a normal-sized pants pocket.
7. Raytech Versalume Portable UV Lamp PP-FLS
The manufacturer’s description says this is the most versatile UV lamp on the market. The description is accurate. The compact and lightweight construction of this unit fit most briefcases, but the unit is large enough for easy handling and positioning on a table or counter. It works with 4 AA batteries or with a 115 V A/C adapter.
Even though the light is 4-watts, it puts out 33 percent more UV output than competitive models. The lighting also has Raytch’s filters, which allows easy manipulation of light intensity. It also comes with a stand to allow the review of several stamps at once.
8. Desktop Ultraviolet Lamp-Longwave-110v
This SAFE Desktop Ultraviolet Lamp-Longwave-110v is an affordable option for the stamp collector that wants to scan their collection for tagging marks at home. The dimensions are 7 inches x 4 3/4 x 2 7/8 inches, which is large enough to be able to work with it comfortably but not so large it takes up an entire desktop.
The UV bulb is 4-watt and works at 366 nanometers, making it a longwave piece of equipment. That makes it ideal to reveal fluorescence on minerals, currency, and tagging on stamps. It runs off 110 V AC power. It is lightweight and portable but is not considered to be a portable unit. There is a parallel shortwave unit available as well.
9. Philalux 3 UV Light Table with 3x Magnification
This is another desk or tabletop UV lamp. It comes with its own magnifier to allow the user to get the clearest possible view of a stamp and any tagging markings. The inspection area is also large and allows extremely close inspection at 3x and 12x distortion-free magnification, coming in at 5 3/8 inches x 2 5/8 inches.
The entire unit is 7 1/4 inches L x 5 ¼ inches W by 5 inches high. The lamp rests in a sturdy hard plastic casing. It comes with a 110 V adapter. Specific features of the Philalux 3 UV Light Table with 3x Magnification are below.
Longwave Vs Shortwave Tubes
The UV longwave tube is 7 watts with 365 nanometers and illuminates fluorescent tagging marks as well as aids in discovering paper repairs, ink inconsistencies, forgeries, etc. The controller is push-button and it switches automatically upon activation.
A shortwave tube is 2 watts with 256 nanometers with a filter for checking phosphor and overall tagging on stamps. It also is great for tagging that is problematic, like US stamps’ block and overall tagging or phosphor bands on stamps from Great Britain. This is also push-button.
The lamp also has a 4-watt white fluorescent tube that provides lighting to enhance any magnification. Additionally, and unrelated to stamp tagging, the unit has a magnet for scanning currency.
10. Pull Out Magnifier with LED & UV 9x/18x
This is a portable, handheld, and compact magnifier with an LED light and UV longwave. It is made of lightweight plastic and has two lenses. This type of UV lamp is used to look at individual stamps and the person inspecting the stamps can store the unit in their pocket.
The magnifying lenses are plastic and magnify at 9x and 18x. That is significantly more magnifying power than any of the other standard UV lamps with magnifiers. The lenses are 21 mm and 12 mm respectively.
The UV bulb has a range of 390 – 395 nanometers. The LED bulb is 4-watt. Batteries are included in the unit. The size is 2.5 inches L x 1 3/8 inches wide and 3/4 inches high. This 3-in-one tool can be used to inspect stamp tagging marks, identify paper repairs, and identify watermarks.
A UV lamp is a great tool to allow you to identify the tagging on a stamp or series of stamps. The type of stamps you look at should dictate whether you need a shortwave or longwave UV lamp or whether you need one that can do both. The lamps listed are some of the most popular on the market.